RIGHTS – HOW DO THEY WORK?
At a meeting today, I was listening to a millennial give a speech about important things. Really important things. And he had figured out they were important, which is sort of what he talked about at the beginning of his very important talk. He stated that his generation doesn’t know where rights come from. They just think they were part of the natural process, and that they will always be there. I sat up and took notice. Why? Because that is a phenomenon I have noticed myself. Not just about ordinary rights, either, like speech or religion or not having soldiers quartered in my home (I use that one every day, I tell you. Just yesterday, I had to turn away an army who wanted to camp out in my spare bedroom.) They don’t understand about the specific rights that pertain to them, the amount of work that went into gaining those rights, and the danger to those rights if we are not eternally vigilant. They have no idea that rights were not always there, or that rights could go away.
This is a phenomenon I have noticed with feminism. For some reason, the current generation of young women seem to take their rights for granted. Oh, if pushed, they will acknowledge that women a hundred years ago didn’t have it quite so good, but they don’t seem to have any understanding how we got from that place to this. Sort of teleported, I guess, or maybe just slid down a natural hill that was inevitable? They don’t really grasp the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that went into winning those rights (and they probably don’t know who first said blood, sweat, and tears, either, unless someone texted it to them last night from quotes.com or something).
As someone who was born on that difficult cusp between June Cleaver and Mary Tyler Moore, and entered middle age along with Murphy Brown, I appreciate the work that came before me, the women who fought and orated and sweated and suffered arrest and humiliation to make my life easier, so I and those of my generation could finish the fight. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that, though we did take it somewhat further along the finish line. Now it is up to the current generation to finish the fight, and they don’t seem to understand that they need to fight. The rights are there…oh, yes, there are still some rights still to be gained, but they believe (erroneously) that those will be gained by slut walks and women’s marches, and nothing much else in between. The one thing they don’t seem to realize is that rights can be lost, too.
One thing I did not have when I was a young woman just entering my reproductive years was health care that paid for contraception. That came later, as insurance companies realized it was a lot cheaper than paying for childbirth, not to mention the two decades of well baby, childhood, and adolescent medical care for the offspring. Now a well organized institution (actually, several, as fundamentalist Protestants find common ground with the Catholics they spent so much of their history hating, and vice versa) threatens to snatch that rug out from under us, though they seem to have no problem with insurance coverage of Viagra.
When I was born, many states did not have legal abortion. That came later, when I was in my early teens. I took for granted as a young woman that it was a right gained, and we were secure in our rights to safe and legal abortion. I was wrong, and I learned that quickly, since the battle against it was in full roar before the ink dried on Roe v. Wade. This is a right that is rapidly disappearing. The right is available in name only for many women, especially rural women and poor women who may have a technical right but no clinic anywhere they can access. Some very large Midwestern states have few to no clinics, and they are often a long distance from the woman who needs the service. Now the Supreme Court has been handed over to the men who wish to end all abortion forever. We will lose this right if we don’t fight; we will probably lose it anyway, and then the fight will be to regain a right once underappreciated. This won’t likely be in my lifetime, and it may not be in the lifetimes of any woman living today. These are always long battles, and more easily undone than done.
What other rights are women in danger of losing? Will we once again see custody automatically going to the father? Will we once again have to have a male co-signer if we wish to get a loan? Will we find ourselves driven out of the academy, the factory, the boardroom? Will we be pushed back to the kitchen and the bedroom? Will we lose the hard won right to vote? Will we once again become property, to be handed over from our father to our husband in a ceremony in which we must promise to “love, honor, and obey”, and have few opportunities to escape?
Seem far fetched? I wish. When I was thirteen, standing on the cusp of womanhood, I wouldn’t have seen that as difficult to imagine, raised as I was in a household that valued the traditional view of women. I never found it difficult to imagine. I found myself in many situations in which women were barely tolerated, only because it was required by law, and many situations in which women were actively locked out by tradition, by procedure, by protocol, and by sheer brute force. I fought my way through some doors, but decided others were not worth it, because if I went inside, I would have to coexist with some of the worst people I could imagine. I should have forced those doors. Maybe in time, I could have seen those people displaced and replaced with people who knew how to respect all of humanity, not just half. Actually, I doubt that would have happened, but a woman can dream, right?
So, a message to the younger generation, who failed to listen fully in history, and have no idea that rights were snatched out of clinging hands, rather than offered with loving ones. Read. Listen. Read some more. Listen some more. Shut up if you need to (it’s easier to hear others when your mouth is not moving). This might actually mean books, magazines, and newspapers, because the Internet, while it has all that information, has so much more information that is irrelevant or just plain wrong, and it will distract you from your purpose. So stop, look, listen, and learn. The whispers in the wind are ominous, and we must heed the warnings. We can keep our rights. We can win more rights. But it will not be easy, and it will not be fast, and it will require more than a blog post or two. The revolution will not be Tweeted. You must act…actively.