Originally appeared on this blog August 2016
You can’t see me in this iconic photograph, but I was present among the estimated 50,000 women to march down Fifth Avenue on August 26th, 1970 at the Women’s Strike For Equality in New York City. This was a stellar experience for me and one I remembered throughout my life. On that day I marched beside an original suffragette, who had marched with Susan B. Anthony to win women the vote. I knew then that someday I’d write about the experience and I did. Without further preamble here’s the story as it appeared in the Anthology, Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the 60 & 70s, published in 2013.
I still remember what she looked like all these years later — a petite woman with a quiet demeanor and a look of determination in her clear green eyes. Her silvery hair, parted in the middle came halfway to her shoulders. She wore no makeup I could see, except a little lipstick, and was simply dressed in lightweight cotton clothing and serviceable sandals — no being hobbled in high heels for her. And she was old enough to be my grandmother — in her early seventies, maybe, but straight backed and fast-moving. I liked her immediately.
We met on August 26th, 1970, fellow marchers in the Women’s Strike For Equality — a national event, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote. The strike called for women across the country to stop work that day to spotlight inequities in the workforce, In politics, and in social institutions such as marriage. That afternoon in New York City, tens of thousands of women gathered on the sweltering streets of Manhattan and marched down Fifth Avenue to the lawns behind the New York Public Library — demanding equal rights under the law.
I was a twenty-six year old housewife. Leaving my husband home with our two sons and joining the march was a personal declaration of independence for me. I’d been married for eight years to a man who espoused equal rights and justice for all — but at home, as the assumed head of our household he felt entitled to be in charge.
He was okay with watching the kids three evenings a week while I took college classes — as long as I did the shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the balance of child care, in addition to my schoolwork. But he wasn’t pleased when I joined the National Organization For Women. Or when I read The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir and began questioning the male/female status quo. Or when I told him he’d be feeding the kids dinner that evening, because I was striking for equality.
My husband shook his head at that. “If you women had to deal with the serous issues men do, you’d stop complaining fast. Well, be home before dark. The streets aren’t safe at night.”
I sighed. His comments irked me, but I kept silent, not wanting to argue. I kissed my family goodbye and left the apartment, promising to return before dark.
How can we be equal, I wondered, if half of us can’t go out alone at night?