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.