02 July 2020

How the System Gets Systemic and Other Tales


I see the grand opening of America is going well. Especially in Florida and Texas. But more on that later. Or maybe not. It's too easy a shot.

What struck me about the Tulsa Rally, the Arizona "Students for Trump" Rally, and (I'm sure) tomorrow's 3rd of July Fireworks at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota* were the "Front Row Joes". The ones who show up early, camp out, bring the kids and grandkids, travel from rally to rally, wear special outfits, have slogans, legends, beliefs, and a whole culture that goes with following the object of desire from one venue to another. You know: the conservative version of Deadheads.


God bless them all, and may they not get the virus. BTW, I can't help but wonder how many of the older crowd were Jerry Garcia fans back in the day. I'll bet if someone started humming "Friend of the Devil" a lot of people would take up the song...

BUT BACK TO THE MAIN THEME

Meanwhile, though, I've been thinking about systemic racism. Now I have not experienced this as such - all of the people who have ever harrassed me about my ethnicity have so far gotten it wrong: I am neither Jewish, Native American, Italian, or mixed-race, although I would not mind in the slightest if I were. What this dark-haired, dark-eyed, large-nosed cantankerous crone is, is Greek, and my Ancestry gene test proves it. (God, I wish racists would bother to do a little research and get their hateful ethnic stereotypes correct.)

But I certainly have experienced systemic sexism. As has every woman I know. So, let's go over some of the issues.

Dress Codes - "Show us your legs, ladies, and don't be shy about it!"

My first official job was in 1971 (I lied about my age, and other things), as a switchboard operator in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids gets cold and very snowy in winter, but we were required to wear dresses to work. And the manager could require us to wear dresses, even though no one in the public ever saw us. (Most of us wore pants on the way over and changed.) Women couldn't wear pants on the job anywhere at that time. It wasn't until the mid-70s that the pantsuit became popular and women could wear them at work.

But not everywhere: women weren't allowed to wear anything but skirts on the floor of the US Senate until 1993, when Senators Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun wore pantsuits in defiance of the rules. That took a while, didn't it?

But sometimes it takes even longer: As late as 2019, a federal judge struck down a rule at a North Carolina charter school that prohibited girls at the school from wearing pants. It required them instead to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers. The school had argued that the dress code promoted “traditional values.” (HERE)

And I note that the rule is still - on the Weather Channel and Fox News among other places - that female broadcasters wear (often sleeveless) dresses and spike heels all four seasons, while their male counterparts can actually cover their legs and arms with multiple layers. Still.


Jobs - It's hard to get one if you are barred from even applying.

Help wanted ads in newspapers were listed by gender until 1973. Jobs for Men; Jobs for Women. Betcha can't figure out what kinds of jobs were listed under JFW - secretarial, receptionist, clerks, low-level accountancy, waitresses, hostesses. CPAs were listed under Jobs for Men, along with everything else that paid a living wage.

But in 1973, in Pittsburgh Press Co. v Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376 (1973), SCOTUS upheld an ordinance enacted in Pittsburgh that forbade sex-designated classified advertising for job opportunities, against a claim by the parent company of the Pittsburgh Press that the ordinance violated its First Amendment rights. (Wikipedia) And finally, the barriers broke down!

Long history of discriminatory newspaper ads | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It still took a while for things to actually change throughout the land, and in many places, a token woman got hired, and that was enough, despite the fact that (ahem) women do make up 50% of the population. So far we're settling for 23% of Congress, and 5% of CEOs, and 0% Vice Presidents or Presidents. To quote the great RBG when asked "'When do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is when there are nine." (RBG)

Meanwhile, we're still earning 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Higher Education

While there's a long history of women's colleges in America, beginning in the 1800s with seminaries, almost all of them were aimed at teaching teachers. Full education and co-educational college education was a long hard slog. It wasn't until the 1950s that - again - SCOTUS weighed in with a number of decisions that said public single-sex universities violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

"The Ivy League schools held out the longest: Yale and Princeton didn’t accept female students until 1969. Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977 (when it merged with the all-female Radcliffe College). Brown (which merged with women’s college Pembroke), Dartmouth and Columbia did not offer admission to women until 1971, 1972 and 1981, respectively. Other case-specific instances allowed some women to take certain classes at Ivy League institutions (such as Barnard women taking classes at Columbia), but, by and large, women in the ’60s who harbored Ivy League dreams had to put them on hold." (Wikipedia)

Health - When you're not included because you're just an inferior man.

