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Just today I was thinking about my great grandmother, Grace Cutshall. She was my mother’s mother’s mother. She lived well into her late nineties, and she saw so much change in her life, it’s astounding really.
Grace was born in 1911. Bread was 10 cents a loaf at that time, and beef was a mere 15 cents a pound. At the age of 9, she saw women be granted the right to vote. Her parents had to take a horse into town to buy the bare necessities; the Ford Model T wouldn’t be made in a mass produced in a factory until she was 13. She survived the Great Depression, and in her mid twenties, gas cost a mere 10 cents a gallon. She saw the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which abolished the gender wage gap when she was 52 years old. Before she died in the late 2000s, she played Angry Birds on an iPhone. By then, her mind was beginning to slip, and though most blamed it on her seniority, I think it was because of an information overload.
You may wonder why is her brief biography is significant to you. Grace is a prime example of how close we remain to our roots, despite our current lives of luxury, which lets us think otherwise.
We’re only about 100 years separated from difficult times, and we still face massive hurdles we need to overcome to continue this lifestyle, yet, we’re still so much further along than our ancestors.
For example, farmers and scientists are still continuing to collaborate to feed America, because by 2050, our population will surpass what we can supply. Crops are being genetically modified so that they can yield more, grow closer together (use less land), and be harvested quicker- and it’s still not enough at this rate. To add to the chaos, the term ‘genetically modified (GMO) ‘ terrifies people, and they feel that farmers and the government is trying to poison them. You can read more on that here. That’s not really the point of this, but it is pertinent and ties in later, so just stay with me!
We as Americans are very detached from our roots, and seem to have forgotten that our lives haven’t always been this leisure, and safe. Perhaps John Henry’s story will help me better explain my perspective.
John Henry was indeed, a real man, not just a tall tale character. He did work on the railway, and he did dig out the famous Big Bend Tunnel alongside a machine. John Henry really did perish during this project too. Being a poor black man in the 1870s, he was buried in an unmarked grave with many other men who died working on the railways. I’ve visited the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia twice now, both of which times were emotional to me in different ways. The first time I visited I was nine, with my parents, sisters and aunt. The second time, I was 18, and it was just my mother and two sisters this time. My dad had died just months after our first visit when I was nine, and I had even more empathy for John Henry during this visit knowing what it’s like to lose someone so special.
John Henry was a hard working man, who gave everything he had, and left behind his wife and child in pursuit of giving them better lives. He didn’t have other work options at this time, and he didn’t have an easy life, he was a 5’1 African American man in late 1800s. He spent too much time in the West Virginia Penitentiary for trivial charges he most likely wasn’t guilty of. He didn’t have a union to provide him job security, or a lawyer to save him from his unjust time in prison. John Henry literally worked himself to death. As I stood and pondered this, a train came pounding down the tracks in one of the tunnels. I could hear it long before it reached us. When it emerged, my heart sank. This mighty coal train did not use John Henry’s tunnel, but the one made by machine. I knew it would only the newer tunnel would be in use, but watching it roar out with my own eyes really drove the point home. Sometimes, all your hard work and aspirations wind up only as a tall tale many people will never believe.
How many people do we see working air conditioned, well regulated jobs with a healthy HR and possibly a union, complaining about their job? We even have laws to protect our employees. They can only work certain hours, they must be of a certain age, and people of all races and all genders must be paid equally for equal jobs. We’ve forgotten how privileged we as Americans truly are. Even in 2017, people in many other countries do not have these luxuries we take for granted every single day. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for better, and raise our expectations in the American Workforce, but let us not forget our wealth and American privilege.
Something that always strikes me as hilarious, is people complaining about flights. “Customs is such a hassle”, “the food always sucks”, “my flight was delayed”, “I sat next to a drunk”. None of those sound like pleasant situations- but have you ever read about the Donner Party?
To briefly recap their story, a group of 90 people in Springfield, Illinois wanted to move to northern California. It took them a full year to make it, and less than half of the group survived, the majority died of starvation, illness, or cannibalism within the group. Let’s slap that story in a brochure and pass it out to travelers in airports, right after they take their shoes off for customs. That would make for a much more peaceful, appreciated flight.
