Friday, October 14, 2016
This Post is Not About Wine...
However, the events of the past few weeks have stirred up memories, anger, and disgust, so I thought I'd exorcise of few of my demons. Spoiler alert: This post is not about wine. And it's long. Deal with it.
1969, age 17, right out of high school, working at Sears in the Credit Department. In casual conversation, I find out that Bruce has received a significantly larger raise than I have, despite the fact that I have more responsibilities and more technical work. I confront my boss after waiting 24 hours to calm down. With my heart pounding, I use the words "unequal" and "inappropriate". I get the full raise. Later that year, I ask the Personnel Manager why women of all ages and rank are required to punch out and back in for their lunch breaks, but men over 21 are not. I get the policy changed. I get the dress code changed, too. Pant suits for women are finally allowed. The women there like me a lot. The men are afraid of me.
Age 20, newly married, living in Pennsylvania, I start looking for a job. In every interview where I'm questioned by a man, I am asked what type of contraception I use, and when I'm planning on having children. This is 1972; there are already laws on the books banning these questions. I ask the interviewers if they would ask a man these questions. They reply, "That's different." I tell them, "No, it's not," and that they should believe me when I tell them that I wouldn't be looking for a job if I were planning on starting a family. I report these employers to the agency sending me out.
I take a job in the Shipping and Receiving department of a small electronics firm. All the managers are men, the designers are men, but the assembly workers in the plant are all women, because "women do finer work" and "women have longer attention spans" when doing fine work. The walls are plastered with ads from electronics magazines, mainly various machines with naked women on them. I am offended. I talk to some of the women in the plant, and they are offended, too, but they just shrug and say, "Well, you know how men are." I get a calendar from Playgirl magazine, filled with naked male pin-ups and put it over my desk. The men go nuts. They are shocked! Offended! It's not right! I ask, "How do you think women feel about the stuff on your walls?" They reply, "That's different". I say, "No, it's not." Some of them understand.
1976, having graduated from Temple University summa cum laude with a degree in English, and gotten myself elected to the local Democratic Committee and working for the Carter/Mondale campaign - meaning I'm pretty much unemployable - I'm working as a temp for a large manufacturing facility. After a few months, Management moves me from the Personnel receptionist job to a Purchasing department Expediter job to cover for a man who is going on vacation. With no experience, I expedite truck trailer parts across country to get to the plant on time for production. When the man comes back from his vacation, they fire him, and keep me on as a temp, doing the full-time job. They promise me the job - and the pay. In the meantime, as plant production increases, they bring in a man, a full-time teacher who works summers at the plant. This year, they've offered him a temporary desk job, where I have to teach him how to expedite. During casual conversation, I find out he's being paid significantly more than I am. I confront the Personnel Manager the next day, after I've calmed down. He assures me that my paperwork is on the way - this has been going on for months - and that I should feel "flattered" that management thinks "I'm good enough to teach a man" how to do the job. I tell him that's very nice, but compliments don't put food on the table, and that, while I have no expectations that the job will actually come through, I need him to understand that this treatment is "unequal" and "inappropriate", and that I can find another $3.00 an hour job anywhere. Strangely, the very next day I am offered the full-time job at full pay and benefits. When they discover just how well I can do the job, they hire another woman to work with me, and downgrade the job. I am eventually promoted to Purchasing Agent.
As an Expediter and Purchasing Agent in this manufacturing plant, I have to deal with most of the foremen. When they realize they have to work with a girl, they go out of their way to use abusive language to me. I swear right back at them, giving them pause, as they have never heard a woman use this kind of language. They like me. They've never met anyone like me. They don't understand why I don't want to date them.
Late 1980, working as a Purchasing Agent, still in manufacturing, I accept a job at another firm, where within a week I discover that the job has been misrepresented to me, and I am expected to fill in on the receptionist's desk as needed. I ask my boss if he would expect a man to fill in for the receptionist. Well, he says, that's different. No, I reply, it's not. If I'm to continue to have credibility as a PA, I cannot be the receptionist. He accedes ungraciously to my statement. I start looking for another job. It takes me 10 months, during which time, this man is abusive, and generally drunk after lunch. I move on to a much better job, where in an ironic turn, a colleague calls me for an employment reference on my former boss. I tell the truth. He does not get the job.
Another ironic story: During the time I was working for the truck trailer manufacturer, a buyer's position opened up at the home office in Chicago. This is in 1979. By this time I am divorced from my first husband, still living in PA. The company flies me to the Windy City, where I spend a day in interviews with a couple of men to whom I would report if I got the job. It's a very weird day. Suffice to say, I cut the trip short, get an early flight back to PA, and, when they offer me the job, I turn it down. It just felt wrong on so many levels. I didn't like the way the men spoke to me, and how they went out of their way to make me uncomfortable. My boss tells me I probably ended my upward trajectory with the company, and I tell him I'm all right with that. Six months later, the whole company is purchased by another firm, and everyone in Chicago is fired. They call it the "Saturday Night Massacre". The real irony occurs in 1984, when I'm being promoted to be the Western Region Sales Manager of my current company, and getting ready to return to California, and the jerk from Chicago applies for my Purchasing Agent job in PA. I'm the interviewer this time. He doesn't get the job. My boss thought he was a jerk, too.
I move back to Los Angeles, trying very hard to manage sales in the 11 western states. All my sales reps are men. Many of them are not happy to report to a woman. I cut my hair very short in kind of a masculine cut, and wear man-tailored business suits. The younger guys seem more comfortable. Management in PA brings in a new Executive Vice President. He's odd and cold on the phone with me. I go back to PA for a trade show, and stop in the office to meet him. He won't shake my hand, won't make eye contact, and has a large mug on his desk with the words "Mine's bigger". Within six months, he has personally fired all the women in management positions, including me. Within another six months, he is fired for mismanagement after pretty much bankrupting the company.
I find another sales management position with a company in the same industry. My boss shows me a presentation about our products that is filled with inaccuracies and misinformation. I point out these issues. He orders me to memorize and present this to our customers. I refuse. I am fired. Six months later, he is fired for mismanagement. The company goes out of business.
I am exhausted. I spend the next 5 months on the couch, watching reruns of Charlie's Angels and Starsky and Hutch. And Little House on the Prairie. And MTV (back when they actually played music). After some counseling, I leave manufacturing behind.
There are many more stories I could tell about my experiences with men in the workplace. Some are just as frustrating as the ones I've told here; others are great. Not all men are jerks. A lot are. Some women are jerks, too.
I am exhausted now. The ugly rhetoric of this election cycle in 2016 has allowed all the misogynists and racists to crawl out from under their rocks. It is astonishing and horrifying to me to discover that everything I worked for in the sixties and seventies and eighties changed almost nothing. Men in power are still assholes, women are still being blamed for men's bad and often criminal behavior, and everyone is angry at everyone else. I know real change comes slowly, and I continue to fight the good fight, but I'm tired.
And that fatigue that I'm feeling now is the real danger, because the bad guys want us to be too tired to fight.
My friend, Steve Heimoff, posted an article today. Here's the link to it. It's a scenario of what could actually happen after the 2016 election. And it's some scary shit.
Keep the faith. Don't let the haters wear you down. Keep fighting for equal rights, equal pay, peace, love. You know, the things worth fighting for.
We can do it. Meanwhile, back to wine.