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Grace Ross: Rolling Back the Clock on Women

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


In most states across the country through the 1950s women became literally the property of their husbands when they married; even after the 1950s this practice continued in a number of states across the union.

Not surprisingly, if you were the property of somebody it was seen as their right to treat you as they chose. Hence, it took a massive women’s movement – or two – to get us to the place where most people assume you’re not supposed to batter your wife – or husband for that matter. As well, one should have the right to leave if one’s treated badly enough – certainly in cases where leaving protects one’s life or the life and well-being of one’s children.

Also coming out of the legacy of being the property of one’s husband, came the assumption that a wife’s wages were to be contributed to the husband and to the husband’s household. The expectation that women should get paid the same as a man for the same work was born along with the fight for the status of women from being property to remaining separate human beings with our own rights.

That change in public perception took many people working in their community and through the media and could not have happened with changing the legal status of women.

To this day women still make less in general for the same work done by a man. While women have been beating the drum about this issue for a long time, it struck me as particularly ironic that when this economic downturn hit and employers sought to push down wages, it is men who got fired more quickly than women. While nobody spoke of it explicitly, a number of economists pointed out that keeping women who were already getting paid less for the same work on and firing men was a natural consequence of the economic downturn being used as an excuse for forcing wages down; letting men go saved more money and prevented more push backs when wages were decreased.

Unfortunately, this follows the long term trends of whenever workforces have moved from being predominantly men to predominantly women, wages and benefits have also dropped.

This seems like the perfect opportunity to point out that a single system of wages instead of a two-tiered system, regardless of the basis of the two tiers, is what really protects decent wages and benefits for everybody.

Similarly, it’s not healthy for any community for law enforcement and politicians to look the other way or create the circumstance that allows battering to increase or even, God forbid, thrive.

Bad economic periods see an upswing in domestic violence. And this one has been particularly bad.

But instead of understanding the need to work against that trend, we are alarmingly living in a time when women can now be battered if they have children but have lost the guarantee of a place to go if they run for their and their children’s lives.

I honestly never thought I would live to see the day when it would be re-codified in the laws of our Commonwealth that a woman who claimed to leave her home because of violence could have that assertion assumed to be questionable by government and service providers. Why anyone in their right mind thinks that a woman with children in tow desperately seeking shelter, who is unsafe and unable to allow her whereabouts to be known, would be making the story up to try to get a roof over their head, I have no idea.

Somehow our thinking has been allowed to wander back to a time period when women either were explicitly property of their husband or had been recent enough so that it was acceptable to consider them that way.

I don’t believe that you have to be a dyed-in-the-wool feminist to believe that a battered woman running for her life or for her children’s lives should be able to assume that our state can find the resources to provide temporary shelter. No woman who’s being battered should have to worry about documented proof to get a roof over her head while she gets her feet back on the ground to try to save her life or her children’s lives.

In a bizarre sort of silver lining way, women and men today can look each other in the eye and realize we really are in this together. Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander. And now is the time for us to stand up together and make sure that everyone is safe in their home and has the power to leave if that’s the only way to gain safety; similarly, working together, no one can put us in the position of depression wages by setting one segment of our workforce against another.  


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