Friday, 18 March 2016

The Advancement and Improved Status of Women in American History (two examples)

1932 - Amelia Earhart: the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean

Born in 1897, Earhart was delivered into a dominating patriarchal society where the greatest and most notable achievements were accomplished by men. Rather than using a name to reach high societal status like many middle and upper class men did, Earhart gained it through hard work and climbed the ladder of the aviation industry typically associated with masculinity. Throughout this time she still strived for greatness. With aviation as her passion, she flew to Boston in her spare time whilst still working as a social worker. Her flight as log-keeper and standby pilot in 1928 to Wales from Newfoundland threw her into the public eye and completed the infamous 1932 transatlantic flight with the intention to show the public that she was capable of being more than a second-class flyer.

She married George Putnam, the man who managed her career (which lasted less than a decade) but kept her maiden name. 'She is one of the half-dozen women among a hundred men in the National Aviation Hall of Fame'(1), making her achievements hold even more significance. As an influencial public role and a woman simultaneously, social attitudes about what women could achieve began to change. The stereotypical passive woman still existed but at least the public were aware that women did not have to be second-class citizens. Earhart was entirely aware that she had become a role model centred around her gender as she 'used her fame to promote two causes dear to her: the advancement of commercial aviation and the advancement of women'(2) alike.

1921 - Margaret Sanger: American Birth Control League founded

The American Birth Control League has a specific set of goals to help both men and women in the Planned Parenthood scheme, but mostly reach out to minority women in the black and Latino communities. Their primary mission was 'to enlighten and educate all sections of the American public in the various aspects of the dangers of uncontrolled procreation and the imperative necessity of a world program of Birth Control'(3). This was in order to change social attitudes on how women controlled their bodies regarding birth, parenthood while quietly discussing topics of abortion also. This is a crucial moment for the social and political advancement of women as it began the debate of a woman's right to her own body; a debate which still divides America today and stands are the forefront of most voters' minds. Feminist critics like Laura Bates have stated 'from conception to abortion [...] the common misconception that women's bodies are public property is never stronger than when the subject is reproduction'(4). This is clear evidence that the topic is still alive at this moment.

Originally based mostly in northern states, the ABCL aimed to appeal to the liberal masses in the hope that women could be seen as humans capable of more than giving birth. Sanger's efforts are still celebrated today and it is argued that 'women's progress in recent decades [...] can be directly linked to Sanger's crusade and women's ability to control their own fertility'(5).

These women and their efforts to improve the gender equality possible in American society has left a grand legacy that still exists today. Their mission is that of many Americans currently, but would not have been made possible if not for these women creating these controversial discourses.

(3) Engs, Ruth C. The progressive era's health reform movement: a historical dictionary. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
(4) Bates, Laura. Everyday sexism. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2014.

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