June 1, 2007

Political & Social Issues

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

by Penny Watkins


I was there in the sixties and seventies, when men burned their draft cards and women burned their bras. And here I am in the “aughts,” when men (and women) still go to war and women look for support and lift from their bras.

Actually, I only wear a bra because my body type is remarkably similar to Jabba the Hut’s without it. Okay, I confess that there are those days when I wander from my bed to the coffee pot to my computer without stopping at the shower or closet on the way. On those days, I simply drop muffin crumbs to the cats and think of all you commuters and say “AHAHAHAHA” in my Jabba voice.

Which is way off the subject. Which is that here in the “aughts” things haven’t changed much even if they should have. Even if we thought they did. I admit, more women are in the work place and they make better money. We have women governors and senators and congresspeople and Supreme Court Justices and a woman Secretary of State. In my own state of Washington, we have a woman Governor and two women Senators, which is all the more remarkable because they last time we let a woman in government, it was a debacle and we wound up with a great big WPPSS*.

Even so, women still don’t have workplace equality or political equality or any other kind of equality. Women still only make a fraction of what men make for the same work, and the “poor” are disproportionately female. We still retain cultural prejudices against women and children that run deep and are subtle enough to be deniable, at least for some people.

But I did think things had changed at least a bit. I thought my generation had moved the indicator a little and improved things for our daughters. I thought my daughter would experience fewer barriers than I did.

And then two things happened in quick succession that shook me out of my fantasy world. I tried to complain about my brand new 21st century cell phone service, and I tried to buy auto insurance on my own personal car. And could do neither without my husband’s permission.

Now, let’s get a little perspective here. My husband and I have been married for a long time, and we’ve raised four great kids. Much of that time, I was the principal wage earner in our family, and at times I was the sole support. Also, we live in a community property state, and if he stole my car and took off to Mexico with a floozy and ran up thousands of dollars in cell phone bills, I would be legally responsible for the bills. But I had to have him sign papers to allow me to complain about my phone service, and to buy automobile insurance.

And now I wonder. I wonder how much things have really changed. Maybe we’ve just cycled back to the same place we were forty years ago. And the only thing we’ve really accomplished is to build a better bra.

*WPPSS is pronounced “Whoops” by Washingtonians. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Washington State sold billions of dollars worth of municipal bonds to finance the Washington Public Power Supply System, which was going to be the most advanced and comprehensive nuclear power system in the world. They were supposed to build five nuclear power plants, none of which were ever completed. There was no public vote on the project. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the way the bonds were funded was illegal and somehow we the people, who never voted on the project, got stuck with the debt. It was the biggest municipal bond default in history—hence, Whoops! Dixie Lee Ray was governor of Washington at the time; she had formerly been head of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Penny Watkins is a freelance writer living in Washington State. You can read more of her articles on her website, www.pennywatkins.com.