Recently, my husband and I watched, “On the Basis of Sex,” the story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s (RBG) first precedent setting case on gender discrimination. RBG continued to work on cases that overturned 100 years of gender discrimination.
At the time this case was discussed in the movie, there were 178 laws that discriminated on the basis of sex; laws that said that women were not allowed to work overtime, were not able to get a credit card in their name, could be fired for being pregnant, and absurdly, female hairstylists couldn’t cut men’s hair. It wasn’t until 1963, that the Equal Pay Act was passed, enacting the first piece of federal legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination.
Society back then was a different time for women. An average woman married in her teens. Of those that went to college, 60.5% dropped out to marry. A woman was not encouraged to become independent from “her man”. Women were expected to be homemakers and subservient to their husbands. The man was the sole provider and was not expected to perform housework. Many men were against women joining the workforce as equals and male resistance to this change was strong.
It has been nearly 50 years since Justice Ginsberg’s presented her case. My husband, John, and I have raised five children. I have been active in my community, served on numerous boards, have founded two non-profits, and advocated for safe communities and youth programs. I went to college in my 40s earning a Bachelor’s of Arts and a Master’s in Social Work, followed by a number of years working as a social worker. I have worked on numerous political campaigns and have successfully ran for office five times. I have been in public life for 16 years with two years left on my term as a County Councilmember.
I have accomplished all of these things through hard work and the support of my family and friends. My husband was also in the political field, and I tell you this because despite my accomplishments and hard work, I continue to battle comments such as she ran on her husband’s name, her husband tells her how to vote, and her opinions are her husband’s. All this, despite my own work, experience, and expertise.
This week the Council voted on the Chambers Bay Resort Ground Lease Agreement. I meticulously combed through the Ground Lease Agreement, asked the County’s legal counsel and legislative staff clarifying questions, drafted multiple amendments and worked to make the Ground Lease Agreement something that was positive for the residents and the County. Throughout the process, I would hear people say, “She is her husband’s mouthpiece,” or “that is what John wants.” What all the comments and rhetoric said to me is that never would I, the five-time elected official, master’s degree educated, advocate and mother of five, have an idea of my own. All I know, is that on Tuesday, as my amendments were being read, as votes were taken and as the hits came one after another it was me up on that dais, speaking on what I thought was right and fighting the fight.
How far have we come since Ginsberg’s work on gender discrimination? How long will it take for our society to understand that women are no longer the “little woman” and are fully capable of making decisions on their own? I am not Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but every woman has a story. I wore an RBG pin on Tuesday during the Council meeting because the movie inspired me to speak out. It’s about time that women receive the respect, acknowledgment and credit for who we are, what we do and what we accomplish. And yes…we can do it without men telling us how.