Category Archives: Senior Viewpoint

A Senior’s Viewpoint: Women’s Rights through the Years by Karlyn Rapport

Our parents worked to make things better for the next generation. Are we?

In the late ’60s, Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique raised awareness of inequities women face. At that time in Marquette, women could not have a library card, a credit card, or a loan in their name.

Changes have occurred, but women do not have equal rights. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution states men are guaranteed equality under the law. Women are not included. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) says:” Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Congress overwhelmingly approved ERA on March 22, 1972. Thirty-five of the needed thirty-eight states ratified this amendment, but we were unable to obtain the needed three states by the 1982 deadline.

Recently, Nevada and Illinois ratified ERA. A third state is likely to follow. Congress needs to pass legislation extending the deadline, recognizing the ratification of three additional states. It is unlikely this Congress will do so. In view of hard-fought gains, is it necessary? The ERA would clarify for all that sex discrimination in employment, reproductive rights, insurance, Social Security, education, and more is a violation of our constitutional rights as Americans. Legislation, court victories, and presidential executive orders against sex discrimination are not permanent. The ERA places the burden of proof on those discriminating instead of those fighting for equality. Now men have rights, but women have to prove they have rights.

In the ’50s, women could be teachers, secretaries, clerks, waitresses, and nurses. I was the first teacher in the Ishpeming school system allowed to teach while pregnant. The fact that I was one of three speech pathologists in the U.P and Ishpeming was sorely in need of my services helped. Now women can enter any field. However, women are confronted by a glass ceiling, a gender pay gap, a motherhood penalty, and worse. Pay inequity is a loss of family income. Each diminished paycheck affects future Social Security and retirement income as well. The 2012 Census revealed 17.8 million women or 1:7 live in poverty; low-paying jobs, lack of access to reproductive healthcare, and unaffordable child care trap them.

The Affordable Care Act allowed access to contraception, reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. These rights are in jeopardy. Access to reproductive health care is sex discrimination. Women and only women are denied control of their reproductive lives. Roe vs. Wade is under threat by a conservative Supreme Court. A woman’s financial security and her right to make the decision whether or when to parent a child is in jeopardy. In 1959, a dear friend suffered tragic losses of her husband and 3-year-old daughter due to carbon monoxide. She miraculously survived. She was 6 weeks pregnant. Two obstetricians and a psychiatrist recommended termination of the pregnancy, but the University of Michigan Hospital would not perform this medical procedure. I travelled with her to New York, where she paid a prosecuting attorney to protect herself from being charged with a crime. I know of others who died as result of illegal abortions. Recently an Arizona woman tried to have her physician’s prescription for an abortifacient filled because the fetus she was carrying died in utero. The pharmacist would not fill it. States have adopted 833 measures restricting women’s reproductive rights since 1995.

Violence against women remains pervasive. There are 1.3 million women victims of physical assault reported yearly. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates this is one quarter of the actual numbers. One in 6 women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

In the late ’60s, a serial rapist attacked women on the bike path in Marquette. Houses posted red signs in their window indicating this was a place to run for safety. The perpetrator was eventually apprehended. The Women’s Center developed a team of trained advocates to assist women through the process of dealing with this trauma. The hospital began using forensic rape kits. The Women’s Center continues to offer support for survivors of sexual violence.

As a speech pathologist at MGH, I treated several patients who suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of domestic violence. Family members were afraid to provide shelter fearing reprisal by the assailant.

Members of the Marquette Branch of AAUW assisted me in bringing a Spouse Abuse Task Force together of people and agencies trying to help survivors of domestic violence. The Women’s Center, law enforcement, and the prosecuting attorney’s office were at that table. The Spouse Abuse Shelter, now Harbor House, is a product of this task force. The Women’s Center, its Harbor House program, and the Blue Print for Safety Program through the Prosecutor’s Office continue to assist survivors in rebuilding their lives and are focusing efforts to hold the perpetrator accountable.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for reauthorization. This legislation addresses domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. VAWA supports and funds essential services for survivors and their families. This bill improves health care responses, and provides housing protections crucial to improving safety when survivors flee abuse. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. Urge legislators to co-sponsor this legislation and adequately fund it.

The Me Too movement gives me hope. Sexual harassment and violence persist. Now some perpetrators face consequences. Will such egregious behavior be tolerated?

