Address by BETTY FORD, First Lady, United States; delivered at the International Women’s Year Conference, Mexico City, Mexico, Oct. 25, 1975
Thank you for inviting me. I am here because I believe the best way to celebrate International Women’s Year is to examine the very real problems women face today, not the progress of yesterday.
While many new opportunities are open to women, too many are available only to the lucky few.
Many barriers continue to the paths of most women, even on the most basic issue of equal pay for equal work. And the contributions of women as wives and mothers continue to be underrated.
This year is not the time to cheer the visible few, but to work for the invisible many, whose lives are still restricted by custom and code.
In working sessions of this conference, you will explore many of the formal and informal restrictions that confine women.
Many of these restrictions spring directly from those emotional ideas about what women can do and should do. These definitions of behavior and ability inhibit men and women alike, but the limits on women have been formalized into law and structured into social custom.
For that reason, the first important steps have been to undo the laws that hem women in and lock them out of the mainstream of opportunities.
But my own support of the Equal Rights Amendment has shown what happens when a definition of proper behavior collides with the right of an individual to personal opinions. I do not believe that’ being First Lady should prevent me from expressing my views.
I spoke out on this important issue, because of my deep personal convictions. Why should my husband’s job or yours prevent us from being ourselves? Being ladylike does not require silence.
The Equal Rights Amendment when ratified will not be an instant solution to women’s problems. It will not alter the fabric of the Constitution or force women away from their families.
It will help knock down those restrictions that have locked women in to old stereotypes of behavior and opportunity. It will help open up more options for women.
But it is only a beginning.
The debate over ERA has become too emotional, because of the fears of some—both men and women—about the changes already taking place in America.
And part of the job of those of us who support ERA is to help remove this cloud of fear and confusion.
Change by its very nature is threatening, but it is also often productive. And the fight of women to become more productive, accepted human beings is important to all people of either sex and whatever nationality.
I hope 1976 will be the year the remaining four states ratify the 27th amendment. It will be an important symbolic event during our 200th birthday to show that the great American experiment in human freedom continues to expand.
But changing laws, more job opportunities less financial discrimination and more possibilities for the use of our minds and bodies will only partially change the place of American women.
By themselves they will never be enough, because we must value our own talents before we can expect acceptance from others. The heart of the battle is within.
I have been distressed that one unfortunate outgrowth of the debate has been a lack of appreciation of the role of women as wives and mothers.
In trying to open up new choices and opportunities, women must not underestimate their accomplishments in the home.
Fortunately, I have had the best of two worlds—that of a career woman earning my own living, and that of a homemaker and mother raising four individual and delightful youngsters. I am equally proud of both periods in my life.
We have to take that “‘just” out of “just a housewife” and show our pride in having made the home and family our life’s work.
Downgrading this work has been part of the pattern in our society that has undervalued women’s talents in all areas.
We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go — part of that distance is within our own mind.
ERA will help open some doors. Changing our own attitudes as women will open even more. But legal help and self-help will not be enough.
The long road to equality rests on achievements of women and men in altering how women are treated in every area of everyday life.
That is why this conference is so important, because you are looking at the patterns of discrimination which must be ended before women are truly free.
Freedom for women to be what they want to be will help complete the circle of freedom America has been striving for during 200 years. As the barriers against freedom for Americans because of race or religion have fallen the freedom of all has expanded. The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.
By the end of this century, I hope this nation will be a place where men and women can freely choose their life’s work without restrictions or without ridicule.
On the eve of the nation’s third century, let us work to end the laws and remove the labels that limit the imagination and the options of men and women alike.
Success will open hearts and minds to new possibilities for all people. Much has been done, much remains, but we must keep moving on.