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Freedom

Women have gained some surprising rights since the 1960s

By Erica KeyNovember 13, 2015

1960s Woman
A 1960's housewife cleaning. Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

Though true equality is still an imperfect goal, women have achieved significant rights since the 1960’s. Millennial women, who grew up long after the women’s movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, may be surprised to learn how many basic rights women didn’t have just 50 short years ago.

For example, in the 1960s women were not allowed to serve on juries. A handful of states allowed it, but most kept women out of the jury pool due to their obligations as homemakers and potential fragility in the presence of criminals. Women could finally serve on juries in all 50 states only in 1973.

An unmarried woman was not allowed to get a credit card, no matter how much money she had. And a married woman who wanted a credit card would need her husband as a co-signer. Single women were also denied access to birth control, and pregnancy for a married worker was grounds for termination.

If a woman did have a job, her employment choices were limited, mostly to teacher, nurse, or secretary. Women were forced to take low-paying jobs and had very limited options. Many were paid far less than their male counterparts and did not have a chance at advancement. If a woman’s husband decided he didn't want her to work, he could very easily take her boss out for a beer and explain that this job was causing her to neglect her family, and her boss could, and would, fire her.

 

Because we are used to these freedoms, it’s easy to assume they are long-established.

Divorce was not yet common and many women stayed in volatile marriages because they had no choice. They were stuck with no education, no job and no money. They were expected to agree with their husband no matter what. 

Thanks to the strong and fearless members of the women’s liberation movement — women like Betty Friedan, Helen Gurley Brown, Gloria Steinem, Diane Nash, Judy Goldsmith and many more — women today have more rights and opportunities than ever, and are free to define themselves as they wish, not as simply daughter, wife or mother.

In 2015, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States is estimated to have surpassed 9.4 million enterprises. Thirty percent of all businesses in the country are owned by women. These women entrepreneurs are creating, building and running empires.

More parents are encouraging their daughters to put off marriage and kids and take advantage of the best education they can get. Our First Lady Michelle Obama said it best, "There is no boy cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting your education." 

Most importantly, a woman is no longer defined by her man. Single women are happily traveling, following their dreams, and living their life to the fullest without needing a husband to validate their existence. Women are no longer letting society tell them when they should be married or that they need to have children.

Because we are used to these freedoms, it’s easy to assume they are long-established. We should not forget how recently they have been won; fifty years is not a very long time for a society — we would be wise to protect the rights an earlier generation fought hard to earn for us.