It’s no secret I consider myself a feminist. I believe women should be afforded equal rights under the law. There is no time in my life I felt inferior because I was a woman. There is no time in my life, however, that society didn’t try to make me feel inferior — from the nuns at school, to the ads on TV, to the men I worked for as a secretary.
“Jan, come here!” one boss shouted at me from his office one morning. I popped my head in and saw him standing at his desk holding a wad of soggy papers. The roof had leaked overnight, and there was a puddle on his desk. “Help,” he whined. I told him that’s why we had janitorial staff and made the appropriate phone call.
Other secretaries at that company vacuumed their bosses’ offices and cleaned the executive washrooms. (I left before the company went under.)
It will be no surprise I joined the National Organization for Women and subscribed to Ms. magazine.
As I’ve said before, my friends and I formed a chapter of NOW in the early 1980s. We met monthly at the library, where the director was criticized for letting left-wing groups use the public meeting room. After we elected the first roster of officers (I was founding vice president), our small-town newspaper ran our photo on the front page.
Boy, howdy. I had no idea what I was in for.
My then-husband caught all manner of heck. His golfing buddies questioned his ability to keep me under control. Board members where I worked took offense. One woman, a lifelong singleton who inherited her father’s car business, took me to task. “I’ve worked in a man’s world all my life and I didn’t need the ERA,” she huffed.
I was too polite to remind her she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and did not represent the poor and lower-middle class women who were struggling to provide for their families while making 60 cents for every dollar men made.
Another board member put his arm around me and asked, “Why do you need the Equal Rights Amendment when you’ve got a husband to take care of you?” I was horrified.
My friends and I fought for the Equal Rights Amendment: We wrote letters, we made phone calls, and we visited our elected officials.
My friend T.K. and I called on our congressman. We dressed conservatively and calmly asked him to support the ERA.
“Well, now, if more feminists were like you gals, I’d be more inclined to vote for it,” he said condescendingly, then explained why he wouldn’t. (He was looking after us.)
Seething, we politely excused ourselves and vowed “some day.”
When Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as Walter Mondale’s running mate, we rejoiced. When they lost to Reagan, we told ourselves the country wasn’t quite ready for a female vice president or president, but some day ...
Well, some day actually might be here, and what do we have? Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, a bizarro world candidate and a question mark running on cutes and crazy.
If 1980s feminists had known this was coming, we might not have fought so hard.
Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.