Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, which kicked off the big wave of feminism that altered –though not enough–the world for women, is fifty years old. It was published in the same year I entered the work force for the first time, as an “account assistant” at J. Walter Thompson in New York, whose offices at that time were on Lexington Avenue.
It was a plum job, the kind you could only get if you were an Ivy League educated young woman. But in actuality, my job was to type. Not advertising copy, but memos. Lots of memos. With carbon paper, which got my hands and clothes filthy. It was more than boring. It was dirty in every way.
But it was the best job offered in the Female Help Wanted section of the classifieds. Yes, the job listings were segregated. Shortly after I recognized what I would really be doing, I quit and went back to grad school to get a Ph.d. Women could teach. They could nurse. And they could type. That was about it.
When I first began working, women could not get their own credit. They could share checking accounts, but not have their own. They could not have abortions. And if they weren’t married at 21 it was pretty much over, so I got married for the first time at 23. Of course I married the wrong man. I couldn’t get divorced in New York, because adultery was the only grounds for divorce. I got my divorce in Juarez, Mexico, because I couldn’t afford to move to Reno for six months to fulfill the Nevada requirements for a divorce.
By the time I got pregnant, in 1980, some things had changed. Abortion was legal in California, but not in Arizona, where I had moved. But when I talked to my doctor, he warned me that my child-bearing window was closing (I was 29) and I had better have the child if I wanted children. I did, and it was a wonderful, transformative decision, but that’s another story.
When I announced my pregnancy to the Dean of the college where I worked, he took it for granted I’d quit when I started “showing.” I informed him that I was going to work until I was in labor, and I did. I shared an office with three guys who were scared shitless to hear that I was in labor and still planned to meet my classes that day before calling the doctor.
After I had Samantha, everyone again expected me to leave the work force. The Dean was already talking to my replacements. But I went back to work after one week, baby in a pack on my back. (I also left the hospital against medical advice after one day).
My new husband was asked repeatedly by his friends at the Phoenix Country Club– where women couldn’t have their own memberships and where they couldn’t enter the Men’s Lounge where all the business deals were done–when he was going to “make” me quit work. He explained that he couldn’t “make” me do anything. The women at the Club would not talk to me. I was a pariah.
Outside the world in which I was fighting for my independence, the Women’s Movement, triggered by Betty Friedan’s book, was swirling around me. Although I taught women’s literature, I didn’t consider myself a feminist. I didn’t have time to be. I had a life. I was living the life they were all fighting for. I had simply ignored most of the rules and listened to my own drummer. Many people hated me (or perhaps feared me) and decided I was a communist. They definitely thought I was a feminist.
I wasn’t. I was a mother of one, and then a second daughter, and always a full-time worker. I drove a hard bargain with the father of my children: he had to take on part of the housework, or I’d have an abortion.
I never got paid what a man got paid, until I started my own business in 1980. Then I was able to pay myself what I thought I was worth. And in every meeting with clients and prospects, I was the only woman in the room. I made a lot of noise, and I was accused of being overly aggressive. Dangerous.
But guess what? My two daughters make more than I did. The daughter who had a baby got family leave. The other daughter got to work at a big consulting firm as global director of brand. And then start her own business. These were feminism’s fruits.
I’ve never quit. I just completed fifty years in the work force. I’m just getting going fighting for things. But I’m still not a feminist. I love men.