Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Have Things Really Changed for Women?

  Picture from here:   http://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/manual_typewriter.html 

I had a discussion on social media this morning that was generated by this quote:
"I, myself, have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is.  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute."
-- Rebecca West

The discussion was whether women have really moved forward, or whether we move forward and backward simultaneously.  It was pointed out to me that children growing up today see women on television accomplishing everything under the sun, and they assume they can too, and that it has always been that way.  One of the women told me that she feels that we aren't telling the story of the struggle for women's rights.

I have to admit that this discussion was an eyeopener for me.  I know that I've talked about the struggle with my own kids (at least my daughters), but I wonder if they really understand.  Will life for my granddaughters move forward or backward?  Who will be their role models?  Will they stand up and be counted?  Will the term "feminist" be something they are proud of, or something they are ashamed to admit is part of who they are?

My oldest daughter is an aeronautical engineer who has helped design and launch satellites.  My second daughter has two degrees and a good government job.  My third daughter is currently on an LDS mission in Brazil, but a year from now will be coming home to finish her education and pursue a career in her chosen field.  Will my granddaughters be afforded experiences equal to their expectations in life?

For the benefit of my granddaughters (who will someday be old enough to read this), I'm going to tell my own story below -- but I don't want my grandsons to tune out -- because you are part of the story -- you need to be aware, as well.  You need to treat your female counterparts as your equals.

I grew up in a time when women were encouraged to be secretaries and nurses.  Period.  Yes, there were some women who held other jobs, but it was certainly not encouraged.  They struggled to get those positions, and they fought hard to keep them.  After they received those positions, they fought for their reputations because it was assumed that the only way they could possibly have gotten those jobs is by sleeping with the boss. They were not paid the same amount their male counterparts were paid (and often still are not).  Girls were often not encouraged to go to college, nor were they encouraged to take college prep classes in high school.  There were certain "male only" classes in high school. My father fought with the school when my older sister wanted to take mechanical engineering, as it was considered a "male only" class.

While there is still sexual harassment in the work place, at least it is talked about and discouraged these days. Most large companies have some sort of sexual harassment training, and sexual harassment policy.  I was 17 years old working in the bakery of our local grocery store when the baker backed me in a corner against the wall and I couldn't move.  The only recourse I had was to hit the street looking for another job.  If I had told my employer, they wouldn't have believed me, and if I had told my father, he would likely have killed the baker.  I had no other choice but to leave and find other work.

My mother was a strong willed feminist, although she would not have used that label.  During World War II, she was Deputy County Clerk in Carson City, Nevada.  She issued everything from dog licenses to marriage licenses.  She took court testimony in shorthand.  She was present for marriages and divorces.  At the end of the war, women were expected to leave those positions, go home, have babies and do diapers to leave those jobs open for returning servicemen.  She did just that.  She was my father's unpaid secretary for many years.  When he got sick and could no longer work, she found herself on the street looking for a job with no "experience" except to say that she was my father's unpaid secretary.  Mom was a fighter, and she found employment as the office manager at an Episcopal church.  The priest hired her because his only requirement was that she not be a member of the church so she wouldn't be involved in church politics.  Mom had never used anything but a manual typewriter, but saw the advent of the computer and took the opportunity and ran with it. I'm ashamed to say that Mom learned computer technology before I did.

My father was a conundrum.  He wanted his children (male and female) to have all the opportunities we wanted, yet he was often baffled by our choices.  As I said above, he went to bat for my sister when she wanted to take a "male" class.  However, he discouraged me from becoming a writer because it wasn't "a dignified enough profession for a lady."  If I had pushed on that one, I'm sure he would have supported me, but I never pushed back where Dad was concerned.  I became a legal secretary.

When I was in business college, times were really tough.  We were in the midst of a recession and an energy crises.  Lines were long at the gas pump, and girls I knew at business college were pumping gas for good money.  I made the mistake of suggesting that I do this, and Dad hit the roof!  No daughter of his was ever going to pump gas!  So I took a job for a lot less pay filing billings at an insurance company -- and almost starved to death for the next several months.  I needed to lose weight anyway, but that was a hard way to do it!

When I first became a legal secretary, there were almost no female attorneys.  Those few women attorneys had to be tough! They were fighting a constant uphill battle to be taken seriously by clients, other attorneys, and the court.  Women are now thriving as attorneys, running Bar Associations, and becoming respected judges and justices.

What I Want My Grandchildren to Remember:
Heavenly Father put us all on the earth together.  He put us here to love one another and help one another.  We are equal partners in all things.  We need each other -- the male and the female.

My granddaughters:  Take pride in yourselves and in your bodies. Realize you are daughters of God.  You are of royal birth.  You don't have to be door mats.  Stand up and be counted, but treat men with the respect they deserve.

My grandsons:  Take pride in yourselves and in your bodies. Realize you are sons of God.  You are of royal birth.  You are not here to stomp on women.  You can do nothing Godly without your counterpart.  Treat women with the respect they deserve.

It's all about respect, people.  What legacy will we leave?

Note:  Thank you Carole Riley, Tessa Keough, and Celia Lewis for opening my eyes this morning, and for Denise Morgan Kalicki for originally sharing the quote by Rebecca West.


  1. Colleen Janes left this message on Facebook, and I wanted to save it here:

    "That is one of my all-time favorite quotes, and I am thrilled to see it in your blog! As you know, feminism is one of my passions. And this quote is the quintessential summary of feminism! This topic is so complex and emotional that, as you know, it is impossible to address it to any degree in so few words; but here are my highly abbreviated thoughts. American women are at a dangerous point. We can either go up or down. Only the young women can decide which it will be. And, unfortunately, I believe many young women's lack of proper parenting will lead us into a black chasm that is at least several decades long. Until a vast majority of young women in our nation begin to take pride in themselves, educate themsevles, and understand what they can be, and claim it, we are going backwards. It sickens me. We are truly at a time when women CAN be anything they want to be, yet so few are taking advantage of it. And, no, they truly will never understand what so many of us went through to give them the very opportunities they are turning their backs on. And ask any woman over the age of...I'd say about 40...and they ALL have a story of sexual harrassment. Generally speaking, it's not as blatant as it used to be; but the majority of women will still experience it to a lesser degree...maybe forever. A pet peeve of mine: WOMEN WHO DO NOT VOTE! OR WHO ALLOW THEIR HUSBANDS TO TELL THEM HOW TO VOTE! Women died and suffered great trials so that you could have a voice. Get your butts to the polls and speak for yourselves! [I really should get my own blog.] :-)"

  2. Cheri Janes Scott left this comment on Facebook, and I'm saving it here:

    "In high school I wanted to go to work for A&W. Mom and Dad wouldn't let me because, 'Nice girls don't do that.'"