Gloria Russell: After all these years, women still not equal

Gloria Russell: After all these years, women still not equal

The Westerly Sun

The citizens of this country celebrated 240 years of independence this summer. A hard-won victory by settlers who fought the tyranny that followed them across the sea and led to what we call the American Revolution and the spawning of our Constitution. Hard to think when we drew our collective breath of freedom in 1776 women had few rights.

It would take 72 years before they even met to discuss the matter during a convention in 1848. And still another 72 years would pass before they won the right to cast the first vote — when the 19th amendment to the Constitution was approved in 1920!

Sounds like an awful long time. In the early 1800s women were dependent, subservient and unequal — by law. It wasn’t quite as bad when they were single, but after marriage some rights women normally enjoyed when they were under the family umbrella, so to speak, disappeared altogether. Women were not generally allowed to make contracts, devise wills, participate in legal transactions or control any wages they earned. (I’m hearing some squawking here but I just can’t believe you just said “Over my dead body!”)

Although obliged to support his wife and bear responsibility for her debts, after tying the knot a husband assumed ownership of her personal property and real estate. He controlled her material possessions and he could sell them or give them away (did I really hear you say, “When pigs fly!” just now?). Hmmm.

Clearly you can see it was all uphill until the feminist movement surfaced in the ’60s and ’70s. Gloria Steinem, journalist, social and political activist, was the spokesman (I know that’s not politically correct but I don’t care) and slated to become an icon. But when the Equal Rights Amendment finally passed the Congress in 1972 and was sent to the states for ratification, it withered. With little support, it passed in only 38 states.

Still, hope springs eternal. All was not lost when a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion became law in 1973 under Roe v. Wade. Nobody I know advocates abortion. It should probably be a careful decision between a woman and her physician.

Moving on. It doesn’t seem possible in this new century that married women were ever without property rights, legal standing when it came to their children, or even their own education. But college doors were closed to those who wanted to enter certain professions in medicine or law.

Today’s mores are far more in line with equality. If you’re a woman, you can be a soldier, a sailor, or a candlestick-maker. You can join your father’s medical or law group or construction company ... even become a Wall Street whiz. The sky is the limit — well, that is, if you are smart enough.

Only three years ago, the ban on women in combat was lifted. Whether that was a sound decision remains to be seen.

But face it, you still aren’t equal. Not in the eyes of the law. You are still an interloper. No matter whether you fly a jet plane or lasso a cow.

You may have come a long way, baby, but the truth is, we’re not close to prime time. There are still embarrassing discrepancies in women’s paychecks and other inequities in what “they” tell us is “a man’s world.”

In the animal world, in addition to bearing offspring, the female frequently hunts for the family, or guards it. In truth it’s often like that with humans.

Think about it. It’s usually the hand that rocks the cradle that tends the garden or prowls the supermarket before preparing the family meal. The same hands that launder the clothes sew on the buttons, change the sheets or put on the band-aid.

They’re the hands on the wheel of the family car that totes the kids around for school or sports or music lessons. The hands that hold the book that herds the brood toward sleep and the last loving touch on the cheek or shoulder before “goodnight.”

It’s often only one parent who does all these things.

In the new millennium, men have embraced this challenge by desire or necessity as attitudes toward parenting shift. I’m proud to live in a country where men grow taller by wanting to engage in every aspect of family life.

I’ll also be proud the day every state makes the Equal Rights Amendment law and men and women truly stand together.

And at this moment, it’s impossible to ignore the women in our country who are standing at the threshold to history as the door opens for a woman to become the first president of the United States.

Maggie Thatcher, politician and baroness, became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. Politician Indira Gandhi, daughter of India’s first prime minister, became her country’s third top leader in 1980. And Golda Meir, an Israeli teacher, became the fourth prime minister of Israel in 1969.

And I have to say, regardless of your political views, it is exciting to see an American woman at the starting gate.

Gloria Russell was a longtime reporter for The Sun and is a lifelong resident of the Westerly-Pawcatuck area. You can reach her at


Latest Videos