BTW, even today, most clinical trials for medicine and medical procedures are done exclusively on men. This is because - as we're always told - women have menstrual cycles that would screw up the research and men don't, and besides, "the average human is a '60 kilogram man'"**. One size fits all, right? Well, this has had some grimly hilarious results - did you know that the first major study ever done on breast cancer was done on men? True. But even today, studies on heart disease, lung cancer, Alzheimer's, and cholesterol are done primarily on men, and even when women are included in the studies, "they often fail to stratify data by sex or include information about hormone status or any other gender-specific factors." Which means we still don't know how well various drugs or treatments actually work for women. (HERE)

BTW - it's even worse for minorities. "Nearly 40 percent of Americans belong to a racial or ethnic minority, but the patients who participate in clinical trials for new drugs skew heavily white—in some cases, 80 to 90 percent. " (Scientific American)

The Pill

In 1957, the FDA approved of the birth control pill but only for “severe menstrual distress.” In 1960, the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. In both cases, it was only for married women. And even then it was only legal in some states. It wasn't until the late 60s through early 70s that it was made legal and available for both single and married women.

Credit - Or, how do you start a business without any money?

Until 1974, a woman was not able to apply for credit without her father's or husband's signature. If you were a single woman, you were SOL. The Equal Opportunity Credit Act changed that. BTW, it was Congresswoman Lindy Boggs who added the provision banning discrimination due to sex or marital status, because the committee hadn't put it in the original bill. She photocopied the new version of the bill and told the other committee members, "Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital status' included. I've taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee's approval." The committee unanimously approved the bill.

Credit - Small Business Loans

Took a long time to get. And I know a number of women who were rejected by a bank - because we generally don't have the assets of a man - and started their small businesses using credit cards. Lots of them.

More Problems with Being Female While Working - Pregnancy

Besides trying to even get a job, or trying to even get credit to start your own business, or to get credit to buy or rent the furnishings or clothing you needed, women could also get fired, legally, for getting pregnant until the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Speaking of Pregnancy, how about the Age of Consent?

In 1880, the ages of consent were set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7. Yes, you read that correctly. By 1920, however, I'm happy to say that 26 states had an age of consent at 16, 21 states had an age of consent at 18, and one state (Georgia) had an age of consent at 14. Georgia which raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 in 1995, and Hawaii did the same in 2001.

And how about consent, period?

Well, if you were married - you couldn't say no. Spousal rape wasn’t criminalized in all 50 states until 1993.

And, for most of us who have not been living under a rock, we all know that rape is damned hard to prove in the courts of public opinion, public gossip, and the law. Especially since as many as 200,000 rape kits are still sitting around police stations in the US that have never been and never will be tested. Kind of makes you feel like it just doesn't matter. But it does... (HERE)

And sexual harrassment at the workplace was not made illegal until 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment can be sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson. However, as some of us know, it still continues...

(See a host of stories on that topic, including my own "Pentecost", in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor.)

More Problems with Being Female While Working - Health Insurance

Charging women more for health insurance than men wasn’t outlawed in health insurance until 2010 with the Affordable Care Act. Let me repeat that:

WOMEN COULD AND WERE CHARGED MORE THAN MEN FOR HEALTH INSURANCE UNTIL 2010's ACA!!!!

If the ACA is tossed out - as the current administration is trying to get SCOTUS to do - that will end and women can be charged more again. And undoubtedly will. (NPR)

Jury Duty

Many states excluded women from jury duty until SCOTUS declared that to be illegal in Taylor v Louisiana in 1973. Gives a whole new insight into the all male juries of Twelve Angry Men, and Anatomy of a Murder, doesn't it?

BTW - Barring women from practicing law was only prohibited in the U.S. in 1971.

"I thought you were a man"

Previously shared in a comment on Melanie Campbell's blog (HERE):

Back in the late 70s, I made the finals for new play contest, and I went down for the public reading of all 5 finalists. Now, I'd submitted the play under the pen name M. V. Fisher. When I arrived, the person in charge looked at me, and said, "We thought you were a man." And sure enough, all the other finalists were men. I didn't win.
Systemic sexism is real.
Systemic racism is real.
Fight them both TOOTH AND NAIL!!!!

