Tuesday, October 23, 2018

No Time Travel for this Woman

By R.J. Harlick

If you could time-travel, what era would you go back to and how long would you stay there? 

I struggled with this week’s question. I would not be considered a history buff. I rarely read books set in any time period other than present day. I think university was the last time I cracked a history book. So, I was stumped over what period in time I would like to experience. 

When living in Russia, I was very intrigued by the czarist years leading up to the revolution and made a point of visiting as many sites as I could that dated back to that time. At the moment, I am watching Road to Calvary on Netflix, set during the tumultuous time of the revolution and am quite enjoying it. But would I want to actually experience it firsthand. No, not really.  There was just too much disparity between the rich and the poor.

I thought Brenda was onto something, when she decided she wanted to experience the roaring twenties in Paris, when the air seemed to throb with the aspirations of so many writers and painters, many of whom became renowned masters in their field. 

But then I thought of a day we marked on Oct. 18 in Canada, Persons Day. On that date in 1929, human beings of the female gender were finally declared persons by Canada’s highest court.  This gave women the right to be appointed to the Senate and to participate in public and political life. Incredible.

I then thought of what my place as a woman would be if I stepped back in time. 

Let’s look at the Roaring Twenties in Paris, for example. A fun time for sure, but what role did women play in it? By far the majority of writers that went on to become household names were men, as were the painters. The women were the cancan dancers, the artist models, the groupies who swooned over every word or brush stroke of these aspiring artists and whose main aspiration was to become the mistress of a writer or artist who might make it big someday. Yes, some did play a more key role, such as Gertrude Stein, but she is best known for her literary salon that showcased these burgeoning male writers.

If I were to pick any other time period over the last thousand or more years in the so called Western World, I would likely find, that women had very few rights. For the most part, they could not own property. Upon marriage, any inherited wealth passed to their husband.  It was the time of the dower, when a widow could only inherit a life interest in their dead husband’s wealth. Where there were democracies, women had no part in it. They could not vote or run for public office. They didn’t even have control over their own bodies.  At the time of the crusades, the departing crusader forced his wife to wear a chastity belt during his absence and no one blinked an eye. And women only became heads of state, i.e. Queens, if there were no male heirs. Thankfully the British crown has finally acknowledged a woman's right to inherit irrespective of male heirs, but this change was only made a few years ago when Prince William married.

As for actually working at a meaningful job, that didn’t happen until WWII, when women were hired to do the job of the men who were overseas fighting the war. Even then, married women who worked were definitely viewed with distain. When I started working at IBM in 1972, the company had just rid itself of its policy of not hiring married women. 

Throughout history there has been very little place for women in the arts. Yes, one or two female writers made it, writers such as the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, but the overwhelming majority of writers were men. Refusing to have their writing ambitions deterred, two women took on male names, George Elliot and George Sand, who sadly is best known for her affair with Chopin and not her writing. The visual and musical arts were even more restrictive. And if per chance a woman was able to achieve her mark in a particular art, chances are her accomplishments weren’t promoted the same way as her male counterparts and so her name and her work disappeared with time  

So, I ask myself, why would I want to go back in time? If I didn’t want to be simply a wife and mother or, heaven forbid, a mistress, the only way I could fully experience all aspects of life a hundred years ago, three hundred years ago and so on and so for, would be to go back as a man.

Nope, best to stay in the time period in which I am living.  Finally, we women are able to govern countries, become CEOs, write award winning and best selling novels, work at whatever job we care to pursue, make our own life choices, manage our own lives and our own money.  Though we haven’t yet achieved full parity with men or equal pay and we still have to doubly prove ourselves, we are gradually getting there.


Terry said...

Interesting to me that the question only applies to time travel backwards. I'd love to go forward. How interesting to see how the world is in 100 years. What will humanity be like (if we're still here at all)? What will the planet look like with the ravages of climate change? How will people cope? Will there have been major events that decimated the population or will the planet be overrun with people, half of whom are starving? Will the oceans be dead? I'm generally an optimist, and I'd love to know what happens.

RJ Harlick said...

I'm afraid, Terry, you are more optimistic than I am. I fear for where earth and all its creatures including man are headed. I think we were so fortunate to grow up when we did, in the last half of the 20th century. The world was our oyster, so to speak. Jobs were aplenty, housing affordable and opportunities seemed infinite. No so for today's youth.

Terry said...

I know what you mean. I try to be optimistic, but these days it's hard.