The meme pictured here was posted on Facebook when Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday, a Jewish holiday. Of course it was a high holiday. Notorious RBG was never average, always special.
I read the meme and thought, “Well, I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to RBG because I can recall the moments in my life when I wasn’t treated equally. When I was discriminated against because I was female. And there were no laws in place to help me. Matter of fact, no one cared that I was being discriminated against. It was acceptable.”
The first time I thought, “Hey, what’s up with this?” was when my mother told the story of the day I was born. My Italian grandfather came to the hospital, very excited to tell my mother that somebody had left a baby boy at the bus depot. It was a story he read in the San Francisco Chronicle. Maybe we could get that baby because, “Dolly, we already got two girls at home…”
Funny, it was never that amusing to me. But the message was clear: boys were worth more. Even an abandoned baby boy was worth more. If I complained about this story to my father, he’d reply, “Relax kid, they kill girl babies in China.” I so wish that story wasn’t true.
I was also aware that, when I wanted to play on an after-school softball team in 1959, my mother said, “No, you’re taking ballet lessons, Neesey. Little girls don’t play softball.”
The things we teach our children.
But, in 1971, I was 20. And I was moving out.
From childhood, my parents insisted we worked in my father’s stores. As kids, we got paid in ice cream bars, but when we became teenagers, we had to join the union and we got money. I had been working there for seven years when I got engaged the first time.
In high school, most of my money had gone to shoes, clothes and handbags. I inherited my shopping gene from my mother, and I excelled at it.
But my nest egg savings my father had earmarked for me to buy a condo. “You can never go wrong with property, Neesey.” It was not a secret that my father didn’t believe in paying rent, “It’s always, best to own the building. “
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, buying my condo. Even though I had savings, a full-time job, and the down payment, I was told I didn’t qualify for a bank loan. Even though my salary was 5 times what the loan payment would be. The lender had an equation. Cold hard numbers. I made enough—so why didn’t I qualify?
I had no credit report because I had paid cash for my new car.
“She bought it outright!’ cried the loan manger. “Why?!” His face was so red, I assumed it was from his thin, black tie being tied to tight or, seriously, he was allergic to the word “cash.”
I told him the truth, “Because I had the money.”
It made no difference; he wasn’t listening to me.
A different, older, fatter banker in the mortgage department delivered the news, “Well, maybe after she’s married…” He spoke only to my father. He passed my bank savings book back to my dad. I could see my name in gold letters right there on the cover. I was sitting right there but had somehow become invisible.
I remember thinking how weird that entire conversation was. How would my fiancée help? He didn’t have a full-time job, or any savings, and was returning to college in the fall. After we got married, I would be the one putting food on the table and making the house payments.
Eventually, my father had to get the loan and then turned the property over in a quitclaim deed.
I made every payment for seven years.
The year after I was married, I wanted to get a credit card, but without my husband’s signature
I did not qualify. Somehow the “Mrs.” in front of my name, made me worth more.
I saw a pattern here. I made all the money; I just didn’t get the credit.
The next year an opening came up where I worked, I was told I was the most qualified and it came with a pay raise, “But it’s only fair to give it to a man with a family.”
WTF?! What about my family?
I write these old tales because I know that I am one of millions of women from my generation that have similar stories.
Medical procedures, birth control, adoption – all out of a women’s control in the olden days. And if you stepped out of line, you’d be punished. Jailed. Shunned. Stoned.
Or, to this day, birth control still not covered by health insurance.
My life changed when I realized that I wanted to be in charge of my own life. I burned my bra. I protested. I voted. And I became my own boss.
Silent and powerless no more.
I found a second husband that wants and loves a woman with business sense. He wants a partner, not a handmaiden. He doesn’t need to be the head of the family. We can share that weight. We can be equals.
When I was struggling for only me, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seeing the big picture. She had a full, loving life, and she was thinking of and helping the rest of us. She created laws that help all women. Her laws don’t discriminate. They even protect women who don’t appreciate them.
Or worse, don’t think they need them. Or ever question where the rights they take for granted came from.
Have any of us examined the last 50 years of our lives enough and thought about what can we do now to help the women who come behind us? We may never become notorious, but at least we can make RBG proud.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I owe you a huge thank you.
And may your memory renew the revolution.