I grew up in the 70’s—a time I think was a pretty fantastic to be a kid. My generation didn’t go off to war, survived inflation but not a depression, had a strong and normal middle class, and feared nothing at school except a bad grade.
However, I never realized—until I was about twelve and in sixth grade —that women and girls didn’t have the same opportunities as men and boys. I dreamed of being a doctor, a lawyer, or a TV news reporter, without knowledge or thought of the glass ceiling.
But then Little League happened. While I didn’t play baseball (basketball and track, yes), I had a good friend who did. Penny wanted to play baseball, and since there were no girls teams to play on at the time, she wanted to join the boys team.
Penny’s quest to play Little League with the boys became a big story in my small world. She was fiery, insistent and knew she could outplay many of the boys on the team. But when she showed up to join, she was turned away. For lack of . . .a penis.
No, really. That’s all she was missing.
My world was rocked. I experienced for the first time—as a white, suburban, middle class A-student—discrimination. And it pissed me off. I joined Penny in her fight (she made the team) and continued to see inequalities from that time on, always triggering the same response. Indigence. Anger. And a need for justice and fairness.
I saw that girls needed to step up and run for class officers. I campaigned, made signs and recruited for positions I didn’t think I could win, but knew someone who could.
In my small, private high school, the girls were banned from wearing jeans where the boys were not. The rationale was that the boys were farmers and that this was all they had. Meanwhile, we had to scour the malls for fabric that wasn’t denim. Corduroy. Gabardine. White painter pants. Ridiculous, yes? A minor issue? Maybe—but we were fighting for equality, not just jeans. Up the guys dress code to dress pants or let us wear jeans. Just make it the same. They finally caved the year after I graduated. And while I didn’t get to experience the change, I was proud to be one of the women who instigated it.
Fast forward to church life where an unqualified man was hired to be the principal of the church school, while many well-qualified women were passed over simply for their gender. Women could teach children and other women, but apparently had nothing to offer men. My husband, who had the same number of theology credit hours as me, could lead the Monday night studies and offer counseling to both men and women. But I couldn’t.
Funny how I accepted this for a few years as something to be accepted for spiritual reasons. But it never sat right in my gut, and when neither of us could accept it any longer, we left.
What can we do today and every day to ensure girls and women are afforded every opportunity? Here’s 3 things, for starters:
- Stay angry. Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by virtually all humans at times, and as something that has functional value for survival. Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action. If we stop feeling the anger that discrimination brings, we’ll lose the resources and energy to bring change. I’m convinced that if we feel nothing, we do nothing. My response of anger and indignation can be triggered today, even 40 years later. While I’ve had great opportunities in my life and business, I’ve felt the sting of discrimination many times, as have the women on my staff.
- Never discriminate against any group of people, ever. We all have discriminatory thoughts and attitudes that creep in. We laugh at it in media: a whisper, a glance, a thought. Holding myself to the same high standard of no discrimination against any group brings understanding for how deep-seeded our fears of those who are different truly are.
- Look for ways you can stand up for women and girls in your life, and take action. Encourage women to apply for the position they think is out of reach. Run for office. Take classes. Be ready to speak up when you see discrimination happening. Feel it in your gut and have zero tolerance, instead of explaining away or making excuses.
We are making strides. But we’re #NotThereYet. Women are still paid less for the same work. Our representatives in Washington are 80% men. Less than 5% of S&P 500 Companies have female CEO’s. The number of women in the workforce is virtually unchanged in the last 2 decades.
Visit www.noceilings.org to find out steps we can all take today and to stay informed.