Healthcare? A hundred years ago, people were dying of illnesses that are now no longer considered a threat. Our medicine and technology is so advanced, we’ve forgotten how privileged we are. A couple hundred years ago, doctors weren’t common, or nearly as educated. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died when Abe was a young age, because her dairy cow ate a toxic plant and she unknowingly drank the poisonous milk.
Health insurance didn’t even exist in those times. You couldn’t demand that a doctor spend his valuable time and resources on you, especially if you couldn’t afford it. Many people tended to their own medical issues on their own. Medication was expensive, so people went without. Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, and health insurance supplement plans were not available to the common man. Today, these privileges may be be pricey, but they are available at least.
Women’s rights? In America, we have them all!
• We can marry whomever we want to, regardless of our religion, ethnicity, opinion, race, gender, and sexuality.
• We can divorce freely, without any cause or blame.
• Women are given a free education, all the way up into adulthood, even if our test scores are horrible. Failing, simply means repeating a grade. It does not indefinitely remove children from the education system, or banish them from applying for colleges and universities. Even women in China aren’t granted that right.
• We are allowed to own property, operate businesses, and make financial investments, without the permission or aid of men.
• We are able to dress as we choose, and wear swimsuits, and even embrace our nudity in public (when the time and location is appropriate).
• We are free to own and bear arms, so that we may protect ourselves and our loved ones from the occasional deranged person.
• It is illegal to abuse, rape and kill women in America. It seems like such a basic right, but so many women across the globe do not have the law on their side. In some countries, after a woman is raped, she is beaten and stoned to death in the center of the village.
• We are allowed to have sex with as few, or as many people we want- regardless of our sexuality or gender, and so long as the other person (or people) are of age, and consensual. We’re also free to speak openly about our sex lives.
• We are allowed to be in public, even during our period. Again, this is not a right all women have.
• We have the right to be able to work, and be paid equally for equal jobs. If you disagree with me on this, look at this link. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to pay women less than men, if both are doing the same task, with equal hours, equal education, equal experience, and equal labors, and efforts. If a workspace is paying them unequally, the woman is eligible to file a lawsuit. If she can prove a wage gap, she will win the lawsuit every time.
• We are free to worship whomever, or whatever we please- so long as it does not infringe upon other’s rights. We even have the ability to decide to not worship anyone or anything if we wish.
• We are able to have as many, or as few children as we wish. There are no limitations, set number, or ratio of gendered babies American women can have. No woman is ever required by law to have an abortion. My momma always cried during the 4th of July fireworks when I was a kid growing up. She said other countries didn’t allow you to have girls, and her being a grateful mother of three girls- she would cry tears of thankfulness. I used to think she was being ridiculous, but the older I get, the less ridiculous she becomes.
There are countless other rights that are granted to the American people, which includes all women, that I have not listed here. So many of these basic rights that we take for granted every day are rights that women in foreign countries are literally dying to have. We’re so privileged as American women that we can’t even seem to tell the difference between privileges and rights anymore. For example, affordable healthcare is a privilege, not a right. It is an awesome privilege to be available, but that doesn’t make it a right. Forgetting how easy we have it as American women, is just another perk of our vast American Privilege.
Remember my earlier mention of America’s 2050 crop yield crisis? Can we at least appreciate the fact that we *get* to have that burden placed on our shoulders? Not all countries have the fertile ground, the technology, or the skilled farmers that America has been blessed with. Some countries only have oil, textiles, plastics or electronics that could easily be outsourced elsewhere. I am so thankful that our country has so many options and renewable resources to secure our jobs and economy.
America doesn’t always get it right, I know that. We do have a lot to be thankful for, and we seem to forget that a lot. I’m not telling you this to suggest that we don’t have real problems, but our problems are far less monstrous compared to many of our international peers. Let us not forget how far we’ve come as people, nor the wonderful places we’re going as a country. We’ve started out with Angry Birds on our iPhones in hand, and I can’t wait to see where we end up!
As always, thank you for reading!