March 8 is International Women’s Day. While we have a long way to go when it comes to reaching true equality, it’s important to take the time to recognize all that we have accomplished over the years. We often take for granted the liberties that we have today, not realizing that there were women protesting, holding signs, taking stands, and changing legislation so that we could have them. Let’s get inspired for the continued fight, by taking a look at 15 things women were not allowed to do — until we fought for them.
We all know that women didn’t always have the right to vote — not until the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920. But we also believe that it’s important to remind folks of that. Imagine not having a say in selecting the officials who run your country and decide things that affect you AND your body every day. Men were voting and carrying out things that specifically impacted women and yet women had no say. Not only did getting the right to vote give us equal say at the polls, but it also squashed the notion that we were incapable of caring about or engaging in politics. Today, not only do we vote but we also hold important roles in government.
It’s imperative that women have a say when it comes to our bodies and our health. It wasn’t until 1938 that the federal obscenity ban was lifted on birth control, but it remained illegal in most states. Finally, in 1960, the FDA approved the birth control pill Enovid. In 1965, the Supreme Court said it was okay for married women to use contraception. Both events allowed women to control whether or not they had children. But, as we know, the benefits of birth control go way beyond that. It helps regulate your menstrual cycle, reduce period pain, ease PMS, and help treat iron deficiencies like anemia, caused by heavy periods (among other benefits).
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For the longest time (and still in some case), women were expected to forgo any career dreams to solely be wives and mothers. Men were supposed to be the only breadwinners and a woman’s role was to serve her husband. Single women didn’t have the same access to higher education that men had, and even if they did, they were often discriminated against. World War I and II allowed women to take on all kinds of jobs — even those given to men — and was an opportunity for them to prove their worth. The women’s movement of the 1960s further gave women the push to be whatever they wanted to be.
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Back in the day, if a woman wanted to open a bank account— even if she had her own job and income — she had to have her husband or a male relative cosign for it. It was absurd. Today, financial freedom is so especially important for women. We weren’t seen as equal or competent enough to handle money, so we had to have a “capable” man to do things for us. This damsel in distress narrative is something we are still fighting against. Thankfully, 1975’s Equal Credit Opportunity Act made it illegal for banks to discriminate against women and also on the basis of color, age, marital status, religion, national origin, and race.
Men have always been allowed to do pretty much whatever they want to do in public, whereas women were criticized and deemed inappropriate for doing the same things. You couldn’t go up to a bar and grab a drink unaccompanied, or even go outside without having a male chaperone. Forget about trying to smoke a cigarette in public. On January 21, 1908, New York made it illegal for women to publicly smoke through the Sullivan Ordinance. Thankfully, the mayor vetoed this law two weeks later. Smoking is bad for you (really, you shouldn’t smoke at all), but some random man telling you that you can’t smoke is unacceptable.
Wearing Bathing Suits
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The bathing suit on the right is a new addition to my collection, and researching it has been a real learning experience. After looking through all my print resources I realized that the ankle–length pants made this set much earlier than the 1900 date given in the ad. So I began a search through Harper's Bazar, which Cornell University has digitized and put online. The suit that comes the closest to mine is the example on the left, which is from 1870. I will be writing about my findings on my blog at a later time. 🔵⚪🔵 #antiquebathingsuit #Victorianbathingsuit #harpersbazar #1870 #fashionhistory #Victorianfashion #thevintagetraveler
In the early 1900s, women were forced to swim in oversized pants, stockings, and what looked like a coat. In order for women to go to the beach or the pool, they had to cover up. Swimming with all that weight on probably wasn’t the safest. Women’s bathing suits were measured for decency and length by police officers, and violators were either kicked off the beach or arrested. The once-shocking bikini came about in the 1940s, and slowly bathing suits got smaller and smaller, as we finally gained our right to wear whatever we wanted to the beach or pool.
Serving on a Jury
These days both men and women can serve on jury duty and get paid for it. Or serve and complain the whole time, the choice is yours. Regardless, we now have the right to do either. There was a time when women couldn’t be a part of a jury at all. In fact, it wasn’t until 1973 that women could be part of a courtroom jury in all 50 states. You’re supposed to be judged by a jury of your peers. How was that possible before the 1970s for women? It wasn’t. It’s liberties like these that allow us to fight for more liberties until full equality is achieved.
