In 1968, a new cigarette, manufactured by Philip Morris, appeared to laud the emancipation of women while paradoxically enticing them to buy and use a carcinogen. Virginia Slims burst on the market with the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby” recognizing the lengthy struggle for women’s equality. The U.S. suffrage movement for voting rights, culminated in 1920 with passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. However, many gender-oriented discriminatory obstacles have emerged that threaten hard-won civil rights of women and all population sectors. Others affected by the long road to civil rights have also endured a rough path toward equality although addressed in 1957 and 1964 Civil Rights Act legislation. The path twists and turns, even backtracks at times, but looking back, the slogan still has merit.
Not only have we experienced some progress, although inconsistent and irregular, in women’s and minority civil rights, but recognition of personal challenges has also matured. In 1972, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, Democratic vice president candidate on the ticket with George McGovern was forced to drop out when it was revealed that he had suffered from, and been treated for, depression. Mental illness was, at the time, a topic left to the shadows as shameful and taboo. With the Vietnam debris, came recognition of a mental condition finally officially categorized as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This was discussed openly as a legitimate problem affecting many veterans and others in different circumstances. Mental illness has come out of the closet as evidenced by the supportive reaction to the revelation that Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania is currently under treatment for depression.
An additional challenge to the goal of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is the double-edge sword of the internet. A wonderful source of information and connectivity, it has also spawned a plethora or concerns, especially for teens. Information, support, entertainment and networking are positive aspects of social media, but abnormal peer pressure, distraction and disassociation from the real world as well as unrealistic expectations can also be the result.
All in all, when looking back, there is cause to celebrate our accomplishments while remaining vigilant and wary of the road ahead. Much remains to be done. Some yearn for a past that appears rosy in the rearview mirror, but was flawed, requiring hard work, legislation, recognition and correction of those defects. Frank and clear appraisal of past deficiencies will pave a straighter and healthier road to tomorrow.
We have come a long way, but have a long way to go