Maya’s Granny posted last week about the TV show Mad Men, and some of her experiences as a woman in a man’s world during that time.
As much as we tend to think that “the 60’s changed everything,” some of the attitudes toward women so well illustrated by the writers of Mad Men persisted well into the 80’s. In my mind, it was Anita Hill’s testimony at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in the early 1990’s that really crystallized what so many women faced on a daily basis, and what the consequences too often were for speaking up about it. That was the point where it seemed that businesses started taking discrimination and sexual harassment seriously.
It’s amazing now to look back at some of the attitudes and behaviors that we used to be told were “just the way things are.” We were supposed to suck it up and “go along to get along,” and for the most part, une femme did too.
At one of my first radio station jobs, the General Manager used to come in every morning and greet me with, “Hello, Miss Boobsley, and how are the both of you today?” while looking at my chest. Back then, you were expected to be a good sport about this kind of thing, or risk being branded a bitch. But at some point, it just bothered me so much that I walked into his office one day and said, “I know you don’t mean any harm by it and to you it’s all in good fun, but when you address me that way I find it very demeaning.” To his credit, he got it right away and stopped, and didn’t get pissy or let it negatively affect our working relationship (which otherwise was a good one).
When I worked for a TV Ad Sales rep firm in New York in 1981-82, in my position as Assistant to the Group Sales Manager, I was responsible to oversee the work of the six Sales Assistants to the Account Executives who reported to my boss. Five were women, one was a man (all were in their early 20’s, just out of college). Of the six, the guy was lowest performer, always late getting his orders processed, having more errors in his work than the others, spending lots of time with his feet up on his desk talking to friends on the phone, and generally being a jerk. One day, my boss’ boss says to me, “It’s a shame we can only pay P—- as much as we pay the girls; he’ll have a family to support someday!”
I’ve had my appearance critiqued in business meetings by male co-workers and supervisors (“you’ve lost weight/you’ve gained weight/that shirt makes your boobs look bigger/you should show more cleavage/wear shorter skirts/wear more makeup”), I’ve been hit on by married supervisors and told that it’s OK to pay women less because they just quit when they get married and start having babies anyway.
Nowadays some people laugh off sexual harassment training and lambast “political correctness run amok.” But those of us who lived through and worked during those times know just how bad things could get, and women were at the mercy of their (almost always male) bosses. Not that all bosses or men in the workplace were abusive or disrespectful, but there were few consequences if any if they were, and a kind of “boys will be boys” mentality was common. Une femme wouldn’t return to those times for all of the champagne in France.
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