The Equal Rights Amendment could provide remediation. All need to work for equality for all. Will we continue to allow women to be treated as second class citizens? My advice: Do research. Learn what the job is worth. Learn to negotiate an equitable wage. Work for ERA. Above all, vote on November 6 as if your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren depend on it because, in fact, they do.

Karlyn Rapport, founding mother of the Women’s Center’s Harbor House, is the Public Policy Representative for the Marquette Branch of AAUW and Michigan AAUW’s Public Policy Committee. She was Marquette County Commissioner for 6 years and is currently on Marquette County’s Board of Health.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Fall 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Hands of Time, by Esther Margaret Ayers

“Do wrinkles hurt?”

The eleven-year-old boy asked it suddenly as we sat together on the piano bench. I had asked the student to observe my hands on the keys, showing him the proper position: curved fingers, the wrist forming a level bridge from hand to forearm.

“What?” I was caught off guard, unable to think of a simple reply. With three fingers and a thumb, he stretched the thin skin on top of one of my hands. It obligingly yielded, rising in a pale tent of tissue. He released it, and the tent slowly collapsed. “Old people have such cool skin,” he murmured.

“Okay, buster,” I retorted, gently batting his hand away. “Your turn to try this.”

I was thirty-two years of age at the time. I certainly didn’t accept the notion of myself as old. This was the first occasion a student had even hinted at such a thing. After his lesson was over, I briefly contemplated my hands, then set the moment aside. I was, after all, a young wife and mother, a teacher, a graduate student; I had no time to think about Time.

In my forties, a single parent, I continued to teach piano in addition to my full-time job as a vocal music teacher. My students continued to teach me, too.

One student, in her fifties, studied with me for eight years. She had grown up in a poor rural family, but had always wanted to play the piano. Over the years she mastered the basics, learned to play hymns and popular songs of her youth. Yet she loved the classics and we began to learn the much beloved Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. She learned the notes and rhythms readily, but neither of us could understand why certain passages were so difficult, why it didn’t sing. We labored in some frustration until one day she sighed, “Maybe it’s my hands. You’re still young; you wouldn’t understand. But I’m getting older.”

I tried to brush it off. “Oh, we all have different hands. You’ll be playing in your seventies.”

“No, look at my hands. I think it’s the arthritis.”

I looked—really looked—at her hands, seeing them for the first time. I saw the swelling and redness. I had been so focused on the music and the instrument, I had been looking right past her hands. How could I have been so blind?

I took her hands in mine. She encouraged me to feel the knobs forming at her joints. “It’s probably from the laundry.”

“Laundry?”

“Yes, that’s what the doctor thinks. I was the oldest of nine kids. My job was to hang wet laundry outside on the line. He thinks it’s a miracle I can play the piano at all, but says it’s good for my hands.”

I closed my eyes, picturing the little girl in the woods near Big Bay, her bare fingers freezing in the winter wind as she pinned up the family washing.

“Shall I play it again?” she asked.

Yes, please. Tears ran down my face this time as she played the timeless melody.

It’s been twenty years since the woman with arthritis suggested I was too young to understand, and 30 years since that boy cast me as an ‘old’ person. I still work full-time: mornings are for writing, afternoons for piano teaching. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of students of all ages, all with something to teach me.

This fall, a new student began lessons with me, a professional woman in her forties, with a good ear and a ready laugh. She took lessons as a child. As a yoga instructor, her posture is already perfect. Her fingers curve beautifully over the keys. However, when she plays the Arabesque, I hear a brittle, tense tone. I observe how her wrists and arms are locked.

I say, “Watch me play for a moment.”

“Oh,” she exclaims, after a few measures. “You make it look so easy. Your hands move so naturally.”

“Here.” I pat the bench of my piano. “Come sit beside me. Let’s draw some circles with our wrists and elbows.”

It’s true my presbyopia makes me fiddle with myriad sets of glasses, which amuses my young students. But I wouldn’t trade the eyes I have now for anything; I see more clearly, with more openness.

It’s true my ears don’t work as well as they once did, especially that left one. But I hear my students better, for I have finally learned how to listen to them.

And even I will admit I have “old hands.” But these hands are still learning—from my own teacher, now in her mid-seventies, who guides them in making even more beautiful the music I still desire.

Esther Margaret Ayers (known to her students as Esther LaVoy Barrington) lives and writes in Marquette. She has taught piano from her home studio near McCarty’s Cove since 1983.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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