Back in 1992, shortly after moving to Britain, I was applying for a job at British Home Stores, a (now sadly gone) department store chain that had shops on many of the country’s high streets. During the course of the interview, which was going very well, the interviewer — a man — casually looked at my resume and said “I see that you’re 28. Are you planning on having a family?”
Without thinking, I answered (truthfully) that I had no plans to have children at that time. The interviewer moved on to another question, and I thought no more about it, and in due course I was offered the job, which I accepted.
It wasn’t until later that I wondered if he had any right to be asking me that question, which could well have had an impact on whether or not I got hired if I had answered “Yes.” I don’t know what the state of British labour and hiring laws was then (or is now), but I suspect that such a question was dubious (at best) then, and would not be allowed now, as it could easily lead to discrimination against any woman who answered in the affirmative.
It also makes me wonder how many men have ever faced that question during a job interview. Even today, when things have supposedly changed for the better for working women, it is still sadly common for women who go into what is deemed a high-stress profession — politics, for example — to be asked how they plan to balance the demands of work and family; a question that I don’t recall ever hearing a man in a similar situation asked.
In my lifetime, I have seen single women who would otherwise qualify for a mortgage not allowed to take one out on their own; they had to have a male family member, such as a father or brother, co-sign as a guarantor. This rule has never, so far as I can ascertain, been applied to a single man who otherwise qualified for a mortgage.
In my lifetime, I have seen single women who were employed and who then got married required to give up their jobs. This rule has never, so far as I can ascertain, been applied to an employed single man who then got married.
In my lifetime, I have known women who entered the workforce and were told “You’re taking a job away from a man who needs/deserves it.” I have never known a man who was told that when he entered the workforce.
In my lifetime, I have seen entire professions denied to women, simply on the basis of their sex. I cannot think of a profession that has disallowed men from entering it by virtue of them being men.
Now, in the United States — whose politics often have a knock-on effect in Canada — the Supreme Court seems poised to repeal Roe v. Wade, the landmark law which, for nearly half-a-century, has protected a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. This would throw the matter back to individual states, 26 of which are poised to ban abortions completely as soon as Roe v. Wade is repealed.
There are those who say such a thing will never happen here in Canada, and I hope they are correct. However, what seems to be about to happen in the States is a chilling reminder that we cannot take the hard-won rights of women (or First Nations people, or minorities, or gay or transgender people, or anyone else who has traditionally been marginalized) for granted. There will always be those who see basic human rights being afforded to someone other than them as a threat, and they will fight the granting of those rights tooth and nail.
“You’ve come a long way, baby” was a popular (if patronizing) ad slogan in the 1970s. In some ways, we have, but we cannot afford to think that the fight is over and we’ve won. If we do, that long way we’ve come might turn into one step forward, but two steps back.