November 2011

We've Come a Long Way Baby

Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to forment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
–Abigail Adams, U.S. First Lady, 1776

What if Betty Crocker had been Betty Soccer? Young girls in their momma’s kitchens, and new, nervous, housewives would have had a whole new perspective on the world. Betty Soccer would have sent a message that said, “Women are strong, and fierce competitors; they can do anything. They’ll don some cleats, run around for an hour, and mess up their hair and makeup, all in the spirit of team!

In contrast, Betty Crocker bopped onto the scene in 1921 saying, “Put on your aprons girls. Flour up the rolling pin, and try not to burn down the house. Your hubby and his boss will be home for dinner soon.”
And the rest is history. Or perhaps more accurately, that history is what has shaped our future. Sure, we’ve had some missteps on the “women’s movement journey” train. But, let’s start with the positive, shall we?

In 1920, women in the United States were granted the right to vote—a journey 68 years in the making. It all started in 1851 when a series of very fortunate events occurred. First, Amelia Bloomer published in her Seneca Falls newspaper, The Lily, a description of a comfortable, loose-fitting costume consisting of a short skirt worn over pantaloons. The fashion eventually became known as the “bloomer,” and ladies, we were off and running toward a future of showing a little leg. Then, Sojourner Truth bares her soul and delivers her “And Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Finally, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony meet for the first time and begin their 50-year collaborative journey to win civil rights for women. (Interestingly it was four year earlier when Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, when most states didn’t even grant women the right to vote.)

Our voices are heard. And soon, we find that our voices and our muscles are ever important. As American men go off to World War II in droves, the workforce looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. So the government actually has to recruit women to fill the employment gap.

Initially, the ladies of our great country were less than thrilled with the suggestion of manual labor … (I mean really, how does one work in a factory whilst in bloomers?). But, a little creative government brainpower (ah, how I miss that) and “Rosie the Riveter” was born—a slick promotional campaign aimed at getting more people involved in the war effort. The campaign played on women’s need to feel needed. And it worked.

Around the same time Wonder Woman flew onto the radar screen and made her first appearance in All Star Comics no. 8 in December 1941. Her character has since appeared in countless comic books, male fantasies, and at risqué Halloween parties.

These were still serious times. And they became scary times. As the Civil Right Movement raged in 1955, the Montgomery, Alabama transportation system introduced a segregated system on city buses where African-Americans were required to sit in the back rows of the bus and give up their seat for a white person if the bus became full. Rosa Parks did what I imagine hundreds dreamed of doing each day. She refused to give up her seat. Yes, she was arrested and placed in jail. But the African-American community leaders paid her bail and soon organized a boycott to challenge the Montgomery transportation system. I hope Rosa takes no offense, but that woman had balls.

Fast-forward another decade, and in 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is formed to “bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society.” Seriously? How in 1966 where women not a part of the mainstream? Who’s been pushing out the kids of society all of these years?
Oh wait, here’s where all the women are… waiting to start a hard-core cigarette habit. In 1968, Virginia Slims cigarettes unveiled the “You’ve come along way baby,” slogan. This suggestive advertising indicated that cigarettes could set you free, make you your own woman, and give you power over your own life. The sad truth is, according to the CDC’s most recent statistical data, that more than 98,000 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007. I wonder how many of them thought they’d come along way?

In 1972, Gloria Steinem helped to launch the first issue of Ms. magazine. In a stellar act of women’s independence, Ms. would forego the typical women’s magazine topics of babies, marriage, and makeup, and instead tackled topics such as “the housewife’s moment of truth, ‘de-sexing’ the English language, and abortion.” Eyebrows were raised for sure.

In 1973 female tennis player Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a “battle of the sexes” tennis match and Girl Power was officially born. Three years later, Charlie’s Angels, Laverne and Shirley and Miss Piggy all burst onto the screen, proving that women actresses could most certainly carry a show and “do it their way.”

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to become the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, making her a crucial swing vote. Fast forward two more years, and Sally Reid, the first female astronaut, launches into space. Coincidentally in the same year, men also “rise” to new heights as the first Hooters opens. Now, instead of burning our bras, we’re not even wearing bras. In fact our bloomers have become barely there.

1992 was dubbed the “Year of the Woman.” It was this year that the percentage of women in Congress doubled. Half a decade later, Madeline Albright was named the first female Secretary of State, under President Clinton. (Monica Lewinsky did little for the women’s movement when she was also found under President Clinton.)
In 1996, Shannon Faulkner was admitted to the all-male Citadel in Charleston. Faulkner was “the ideal candidate” right up until the admissions committee learned that she was female. While her time at the Citadel lasted only a week, she did pave the way for over 200 other young women who have since graduated from The Citadel. In a moment of poetic justice, Army General Claudia Kennedy became the first female three-star general just a short time later, in 1997.

In 2005, Janet Jackson is credited with coining the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” as her top slipped and nipple showed during the Super Bowl half-time show. And, as if there wasn’t enough talk about breasts, in 2006 Bravo TV premiered the first in the Real Housewives series, proving to the whole world that some (likely male) executive at Bravo TV doesn’t know the true meaning of the word “real.”
Today, six women are serving as governors (South Carolina included). Twelve Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Seventeen women serve in the U.S. Senate and another 72 in the House. Twenty-three percent of women still earn only 75 percent as much as their male counterparts, according to a March 2011 report issued by the White House. Yet, we have higher levels of education. (Riddle me this.) We’re getting married later, or not at all, and some of us have even said no to the baby train. Oh, the horror.

But, what’s in a number?

There are 1,824,198 female veterans of the armed services in the United States. That sounds like a good place to start.

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article