You’ve come a long way…
Those of you who grew up in North America might be familiar with an old ad campaign that was meant to be complimentary but when viewed through a 21st-century lens, are actually pretty demeaning. The “You’ve come a long way baby” ads for Virginia Slims cigarettes co-opted the women’s liberation movement for advertising purposes, using the series to highlight the changing times while also marketing their cigarettes. Highly successful at the time, I would suggest these ads must be viewed as simply perpetuating the male perspective. Only now, in 2020, would I suggest we’ve actually come a “long way” and nobody better be calling anybody “baby!” Today we’re celebrating International Women’s Day and while much work still needs to be done, we’re getting there. Perhaps no one knows this more than the 50+ mature adult audience who has lived through at least some of these formative and game-changing decades.
In North America, women first gained the right to vote in some (but not all!) Canadian provinces by 1929 and in America, by 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. British suffragettes fought for and gained these privileges in part by 1918 but not fully (and as considered equals to men) until 1928. In some countries around the world, sadly these rights have been both gained then lost again. Current statistics tell us that approximately five per cent of women are CEO’s providing corporate leadership in Fortune 500 companies and in politics, while participation rates are variously between 25 and 35% we are sadly lacking when it comes to women either leading their party or their country. Recently, however, Finland (who first gave women voting rights in 1906) made headlines for having women in charge of all four of their major political parties and a working mom, under age 40, as the sitting Prime Minister. Understanding these numbers (both the good and the bad) is important. We have the early suffragettes to thank for creating a momentum that has truly started to change the course of history over these last 150 years or so but it’s up to us to continue to do so.
50+ Women have seen it all!
Despite some successes, as the ad campaign suggested back in the early 1970s, we have come a long way but there is still much work to be done. No one is better poised to understand this than the 50+ woman who has seen it all. There’s a good chance your grandmother could not drive a car but you’re making damn sure you’re daughter not only drives one but knows how to change a flat. Your great-grandmother wouldn’t have dreamed of running for political office, starting a company, or going to medical school but your daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughters will take their rightful place at the table as Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEO’s and maybe even one of them will find the cure for cancer. What’s more, they will receive the praise they are due for their progress and perseverance unlike some of our predecessors who saw their life’s work co-opted by men, scientific discoveries “shared” with male researchers because they alone couldn’t publish a paper as a woman or who received no recognition until the likes of Hollywood* came along to tell their story. Marie Curie, at first unable to enrol in an institution of higher learning because she was a woman, studied instead at the clandestine “Flying University,” which, according to Wikipedia, was “a Polish patriotic institution of higher learning that admitted women students,” essentially teaching herself until such time as she could study more formally in Paris. Where would we be today without her discoveries?
On March 8th, women around the world gathered to celebrate and recognize International Women’s Day. This year’s hashtag was #EachforEqual highlighting the common theme that “an equal world is an enabled world.” Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers helped forge a path but we all know it’s up to us to continue their work. Celebrate the achievements of women throughout history, celebrate your own achievements as a woman of 50+ who forged your own path because you had the freedom of choice to do so. But also, pause to ask yourself what else can be done. We have come a long way but there are many places around the world, and even right here at home, that require change. As women of our generation, we have a responsibility to help push for more: as the IWD website suggests, for more gender-equal board rooms, gender-equal governments and workplaces and more gender equality in health and wealth. As women, we can, and we must “actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.” Praise, celebrate progress and persevere!
*The movie Hidden Figures told the story of brilliant women like the recently deceased Katherine Johnson who were not only female but of African American descent yet paved the way for American astronauts to journey into space.