Buying a train ticket

I reread the sentence. Yes, I read it correctly. A woman was trying to buy a train ticket but couldn’t. Not because she didn’t have the money for the ticket. Not because she didn’t know where she wanted to go. Not because she was underage.

No, she was an adult. A mother. With children in tow. She knew exactly where she wanted to go. She had the money to buy the tickets.

So why couldn’t she? Because she was a she.

Excuse me? Was this in a non-Western country that denies rights to women? No, this was in the US.

That sounds so…eighteenth century. You know, back when women were property. But wait, that is the point. She was property. The children were property. For all the clerk at the ticket counter knew, this woman was running from her husband. (Back when laws didn’t protect women and children leaving abusive situations. You know, because both were property of the man.)

It hasn’t been all that long since women were considered property, witness laws that recognized spousal rape (which wasn’t recognized as a crime in all 50 states until 1993). Or on a more mundane level, women, as property and not individual beings, couldn’t apply for credit and have credit cards in their names until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. Some could argue that without full agency over their bodies, women are still considered property. Just now they are property of the state—that seeks to limit women’s access to reproductive health care and choices—rather than an individual man.

It seems absurd. But if you assume that women aren’t individuals, then no, they cannot have credit cards or buy train tickets. And by extension, if women aren’t individuals, then they don’t have full agency over their bodies. They cannot be raped by spouses or, in the 2000s, they cannot decide whether to bear a child or not.

We may have progressed beyond these seemingly insane ideas that women cannot buy train tickets (1940s) or have credit cards in their names (1970s), or even be raped by spouses (1990s). But the idea of women lacking agency still exists today and can trace its heritage to this not too distant past.

So what happened to that woman in 1942 who was trying to buy train tickets (as it turns out, to join her husband in San Diego)? She grabbed a nearby sailor to stand in as her husband so she could buy the train tickets. Likely she didn’t fool anyone, but she managed to get what she needed by playing along. A woman with children buying train tickets without a man? What madness! She could have been running away with the husband’s children. Property stealing property. That just wouldn’t do.

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