“When I was growing up we honored women.” John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff made that comment at a recent press conference. I think he was referencing the Harvey Weinstein case currently monopolizing media headlines. Some sixty women have accused the movie mogul of sexual impropriety. Of course Weinstein’s behavior does not honor women although the fact his female accusers are being taken seriously does.
What’s remarkable about Kelly’s comment is he seems to think there was a time in history when women were more honored than they are now. And frankly that’s delusional. Kelly was born in 1950. If we look at how women were treated in the 50s and 60s when Kelly was ‘growing up’ it is abundantly clear they were not honored as Kelly suggests.
During those years women’s contributions to the work force weren’t honored because in Canada and the United States women were being paid about 60% less than men for doing the same work. American employers did not have to grant maternity leave. In Canada pregnancy was still reason for dismissal by an employer and there were no legal penalties for sexual harassment on the job.
Women’s strength and courage wasn’t honored because they weren’t allowed to serve on active duty in the American military or fly planes in the Canadian Air Force. Women could not join the RCMP in Canada till 1974 and by 1980 women still only made up 5% of American police forces.
Women’s intelligence wasn’t honored because universities limited how many women could join their faculties. Till 1972 Harvard medical school for example had their female enrollment limited to 5% of the class. In Canada in 1970 only 14% of medical students were women.
Women’s athletic prowess was not honored. The movie Battle of the Sexes takes place in 1973 and chronicles Billie Jean King’s fight for fair pay and equal respect for women in the sport of tennis. In the 50s and 60s there were still dozens of sports in the Olympic games not open to women. It wasn’t till 1991 that the International Olympic Committee ruled any new sport entering the games must include women’s events.
Women’s political contributions were not honored. In 1980 only 20 of the 441 members of the American Congress were women and only 10 of Canada’s 308 members of Parliament were women.
A woman’s right to safety and protection was not honored. In her book Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists Margo Goodhand says there were no shelters for victims of domestic abuse in Canada till the 1970s. The first American shelter was opened in Minneapolis in 1973.
Women’s financial acumen and responsibility was not honored. Till 1974 it was still legal for American companies to refuse a woman a credit card based on her gender. They could demand her husband’s signature of approval before granting her a line of credit. Canada’s Royal Bank only appointed the first woman to its Board of Directors in 1976.
It is troubling when powerful men like John Kelly publicly extol the virtues of some imaginary time in the past when life was better for women, when they were honored. They weren’t. When men like Kelly talk about making America great again many women shudder because in the past America wasn’t that great a place for them. Canada wasn’t either. Thankfully our country has current leaders who appear to be more progressive and realistic about what it means to honor women. Kelly and his boss Donald Trump, whose track record with women is hardly honorable, might have something to learn from them.