by Nikki van hiqhrowER
Pregnancy Insurance Benefits
Employees of childbearing age have
gained a new legal status. President Carter
has put his signature to a Congressional
bill clarifying Title VII of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act. Employers may no longer
treat pregnancy, childbirth and related
conditions differently from any other
temporary disability under their health
Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth
that went into passage of this bill. "It is
their choice," some wailed. "Men should
not have to pay for a condition that only
affects women," others contended.
"Women will come to work only to get
pregnant and take advantage of the health
insurance policy," it was charged.
Many policies covered pregnancy only if
a husband was also covered under the
policy. In other words, employers took it
upon themselves to uphold the morals of
this country through the denial of health
coverage to unmarried pregnant women.
Oh yes, we musn't forget the good old
standby argument that coverage for pregnancy was simply too costly.
I have worked in companies where I saw
health insurance denied a pregnant worker but fully cover a costly bypass operation and the months of disability following surgery. I have been employed in
places where pregnancy disability was excluded under policies that covered a wide
range of elective surgery, including hair
transplants. I have held jobs in companies
where comprehensive health coverage was
provided for wives of male employees,
but their own female employees were
given no health coverage for pregnancy.
The new law makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman worker when she's
pregnant. Effective immediately, a company can no longer:
• deprive a woman of seniority rights, in
pay, promotion, pension or other benefits due to her maternity leave
•refuse to hire a woman just because
she's pregnant, or fire her for the same
Women workers will enjoy additional
health insurance benefits. As of April 29,
1979, employers may no longer:
•refuse to cover an employee's normal
pregnancy and delivery expenses in the
company health plan or pay less for pregnancy than for other medical conditions.
(However, they still may exclude
•refuse to pay sick leave or disability
benefits to women whose difficult pregnancies keep them off the job.
Once again, a federal law had to be
passed to guarantee women their rights to
basic health care.
Feminism: inclusive or exclusive?
I read Lindsay Van Gelder's article in the
December issue of Ms. magazine, Cracking the Women's Movement Protection
Game with great interest. I am sure we
have all felt and continue to feel the kind
of defensiveness about our movement to
which she was referring. I would like to
go one step further, not only do we have
to gain enough confidence in our cause to
allow honesty and openness about ourselves, but we also need to encourage the
involvement of those people who are new
to feminism, who have some level of understanding, but who have not yet developed the same commitment as those who
have been involved in the movement for
many years. I have not found that to be
The kind of exclusiveness I am referring to came home to me when the
Houston Area Women's Center was criticized for not having feminists on its
board or not being a feminist organization. This charge was apparently based on
the fact that some of the members had
not been actively involved in one of the
traditional feminist organizations.
The Houston Area Women's Center is
an organization devoted to the expansion
of the scope of women's lives. I have to
ask myself, is that not a feminist goal and
are not the people who are working toward that goal, by definition, feminist.
Must they be card-carrying members of a
particular organization to be considered
feminist? I guess what I am really asking
is, Is feminism not an inclusive, rather
than an exclusive concept? Isn't it an
ideal for which anyone can work, at any
level and in any context and are not those
who work toward the ideal by definition
Feminism is more a process than a
state of being. I think sometimes that we
are deceived by the word feminist which
implies that there is a final state that can
be achieved. I sincerely hope that there is
never a final state to feminism, never a
status quo, that it will always involve
growth and expansion of our lives. Yet I
have heard the statement from some of us
who consider ourselves feminist that
others are not "real" feminists and thus
that there is some danger in including
them in our activities. There is an implication that they should remain at arm's
length until they have become properly
indoctrinated or purified, before being allowed to work for the cause of equal
What utter nonsense this is. There is
no better way to gain commitment to the
cause of women's rights than to participate in the worthy activities associated
with it. Our cause is just. We have nothing
to fear and nothing to hide. As Lindsay
Van Gelder stated, "Feminism isn't a
product that promises to put a shine on
your kitchen floor. We don't have to sell
it. It sells itself on its own merits-the real
depths to which it touches our lives." Our
exclusiveness brings us no security, only
self-defeat. If someone has taken just one
little step in the direction of feminism,
which almost every thinking person has,
we must build from that point, not turn
our back on them because they do not
yet know everything there is to know
about feminism. None of us do.
