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Silver Threads: Feminist conundrums

suffragettes

How far has feminism come since the days of suffragettes?

The other day, as I made my doddering way toward a movie theater exit, a little fellow who could have been no more than five-years sprang forward to open the door  for me. “Well, what a handsome gentleman!” I said appreciatively, as his mother preened nearby.

I got to thinking about that yesterday, when reading several newspaper articles comparing the current fiscal status of women and men in the workplace. You see, when “equal pay for equal work” became the mantra of so-called “women’s libbers” back in the ‘60s, some privileged dowagers got publicly worried about whether the small courtesies between the genders would be lost. They foresaw a day when men would fail to leap to their feet when they entered a room, open limousine and exit doors for them, and grab the check when dining out.

Me, I never worried about any of that -- it was always about the money. And wounded pride -- knowing that my paycheck contained only half of what the most inept of my male counterparts were receiving. Couple that feeling with those of working women whose wages meant sheer survival, and it isn’t any wonder that many of us saluted the “bra burners.”

During the 45 or so years since I got my equal pay, it’s been a pleasure to watch the achievements of the feminine part (48 percent these days) of the U.S. workforce.

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York had told  the House of Representatives in 1969 that “when a young woman graduates from college and starts looking for a job, she is likely to have a frustrating and even demeaning experience ahead of her. If she walks into an office for an interview, the first question she will be asked is, ‘Do you type?’” But those born only slightly before and after that day probably can’t imagine a era when winning a secretarial job meant a girl pinned on the blue ribbon, or when female doctors, lawyers and other professionals were relatively rare -- never mind CEOs, heads of state and American judges, secretaries of state, and presidential candidates.

Back when cigarettes were still being advertised on television, Virginia Slims had a slogan that fit the times: “You’ve come a long way, Baby.”

Now it’s being reported that women’s wages aren’t keeping up; they earn only about 77% of what men do. I wouldn’t be surprised at a slide. Young women in my daughter’s generation, for example, have been reported as being unwilling to describe themselves as “feminist” despite cashing in on the gains their foremothers won for them. It was much the same in the ‘40s and ‘50s: in winning in the ‘20s the right to vote, the suffragettes had made fools of themselves as far as many were concerned. They’d won the right to vote, and feminism was out of fashion.

My main complaint, these days, is with what you might call “biddy inequity” on television. Aside from Hillary Clinton and Diane Sawyer and some elected or appointed officials, how long has it been since you’ve seen a female of more than mature years  take part in a learned discussion on a news show? Yet it seems to be acceptable for a geezer to court the camera as long as he can sit up on a soundstage. I saw a biddy engaged in a cable conversation on the national budget the other night and almost gave her a standing ovation.

NOW (the National Organization for Women) was established in 1966 to promote passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Maybe we biddies should elongate  that to NOOW. You can guess what that means.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]