I am Woman, Hear Me Roar

Gloria Steinem, 1971
Gloria Steinem, 1971

I’ve been reading Gail Collins’s book, “When Everything Changed:  The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”  It’s a really interesting, well-researched story.  What amazes me, however, is that I was there and participating in the change for a good portion of this history.

Along with my friends, my sisters, my boyfriends, and classmates, we were all part of history and didn’t even realize it at the time!  At least, I didn’t think of it as changing history–I thought of what I did as standing up for myself and trying to make the kind of life I wanted.  More accurately, I knew what kind of life I didn’t want, and was determined to go a different way.

I didn’t want to be stuck on a farm doing hard physical labor and dependent on my husband or neighbors to drive me anywhere, like my poor mother.  Item #1 on the independence agenda:  Learn to drive!  I’m flabbergasted that fewer kids are learning to drive now.

I wanted to learn, to get a good job, to support myself.  Item #2 on the agenda:  Go to college.  Mother and Daddy were in strong agreement with this.  Their whole intent was for us kids to have a better life than they did, and college was the road to that.

I wanted to make a good living, travel, see the wide world.  Item #3:  Graduate degree.  I think that’s where the reality of the change I was pushing for really hit me.  My class at Wharton was 28% female, and most of the male percentage was not very welcoming (except the ones who were looking for high-earning wives.)  One guy said to me, “You know you got in under a quota.”  I asked him what his GMAT score and GPA were, and he wouldn’t tell me.

That was just the beginning of what I had to face in the business world–and still continue to face.  Women have made tremendous strides, but we still get paid less for the same work.  We still carry more responsibility for family and home while working more and more hours.

I used to get alarmed when I saw young girls continuing to play dumb to attract boys.  I’m glad that more of them are strong enough to not play those games.  The real lesson from the women’s movement for all women is:  Be prepared to take care of yourself.  The old social contract of the stay-at-home wife and breadwinner husband was irretrievably broken by bad economic times in the 1970’s, and there is no going back.  Even without equal pay for equal work, we still gotta work.

The other lesson I think we’re all still trying to learn is to respect ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and stop blaming ourselves when life is not controllable.  As women, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

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A Winter’s Day

This was the Halloween snow of 2011!
This was the Halloween snow of 2011!

Snow days are not what they used to be for me, and for most adults, I think.  This winter has been extra-super-awful so far, all across the country for the most part.  It’s rare for businesses to shut down and for the governor to say, “Stay off the roads!”  So most of us have to try to get to work through the aftermath of snowstorms or spend hours in traffic (or on stalled trains) trying to get home.  I end up tired, cranky and sore from shoveling my car out of its parking spot.

When I was a child in Tennessee snow days were a rare treat.  Even an ice storm was welcome as long as the power didn’t stay off very long.  If we got one or two per winter we were thrilled.  Mother always said, “You won’t be so glad when you have to stay in school this summer,” but summer was far away.  A day out of the normal routine was well worth making up in May.

Once the snow stopped falling we usually managed to get out and visit my aunts and uncles on the neighboring farms.  Daddy’s truck could go most anywhere once he put the chains on.  He made sure everyone had groceries and would make runs to the little store at Stringtown, which never closed for anything (except the owner’s whim.)

Often Aunt Eunice would have us up for lunch, for her version of chili spaghetti, made in a crock pot.  Don’t ask!  It bore no resemblance to either dish, but it was tasty and warming on a cold day.  Mother and Daddy would then play Rook with Aunt Eunice and Uncle Tip, while I read a book.  Then we would slowly grind our way down the hill in low gear all the way home, the chains on the tires smacking the pavement.

If it was cold enough I would get to let our dog in the garage for the night, which was a huge thrill for him.  Normally he slept in his doghouse, or in warm weather he slept in a hollow he dug below my bedroom window.  He was never allowed in the house per se.  Mother thought having animals indoors was dirty and was impervious to pleading on this subject.

I remember getting up early the next day and listening to the radio to see if school would be out again.  I don’t think we ever got more than a couple of days in a row.  So I’d have to get bundled up and stand out at the bus stop in the dark, waiting for the sun to come up and the bus to come.  Back to normal again–with hopes for another snow day soon.