Friday, March 8, 2013

Free Females (Part 1)

Sweatshops were common
Over a hundred years ago, women could not vote.  Women could not hold public office. 
Women who expressed their opinions were beaten.  Single women were restricted to lives where they could be controlled by men.  Married women who worked outside the home were considered pariahs. 

While at the moment it is a popular sentiment that ‘feminism’ is bad word, the reality which caused the word should shame us all.  Women are human beings.  Their fight to be seen as such is the story of Feminism.  Their struggle for equality with men is required for men to realize their own freedom.

Women Not Equal

Women garment workers staged a protest on March 8, 1857 in New York City.  They demanded improved working conditions.  Working 14 hour days, 6 days a week, they demanded a ten hour day.  They wanted to end sweatshops, where they were required to live in company dormitories, eat company food, and follow strict codes of corporate enforced dress codes and conduct.  Basically, they wanted to be free like men.

Male dominance as a right
The strike was broken up by policemen.  Beatings wounded many and killed some.  The women were forced back into their condition of slavery to their male corporate masters.  Conservative politicians of the day said women should know their place and used raw force to keep the status quo.  

It was common practice to begin the work day at 5 AM and end at 8PM, with an hour ‘given’ for eating three meals.  Working for just over three dollars a day, one dollar being subtracted for food and board, they lived in prison like conditions. 

There are no women here
Fines were given out for laughing, talking, singing, or less than perfect work.  Frequently fines were invented and used to keep entire paychecks from women’s labor for months at a time.  Frequently they gave the labor of their lives just to have food to eat and a bunk bed to sleep in.

When the Civil War killed so many young men, vast numbers of women who had no one to marry were forced into sweat factories.  There were no other jobs for them allowed by society.  They were denied an education and prohibited from learning trades.  A hidden, subdued resource of labor fueled capitalist men to realize their dream of manifest destiny.

Struggling for minimal rights

Fifty years later, nothing had changed.  Another women’s strike in the clothing industry in 1908 again ended in bloodshed. 

This time, however, the world took notice.  Mass printing of magazines with photos let a world see conditions and violent reactions of male overseers. 

In England, Russia and the United States women demanded their rights as human beings to be equal before the law.

Ridicule as a weapon
Gaining the right to vote was their initial aim.  Gaining political rights, enfranchisement, were seen as a major stepping stone to equality between the sexes. 

In 1887, the Supreme Court struck down a Washington territory law that enfranchised women. The case of Harlan V. Washington argued that women had no right to judge men on juries and allowed a convicted felon to go free.  Conservative judges claimed women should not judge ‘their betters’.

Many women, following the example of their grandmothers in the Civil War, joined the national effort in World War One and served as nurses, drivers, and gave aid were they are able to the fighting effort. 

At war’s end, President Wilson honored their service to country and advocated a constitutional amendment for suffrage.

By 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave full voting rights to women.  Yet even then, women organizing for passing the movement were regularly beaten and raped by conservative men who saw this liberation as a threat.

Kept in their places
Some of the worst violence against suffragettes occurred in previously rebellious southern states, where lynching or tar and feathers were still used as political statements.

In the end, the Progressive movement won out.  Women began to exercise their influence at ballot boxes across the land.  This initial move from second class citizens to full citizenship is something we take for granted now. 

Often unaccredited in our Roaring 1920’s is that for the first time women were allowed to regularly earn High School degrees.  Prior to that, an eighth grade education for females was deemed more than enough.

Some women were even allowed into college.  However, representing over half the population, less than one percent of all women achieved a bachelor’s degree.

Women in war
Rosie the Riveter

World War Two presented a new challenge.  Over 15 million men were called into service of U.S. population of 134 million.  This drained away able bodied men from factory jobs necessary for the war effort.

Liberal government campaigns recruiting women into manufacturing jobs for the war effort were addressed solely at housewives.

Propaganda was also directed at their husbands, many of whom were unwilling to support such jobs. 

More propaganda
A huge surge of now high school educated women filled the ranks of labor, building the weapons of war.  20 million women served their country by doing what had previously been considered men’s work.

Conditions were sometimes harsh and pay was not equal—the average man working in a wartime plant was paid $55 per week, while women were paid just $32.

This new found economic power transformed marketing and business.  Many women now had money of their own to spend.  Advertisers took note and tried to sell new kinds of products to them.  For the first time in American history, women began to develop economic clout.

Back home
Post War Domestication

At the end of the war, liberal government propaganda turned towards employing the returning male soldiers.

Advertising it was a women’s duty to let their jobs go to discharged male veterans, women retreated from the work force back to their newly built suburban homes.

America returned to Republican conservatism during this period.  A great boom in baby making, still working its way through our demographics, became the new normal.

Women, who had been making tanks and planes, became the makers of homes and babies.  With the only un-bombed factories in world, the United States shared unequaled prosperity.

Severing man-kind
Young single women and widows could now find employment in secretarial jobs where they were subservient to men who managed the firms.

Becoming a ‘working girl’ was seen as a brief period where women were supposed to seek their ‘man’.

Once married, they were expected to give up their jobs leading lives supporting their men and creating him a happy home.

1 comment:

  1. I'm lucky to be born in a country called Canada at a time when everyone is considered equal by law. "Oh Canada, Glorious and Free...
    But there was a time...seems so barbaric now.