Getting an Ivy League Education
Ivy League schools are considered the cream of the crop when it comes to universities. Attending one of these schools can have you set for life, with a high-paying job and a successful life. The problem for women? They weren’t allowed to attend and this was the case for a very long time. In fact, Columbia didn’t start officially accepting female students, across the board until 1983. Mind-blowing, isn’t it? If you want to go even further back, there was a time when women weren’t even allowed or encouraged to go to school at all. They were instead expected to marry young and have kids.
Owning a House or Property
Historically married women were treated as the property of their husbands. The law even encouraged this. A married woman wasn’t allowed to buy property without her husband’s consent. A husband, on the other hand, could sell his wife’s property, without her consent, even if she owned the property before the marriage even took place. The only time that a woman was deemed fit to be in control of a house, was if her husband was ill or had died. There was even a period where a son would inherit his father’s property over his mother. The Married Women’s Property Acts, which started in 1839, helped change much of this.
Getting a Credit Card
Traditionally, in the past, if a woman married a man, she took on his name, his way of life, and played second fiddle to his way of doing things. Even legally, men had superior rights and had legal power to make decisions for their wives. If a woman wanted to open a credit card, she would have to have her husband sign off for it. This applied to all women, even those who had their own job and made their own money. In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowed women to take their finances, and credit, into their own hands, without the permission of their husbands.
Keeping Our Own Names
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Like previously mentioned, when a woman got married, according to the law she and her husband became one person. But her husband got all the rights and benefits of this, and the woman little to none. Wives were expected to take their husbands’ names, forsaking their own. In fact, on U.S. passports, a woman lost her entire identity, only to be referred to as “Mrs. So-and-so and wife.” Women have fought to keep their own identity within a marriage, at home, and to the rest of the world. Fighting for and obtaining these rights is what feminism is all about.
Today, you can get a divorce for any number of reasons. A popular one is irreconcilable differences. This means no one particularly was at fault or did anything major. It simply means you no longer get along. There was a time when it wasn’t that easy for a woman to get divorced. It wasn’t until 1969, when the No Fault Divorce law came into effect, that women didn’t have to jump through hoops to end a bad marriage. Before then, she would have to prove something big contributed to the end of the marriage (like adultery, abandonment, etc.), and a judge could still disagree. California became the first state to implement the No Fault Divorce law.
Earning and Keeping Income
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We’ve mentioned this in several different instances, but marriage had a huge impact on women back in the day. Getting married meant that a woman practically lost all her rights. These instances are just some of the ways her identity was taken away from her, as she was seen as the same person as her husband. Really though? Even if a woman worked outside the home and made her own money, in the eyes of the law, her husband could take that money away from her. The Married Women’s Property Act legally put an end to this nonsense, allowing women to reclaim their sense of self and reclaim their hard-earned money.
Citizenship after Marriage
Girl, we’re sure that reading this has been upsetting. Can you believe that once upon a time we weren’t allowed to do any of these things? It’s crazy that we had to fight so hard just to have these basic rights. But the reality is that men were the ones making the laws for a long time. Women had very little rights and couldn’t even vote. This made it easier for men to dominate, and punish women, through legislation. How would you explain, then, the Expatriation Act of 1907? According to the law, a woman, who was born in the United States, would lose her citizenship if she married an immigrant. Say what?! Not surprisingly, it didn’t apply to men who married immigrants.
Women weren’t allowed to do anything that seemed too masculine, inappropriate, or embarrassing to their families and that included bartending. Serving alcoholic drinks was seen as a solely male occupation (women today still have to fight sexism and gender discrimination, in this industry along with others). In 1945, in the state of Michigan, women couldn’t bartend, unless they were the wife or daughter of the bar’s owner. It wasn’t until 1971 that women were allowed to be bartenders in California. In certain cities, in the past, they wouldn’t even allow a woman to enter a bar — period. They couldn’t sit at a bar alone and they certainly couldn’t order drinks.