Friday, March 8, 2013

Women's History Month for a New Generation

I'm sorry to say that this post is not about books. This one is coming from my other avocation which involves politics/sociology. I've been obsessing for the past 24 hours over a disturbing conversation I had in the break room at work yesterday with a co-worker. This woman is only 27. I guess that makes her a generation Y or millennial. She is smart and funny, a lovely gal all around.

So my heart truly hurt when she made an extremely judgmental remark about women who claim their husband's social security. More disturbing to me was that she did not seem to understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid and how one qualifies for each even though she worked in a medical office. She seemed to think it was unfair for a divorced spouse to receive a former husband's social security benefits. Then she went off on a riff about folks who abuse the system and it was all I could do the clamp my mouth shut. You see, we're not supposed to talk politics at work. Thus, I write.

I suppose this was where I should have gone to the bookshelves and found a copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique! Fifty years since it was written, twice as long as this young lady has been alive. But not me. I remember well what was happening in the '50's and '60's. What I wanted to tell her was - talk to your grandma. She'll explain. But maybe I should take her out for a drink and give her the down and dirty on the past fifty years of women's history. Has she not heard of Lily Ledbetter?

Most of the women in my book discussion group are in their '70's. We've been together a long time. We tend to get personal. One woman told me about being fired from her school teaching job when she got pregnant. Yes, of course she was married but, hey! We don't want those poor little children's psyches to be damaged as they wonder how she got that way!

My stepmother, Edith, had a degree in chemistry from Barnard. When she graduated she was offered a position working on the Manhattan project. Imagine! She was also offered a proposal of marriage from the love of her life. She couldn't have both. You know which one she took.

When I was in high school my mom and my aunt Jackie were the only two women I knew who worked outside the home. In college, I surmised within a few weeks that I was way out of my socio-economic class. NONE of the other mothers worked! Fortunately they stayed home and baked cookies and we were darn glad of it since the care packages were usually full of sweets. My mom sent money for books.

So now fast forward to the day these women turned 65. Some weren't allowed to work, for some it just wasn't done in their class structure. Have they contributed to social security or Medicare? No. Have they possibly worked at some menial position below their educational level to put some man through law or medical school? Possibly. Have they raised the kids, served on non-profits, hosted hubby's boss for hundreds of dinners? Oh yeah. Their working years were full of duties but you can't deposit thank you's in the bank.

Now let's say hubby's gone off with the trophy wife. We all know how long that's going to last! Does this woman deserve some compensation for the 20 or 30 years she kept the home fires burning? You betcha! Do I cringe when I hear the word "entitlement?" Uh huh. And oh, I haven't even touched upon the women living in poverty, the working poor who will never earn enough to be able to live on social security. They qualify for Medicaid for a reason!

The next time we put up a women's history month display in the library I'm going to make sure that, instead of Susan B. Anthony, though she's certainly important, we make sure to include my contemporaries, the women from the boomer generation who broke all kinds of barriers. Gen Y, you need to brush up on your women's history!

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