For those of us that are a part of Generation Y, we often forget how different things were for our grandparents, and even our parents. In the time that it’s taken our very recent family to grow up, things have changed in our world in ways that we now take for granted. It was only a hundred years ago that women were still seen as property to be handed down from her father to her husband. We were objects, and nothing more.
We all know where it began: with the suffragettes. They fought for us to get the vote, and they were right to: after all, the decisions that politicians make affect us all, so why should only half of the population get to choose who makes decisions that affect the whole of the country? When we gained the vote, we gained power, and after we gained that first taste of power, we realised that we were just as entitled to other things, too…
In the nineteen twenties came the rise of the flapper. Whilst a predominantly American culture, their impact is still around today, in attitudes and in fashion. That woman applying her lipstick in public? She got that from the flappers. That woman in a miniskirt? Nobody dared to show so much leg until the flappers came along! And that brazen, devil may care attitude we all know at least one person with? Yep. That’s from flappers, too.
Flappers gained their name because they were women “flapping” their wings, and finally flying away the nest of male dominance. They did what they wanted, when they wanted. They had sex out of wedlock, they drank, they wore make-up, they wore minidresses, and they didn’t give a fuck.
However, their attitudes weren’t for everyone, and their having sex out of wedlock caused issues for anyone who fell pregnant. If a woman fell pregnant out of wedlock, she was still exiled as late as the nineteen sixties, and her child was often given up for adoption without her having any choice. It’s a strange concept, nowadays, given that so many couples choose not to marry at all, but it happened often, and was seldom discussed.
Things began to change with the invention of the pill. Originally, it could only be given to women who were married but chose not to have (anymore) children. It became available to all women in the nineteen sixties, and gave us a control over our bodies that we’d never had before. It bought about the concept of free love – for the first time ever, if a woman wanted to sleep with a man, she could do so consequence-free (or at least baby-free). It is now also used to treat medical problems such as menstrual cramps and endometriosis. The pill is truly one of the medical miracles of the twentieth century.
One thing about women’s rights that few of us realise is that as late as the nineteen seventies women were not allowed to draw money out of their own account unless they had permission from a male (usually their father, brother or husband), even if that man’s name wasn’t on the account. What about if you were divorced? You had to ask permission from your ex-husband, that’s what. Think about how undignified and embarrassing that would have been for anyone woman who needed money. Think how you’d feel having to still be in contact with an ex if it had ended badly, and still knowing that he has control of your life, regardless of how much of a dick he was to you. With financial freedom, comes freedom in every other aspect of life, too, and until we gained that freedom, we were still prisoners.
Even now, some will still ask to speak to “the man of the house”. Some banks will even go so far as to refuse to speak to a woman about a joint account, even if her name is on it right next to her husband’s. Even if she is the main breadwinner of the household, they still want to speak to her husband.
Whilst women are no longer seen as objects (at least not in the Western World), we must still be careful. We shouldn’t take the freedom that we’ve earned in such a short amount of time for granted: it could easily be taken away. The pay gap between males and females has the potential to widen for the first time ever this year, and many companies are still sans women in their top positions, despite the most well-run companies being the ones that are run by both sexes. Two women every week are still killed by a partner or ex-partner, and one in four women will find themselves in a domestically abusive relationship at some point in their lives. In some countries, women are still required to give a dowry, rape is commonplace and not even illegal, female genital mutilation is common, and the thought of a woman getting the vote is a long way away, let alone having their own source of income or being prime minister/president. Just because those of us in the Western World have more freedom than we did one hundred years ago, that doesn’t make the whole of womankind free, nor does it mean that we should forget how we earned it. We must learn from the women of the past, and not forget the lessons that they taught us.