What is was like before Gloria Steinem spoke up and started pissing people off.

Posted: January 13, 2012 in Self-esteem, self-respect, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I can’t believe that there are young women who don’t know who Gloria Steinem is.

Many of them are clients, some are friends of family members and some are young women I run into or talk to from time to time.

This came up, again, recently and when the young woman asked who I was talking about, my head really did hit the table. I lost all my steam and couldn’t fathom how someone could not know who this woman was. I lifted my head back up because she was worried I was having a stoke or heart attack (I get that I’m a bit older, but for God’s sake, I’m not that old) and I rubbed my forehead and then my eyes. I assured her that I was fine and stared back at her.

“You really don’t know who I’m talking about?”

She slowly shook her head and said she had heard the name, but had no idea. She looked as if she was in trouble and her voice wavered a bit. I put my hand across the table and told her I was going to tell her who she was and what she did for me personally.

I was born in 1955 and am considered a Baby Boomer, though I’m not sure what that means and I am certain that I don’t care, but it’s important to some people.

What it means is I’m the tail end of a generation that was last raised with what we call “traditional values.”  We grew up believing that the world was structured a certain way and that was just the way it is. I then became a teenager in the 60’s and all of that changed as if overnight. It really is one of those things that you would have to experience to fully understand, but my generation changed so many things in a very short period of time.

But this post is about Gloria and what she did and how much better things are for women because of her and the movement she started (or contributed to) and why she’s important.

I’m not going to talk about her specific actions. Much has been written about her, but I want to tell you what it was like before she spoke up and you can make the comparison with how things are now. For you.

Girls had to take typing classes. I am glad that I learned to type, especially now with computers and the internet, but this was long before then. The reason was because the only jobs available to us was clerical or nursing or working in a library or teaching. We were expected to go get married either right out of High School or college but our main focus was to find a husband and become a mother. We were told that was our future and typing was a skill we would need in case we didn’t get married right away and had to get a secretarial job.

It was very common on job applications to ask you and insist that you gave details of your period. I remember filling out an application one time and I read that part and felt myself blush and stammer and not know what to say. I got up from the chair I was sitting in and walked up to the desk to ask the woman if I had to answer this. She was much older than me; I was 17 and she was in her 30’s and she smiled and said I had to. I asked why and she said it was a precaution in order to determine if I would miss work. She looked a bit startled by my question and I think she never thought about it. This was the usual and you’re not suppose to question “What everybody knows” so I sat back down, lied and continued filling it out.

In High School, I was not allowed to take auto shop because I was a girl. Simple as that. I had also asked (there is a reason my blog is called what it is called) if they could make an exception for me. I had a new car and my boyfriend was taking the class and he was completely into cars. Many a night I sat by him in the freezing cold or sweltering heat, handing him tools while he was under the car. He explained things to me as he went and for a brief moment in High School, I understood how cars worked. Now I wanted to learn how to fix them and was told that I wasn’t allowed to. The teacher even told me to go back to Home Education and learn how to cook because that was the skill I would need when I graduated.

My first “real job” was at McDonald’s when I was sixteen and I could only work the front counter because, well, that’s all that girls were allowed to do. At that time, McDonald’s was a great place to eat. We made our own fries and milk shakes. Girls weren’t allowed near the machines nor were we allowed to cook. Ironic, isn’t it?

We were paid at least 1/2 of what men were paid and I’m not sure if that’s improved as much as it should, but it is better.

It was not unusual to be handed empty coffee cups by men and told to get them a cup of coffee nor to do only the clerical work only. It was well understood that you would never get promoted and shouldn’t expect it. It didn’t matter if you were smarter or better than a man, you would never get promoted. HE had a family to support and you were just some silly woman with nothing better to do than to work.

Talk about sexual harassment? It was common, accepted and to be expected. Men were allowed to slap you on your ass, make comments about what you looked like, what you were wearing and ask any and all personal questions. You had no one to complain to and if you did, you were told you were overreacting and being irrational.

I’ll never forget the time that a sales rep walked into an office I was working at. I was sitting at the front desk at the time and was the Office Manager and was catching the phones while some of the staff were at lunch.

He walks in, doing his door-to-door cold calling, and sees me. He asked if the owner was in and I told him he wasn’t. He looks me up and down and takes something out of his briefcase and tells me he wanted to leave it. I said fine and then he realizes it’s his last copy. He hands it to me and tells me to go photocopy it.

I stare at him. He tries to hand it to me again and then slowly puts his hand down. I point to the photocopier and tell him to do it himself and if he doesn’t know how, then he was shit out of luck.

I could see him bite his tongue and think about what to say. He asked when my boss would be back and I let him know he’ll never get an appointment to see him and that we aren’t interested in his products or service.

He calls me a bitch, turns around and walks out. He had given me his card, so I immediately call and ask to speak to his supervisor. I get him on the phone and tell him what happened.

“So? I guess you were rude to him and have forgotten your place.”

“Say what?” I ask and he repeats what he said.

I hung-up and lit up a cigarette and cursed the male species.

This post could go on for a long time, with many stories and I haven’t even touched upon most of it. But if you don’t know who she is, find out.

Gloria made us visible and important and helped us to find our voice. She told us we were worthy of equal rights and respect. No one had told me that before and I didn’t know until she arrived on the scene. Love her, hate her or just don’t care who she is, your life is better because of her work.

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Comments
  1. girlweena says:

    Sadly, I’ve had a few female bosses who allowed me to be treated like dirt by male clients and co-workers. They were so afraid they wouldn’t get paid, they forgot to acknowledge the damage done to their trusty assistant. Shocking, isn’t it?

    Thanks for posting this. Hugs, W~

  2. Susan Lewis says:

    Same here and you know what? It’s worse when that happens. Pisses me off so much more.
    Glad you liked the post! Hugs back.

  3. AO says:

    Gloria is coming to Minneapolis! http://www.besyn.org/gloria

  4. Don’t you just love that bit about how they say women do the cooking at home, but in a restaurant the men do the cooking and the women wait the tables.