Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Maybe You Don't Know It BUT You've come a long way Lady!

Just read somewhere that the average married woman in Ben Franklin's time had thirteen children. Back then I would guess you ladies had little else to do than to satisfy husbands, give birth, feed the brood and keep the house and clothes clean. I would also guess you didn't have a long life span. I think your legal status was chattel, legal property. Things hadn't changed much when my Grandmother came into this world in 1875. She had to submit to an arranged marriage, yes even the poor were doing things like that, in 1889. She had thirteen births (nothing seemed to change in a couple of hundred years) her last being in 1914 which everybody labeled a "change of life" baby. My Mother was born in 1908 and by then winds of change was in the air. Mom was a rebel and insisted her first date with my Dad would not have a chaperon. They were to have a walk in a park where they just happened to meet her sisters and their family and her mother (her father was dead). I know this doesn't sound like a breakthrough for women's rights but it was a start. Mom got married in 1929 and the ensuing depression and the fact that I almost killed her in her pregnancy kept her brood to two children. She lived to 97 and I am sure having only two children contributed to her long life. She  was a modern young lady. She learned Crochet Beading, a skill not in use today but was in great demand back in the day. She ran a shop for a while. The pressure of having to do all the womanly chores of housekeeping, cooking etc. was still hers not to mention the fact that my Dad really didn't like the idea of her working in an environment that was run and owned by two good looking American fellows. So for a while she did homework. I remember sitting under the outstretched material as she worked her needles and lifted the beads onto the outline. I'd pick up the beads that dropped to the floor which was covered by a sheet.

My Dad was an immigrant to this country from Italy in 1920. He was 19 years old then and got married some  nine years later. He came from a family of some 15 or so children, I never could get an exact figure. His Mom and Dad died while WW II was going on in the mid forties. I never met them but I saw pictures and they were two very short people, my Grandfather a real shoemaker and she baked bread for the nuns. She must of been some woman. Including my father five children immigrated, three boys and two girls. It wasn't easy being a young lady in Italy in those days. My Aunt Tessie told me that one day after church at her door she stopped to say hello to a boy she knew and one of her older brothers saw her and slapped her in the face drawing blood from her lip and ordered her to go into the house, which she did without a word because she had no standing and she DID talk to a boy unaccompanied. She married an Italian immigrant by the way of Argentina whose name was Anthony, we called him Uncle Tony. What else? The other girl was my Aunt Julia who married my Uncle Mike, an iceman who didn't work much. Aunt Tessie was a seamstress. Aunt Julia became Sonia Heine's personal seamstress. Uncle Tony was always a hard worker and he was a tailor but Uncle Mike seemed to be an unemployed iceman. The women, my Mother included, let all the Italian men think they were the boss but the women really ran the whole family making decisions when to buy clothes, running the household budget and ruling over the children. The women had to defer to the men. Why? Because that's the way it was. These women were paving the way for women's rights without demonstrating or burning bras. Little by little they were staking their claim that they had as much right to happiness as the men had and they were hell bent on making sure they were not going to be the servants the way their mother's were. The men did not give up their position easily but over the years they just let it happen. On some fronts the men held their ground. My Mom and Dad had two or three fights a year. When they retired for the night my Mom would ask my Father if he was going to sleep in their bed and without answering he'd just pull the covers over him and go to sleep. She then would sleep on the couch in the Parlor until she realized he had a peaceful sleep while she just fumed. The later years saw them both go to sleep in their bed facing away from each other. My Father wasn't going to give up one of his last rights which was the RIGHT to sleep in HIS bed. My Mother ate her pride for the benefit of a good night's sleep.

Today the young women never even think about what their ancestors had to do so that they can enjoy their lives almost as much as young men, there is still some way to go but not much. I know the Carry Nations and the bra burners have all the headlines but the quiet workers for women's rights, their Great-Grandmothers and Great-Great-Grandmothers did just as much but it wasn't as showy, it couldn't be since they were in close proximity to those who figured keeping women under their protective fingers was their God given right. However, it should be noted that even today there are those who think the road to hell came when we gave them their right to vote. But if the truth be known it would definitely show that a lot of our greatness as a nation can be attributed to the fact that for every great man there was a great woman who allowed him to be great. The women have finally stepped out from the shadows to become leaders in partnership with men. This is the way it should be and we are a much stronger nation because of it. Yes, it is true, even if you don't know it you've come a long way lady!
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