Love always,
The Crone.


** For an absolute classic on how women have been measured by the male over the millenia, real Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman. https://www.amazon.com/Mismeasure-Woman-Carol-Tavris/dp/0671797492

A quick quote: On hysterectomy for a 'precancerous' diagnosis: "Although prostate cancer is far more common than uterine cancer, no one recommends preventative surgery on the prostate. The very idea would make most men premurderous."

11 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Excellent article. As my daughter grew up and we watched movies and tv shows set back in time, she would be astonished about what women could and could not do. "I wouldn't put up with that." Yep, I told her, women have come a long way but there's a long way to go. Like you say, it is the system. We're Catholic as well and talk about sexism.

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, O'Neil. The thing with the system, is no one has to be racist/sexist/whatever, or even feel racist/sexist/whatever if the system is set up "properly" because "that's just the way it is." And we always have to keep things the way they are. Nothing personal. Just...
Grr. Remember it all too well.

janice law said...

A fine summary of our grim history.
Teaching was another long saga of discrimination. Within living memory, women teachers ( married) were fired for getting pregnant and some single ones fired for getting married. Needless to say women were paid less right up through my early years of public school teaching in CT.

Barb Goffman said...

I remember how things seemed to change quickly in the 80s. When my sister graduated from college in 1982, the summer before starting law school, she went to Europe with a friend. My father had to co-sign in order for her to get a credit card to use on the trip. But when I started college in 1987, credit card applications were doled out like candy to women (and men) and approved just as easily--no male co-signer needed.

Steve Liskow said...

In the mid-70s, I was the union steward at one of the two high schools, and after months of BS negotiation for a new contract, our leaders determined that a strike was necessary. My high school was about 1/2 women, and the majority of them felt they didn't need more money or fringe benefits (including medical) because their husbands had REAL jobs and supported the family. They were "only teachers" and women.

They voted against the strike. At the time, I was one of six men on that same faculty with at least one pre-school-aged child and my wife home as a mother, which cut our previous income in half. Still shake my head at how those (older) women still bought into such a patriarchal system...

Eve Fisher said...

Back in the mid-90s, after we moved to SD, I found out that almost no women at the local law
firms, etc., got employer-covered health insurance, although the law firm paid for the lawyers'. (There were no female lawyers in town - in the mid-90s) Anyway, a woman told me that "Well, they don't really need health insurance, because I'm sure they're covered by their husbands." I came unglued.

Don Coffin said...

Just for what it's worth, the immigration laws passed in 1924 severely restricted immigration from all countries in Eastern Europe--including, of course, Greece.

"The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia."
https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/immigration-act
"The Immigration Act of 1924 had imposed harsh restrictions on non-western European immigrant groups. Under that law, only one hundred Greeks per year were allowed entry into the United States."

Elizabeth said...

Men can & do get breast cancer. A male patient at a hospital where I worked in pathology had both testicular & breast cancer at the same time.

Anonymous said...

In 1991 I was hired as the Director of Nursing Services in a small community owned nursing home in South Dakota. I had a bachelor of science degree with a major in nursing and also a certification in Gerontological nursing. I was responsible to manage a staff of about 100. These were certified nursing assistants and licensed nurses. We cared for 45 residends. I had 8 years of experience working in a Medicare certified skilled nursing facility. The same year a young man, also with a bachelor of science degree was hired as the laboratory manager. His first job out of college and with no experience. He managed a staff of 5 persons: 3 lab technicians and 2 x-ray technicians. We department heads had access to each other's salaries via computer data that we were told not to look at. I learned that the lab manager had a significantly larger salary than mine and I confronted our administrator about it. I was told that his salary was larger because he was a married man with children. The lab manager supported me, but my salary remained the same.

Eve Fisher said...

Don, I probably wouldn't have gotten in (in 1957), but I was adopted from the Athens orphanage by an American couple, so - free shipping, you know?
Elizabeth, I do know that men can get breast cancer, and I'm not discounting that - but we all know that most breast cancer cases are in women, and I think we can assume so did the people who did the first breast cancer study - back in (I believe) the 30s.
Anonymous - sounds all too familiar.

Robert Lopresti said...

Can't help but point out that my book When Women Didn't Count covers some of this, including a chapter on the wonder world of sexist health statistics.