The women's movement has taken an
interesting and exciting turn in the last
few years. The load is no longer being
carried by NOW, the Women's Political
Caucus and other traditional feminist
organizations alone. It is being shared by
church, educational and professional
groups, homemakers, labor unions and
others. The people working within
those groups need our knowledge of the
movement, as we need their new ideas,
inspiration, energy and talent. We need
With all the bad news about family instability and the ghastly divorce rate, which
is almost in a dead heat with marriages
here in Harris County, it's nice to get a
hopeful message indicating that people
still hold considerable value for family
life. Interestingly, good news for the fam-
ly might very well be bad news for business and industry.
There is a trend by employees to resist
transfers and even promotions if a move
is involved and if that move might be disruptive to their family life. I may be
wrong but I see this as a sign that people
are placing renewed value on family life
and that they are willing to make some
personal sacrifices to preserve it.
Our idea of family stability in the past
was that it should be geared around the
career interests of one person—the husband, father, the so-called head of the
family. If he saw it as being in his best interest to move, then it was assumed that
it was in the best interest of everyone in
Now, as the wife and/or mother expresses strong ties to her community the
interests and lifestyles of two people have
to be considered. Increased employment
of women has given wives the opportunity of making demands in their own self-
interest and it has allowed husbands the
option of saying no to a company move,
because the income of the two together,
even if his should level off, is often considerably more than his alone.
Last year only 17.7 percent of the population packed up and moved, the lowest
figure in more than a generation. Companies cannot ignore this trend. They
must now see their male or female executives as part of a larger family unit.
Maybe there is hope for the family after
all. Scrambling up that corporate ladder
may look like an exercise in futility if
there is no one else to share the rewards
at the top. I sense that a healthy examination of the old work-ethic values and the
patriarchal family structure will lead to
greater priority being placed on family
Women in Public Office
It could be debated as to whether this
past election resulted in a gain or loss for
women holding elective offices. A woman
won a seat in the U.S. Senate for the first
time in twelve years. One out of 100!
Still, it is better than none out of one
Women sustained a net loss of seats in
the U.S. House of Representatives, going
from 18 to 16 out of 435 House seats.
This is lower than the number of seats
women held as far back as 1962.
Women did much better at state and
local levels, capturing many new executive and judicial-level offices as well as
legislative seats around the country.
A question that I often hear asked is,
"Can't men represent the interests of
women as well as women?" Just like,
"Can't whites represent the interests of
blacks and Mexican/Americans?" or
"Cannot the rich adequately represent
the poor? or business represent labor?"
What often seems implied in such questions is, "Aren't males, whites, the rich or
corporate heads really more knowledgeable about our problems and simply better at problem solving because of their
backgrounds and experiences?" The question implies a suggestion of "Trust us, we
will take care of you."
In the case of women there is no doubt
that some men are extremely sensitive to
the needs of women in this age of transition. However, those who are will be the
first to say that it is extremely important
for women to participate in government.
Self-development and fulfillment come
from taking care of oneself as opposed to
being cared for by someone else. Having
in office representatives with whom we
identify gives us a sense of caring for ourselves and governing ourselves.
It is important for all of us, particularly
our young people to learn that leaders
come from all races, all backgrounds and
all ethnic origins. If youngsters do not see
people like themselves holding public office, it is unlikely that their imaginations
will be stimulated to aspire to such positions as they grow into adults.
Sometimes it is very hard to understand,
when you are the one in power, the dis-
gruntlement of those who are outside.
Probably the best way to gain understanding is to try to imagine what it
would be like if the roles were reversed.
Ask the question this way, "Couldn't
women, minorities, the poor, and the laboring class adequately represent males,
whites, the rich and those with corporate
What do you think?
DECEMBER/JANUARY 1979 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH