Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You've come a long way, baby

In the 1960s, advertisers seeking to capitalize on the changing times, targeted a growing women's movement by lauding their social progress and rewarding them with their own cigarette brand, along with a more equal chance with men for contracting all the smoking-related illnesses. The ad slogan was, "You've come a long way, baby." The absurdity of these ads, especially in hindsight, fell short of using burning bras to light up.

But just how far had women come? A long way when you consider the content found in A Manual of Elementary Law, by Walter Denton Smith (Instructor, Law Department University of Michigan), West Publishing Co., St, Paul, Minn., 1894.

From a legal perspective, women in 1894 may have felt somewhat justified in adopting their future granddaughters’ slogan, You've come a long way, baby. Chapter XIII in this book is titled The Law of Domestic Relations, and provides some insight to just how far perceived women's rights had come.

Addressing historical, outdated philosophical and social views of marriage in America, there is the following:

In general, it may be said that the husband assumed control over the wife and her property in such a way as to leave her in a position little better than that of a slave of the higher order.

The next paragraph contrasts the archaic with the then modern or current enlightenment:

At the present time, most of the disabilities imposed upon the wife by virtue of her relation to her husband have been removed.

Most being the key word here. So how far had women come by 1894? Read on:

By virtue of his position as the head of the family, the husband still controls, to a limited extent, the actions of his wife. The latter is bound to accompany him whenever he changes his domicile, and she owes to him the duty of reasonable obedience. He has, however, no right to chastise her. He is entitled to his wife’s services at common law and in most of the States of this country. In return for the performance of these duties on the part of the wife, the husband is bound to support and protect the wife. If he fails to provide her with the necessaries of life, she may purchase them in his name, and he will be compelled to pay for them.

There are too many flashpoints for groans and grimaces—at least one in every sentence—to even start commenting on them. Suffice it to say that by the 1960s women had indeed come a long way from the social mores bound in the legal presentation of that 1894 law book. Feminine cigarettes notwithstanding.

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