Monday, June 1, 2015

We've come a long way, baby

After I graduated from college, armed with a liberal arts degree and excellent grades, I eagerly set out into the world (Hartford, CT) going door to door looking for jobs. It was in the very early 70s.
The employment offices of companies had pink application forms for women. Invariably I was told there were no positions, but they would 'keep it on file'.
At one company, I was filling out the application when a male college grad of the same age came in. The receptionist perked up, handed him the white form, and placed his application in a different file.
As I trudged, at slower and slower pace, from one company to another, I was told I would just get married and have children, and they wouldn't want to waste time training me.
I was eventually hired at that company ($75 a week!) after acing a math test at an employment agency. Then I was in for a very different education. They had separate dining rooms for men and women. All the men had offices. None of the women did.
At that first job, an insurance company, after dropping a suggestion in a box recommending more equal treatment* for the females doing the exact job male executives were doing, I was immediately fired. They saw me as a trouble maker. Meek little me.
* (maybe just a telephone for their own use instead of one the whole row of us ladies had to share)
There was an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission I could complain to, but discrimination on the basis of sex was a relatively new, ignored, concept in the early years of EEOC. I had to concentrate on supporting myself, so I moved away and went back to school, (despite the obvious danger of becoming overqualified for even more jobs).
All these decades later, I have yet to be supported by a man, ever - what all of my potential employers back then predicted would happen. (I have supported a few of them.)

My generation was a pioneering one on so many fronts: in the fights - against 'unjust' wars, and for civil rights for all. Women of my age were a bridge from the generation of women before - whose options consisted primarily of getting married or maybe becoming a nurse, stewardess or secretary. Breaking into male dominated fields was not for the fainthearted. Female characteristics that were indoctrinated; being soft spoken, not interrupting, being modest, did not get you far in the business world. Being a 'good girl' was not compatible with being successful. Consequently, many of us didn't have the most important tool of all, self confidence. I still have some trouble dealing with authority figures, and people who have become successful based on the power of their personality. I am no match for them.
I'd like to think that in some small way, dropping that note in the suggestion box created a tiny ripple (along with the other acts of protest and subversion my generation performed back then) that helped smooth the way for the current generation.
Now my daughter wouldn't think twice about whether she could compete effectively with her male counterparts. Let's hope her future employers have that same attitude.
I sometimes wonder what path my career would have taken had more opportunities been open to me back then. But maybe I would still be at that insurance company, and that would be tragic!

An equal rights amendment may even be passed in my daughter's lifetime. Even if you think it would be purely symbolic, remember, it's a symbol that would mean a lot to some of us.