Now, we all know how critical people in the United States have been about China’s valuing its male children over its females. The dirty laundry US citizens aired to the world during this Presidential election cycle was that we are the world’s worst hypocrites.
I was born in 1949 to Irish Catholic parents. My Dad was 41 years old and he was overjoyed to have a child. My mother was heard to say, on occasion, that she had wanted a boy. She knew from her own experience that the world was a much kinder place for males.
I was an overachiever; a precocious, talented, out-spoken little “pint of peanuts” (her term of endearment). Sometimes she called me “the son she never had” because I never let being a girl stop me from forging ahead. My mother use to warn people, “If you take her on, you deserve what you get.”
When I was in the fourth grade, I remember being in a classroom. A television had been brought in for the nuns and children to watch Pope John XXIII’s Inauguration. The camera swept over all of the cardinals and bishops in the front rows and I asked, “Where are the women?” Sister Mary Agnes answered, “Oh, they were invited.. They’re in the back.” And that is where women have been relegated for as long as I can remember.
Other countries have given girls the message that women can attain the highest office of leadership, but in the “Democracy” we’ve created here in the US, women are still working their way to the front of the room.
Acceptable careers for girls graduating from high school in the 1960’s were secretary, nurse, teacher. I was a teacher for 20 years. In the 1980’s a study was released stating that 82% of all School Superintendents in the US were male. The path to the highest position in education went this way: physical education teacher, physical education department head, athletic director, vice-principal, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent. The problem, the study asserted, was that one of the stops on that career path was vice principal and the vice principal’s main role was to maintain discipline. And who better to maintain discipline (particularly of those big high school boys) but a man who had taught phys ed? Until Title IX went into effect in 1975, the path for women to become Athletic Directors was not really a viable one. Title IX stipulated that in order for a school to receive federal funds, it had to insure gender equity for both boys and girls. Slowly changes began to happen
In the late 80’s, a call went out to rectify this “Superintendent situation” by actively recruiting women to become high school administrators. I took the courses and did the interviews and became one of three women high school principals out of over 50 in RI in 1991. Unfortunately, I worked with two male administrators in my district who made my life hell. You see, with my principal and superintendent certificates, I was looked upon as a threat.
I shared a building with the middle school Principal and it became a game to him how much aggravation he could send my way every day. He was Principal of grades 7-8 and I was responsible for 9-12. But he wanted to be principal of the whole building, grades 7-12, and I was standing in his way.
One of the more serious games he played was taking money from the high school accounts and transferring them to the middle school funds. (The books were kept in his office.) When I became Principal, every club and sport in the high school had zero or less funds. I asked the Superintendent to have an auditor come in to look at the books. The Superintendent refused to help, warning me to get myself a lawyer if I intended to press the issue. I pressed the issue and got the funds reinstated into the high school accounts where they belonged. This incensed the middle school Principal and he made it his primary goal to make my job almost impossible. No one even attempted to intercede and he took this as a tacit form of permission to continue trying to goad me into looking for another job out of the system.
At the end of the following year, the Superintendent came to inform me I would not be given a raise for the coming school year. (I was the lowest paid principal in the state.) I asked him “Why?” and he said the school committee didn’t like the job I was doing. I inquired, “Which job are they referring to?” since I’d not been given an Assistant Principal nor did I have a Guidance Director nor a full-time Athletic Director. Those jobs fell to me to do in my “spare” time. (Probably the hour and a half out of my day I had to spend doing cafeteria duty? Or maybe after school hours when I attended activities, sports and meetings?) When I had the audacity to attend the next School Committee Meeting and ask exactly what it was I was doing wrong, so I could make changes, they were flabbergasted. They publicly commended me and thanked me for the work I was doing and said the Superintendent had requested to be given the responsibility to allocate pay raises that year and they were unaware he had decided not to give me my raise.
Furious that I had gone over his head, he stormed into my office the next day stuttering and red-faced. “Are you trying to get me fired?” I informed him he didn’t need my help to do that and reminded him he’d lied to me. He stormed out of my office screaming, “You’re dead in this district!”
I got my raise, but toward the end of the following year, I received notice I was not being re-hired. You see, by law (The Michelson Act), Principals in Rhode Island serve at the “Whim of the Superintendent”. Unlike teachers, administrators have no union to protect their jobs. He had convinced the School Committee to renew his contract for three years. When my contract came up, he informed them that if they chose to keep me in the job, they would have to buy him out. Hearings showed there was no just cause to let me go, but the financial aspect of buying out his contract and putting out a search for a new Superintendent they would also have to pay trumped my rights.
The administrator of the middle school was given his wish and made principal of grades 7-12 with two assistants to help. He was discovered one night in his office in a compromising “position” with a teacher’s aide. A large bag of cash (reported to be around $10,000.00) was also found in his desk. He was given a “Retirement Party” and with letters of recommendation, he went on to get another job in another state where he was soon fired for harassing a woman teacher.
The Superintendent moved on to other school districts in the state.
I was hired in another district for much more money and worked as a team with men I respected. I met Charley at a director’s meeting and we ended up getting married. ZuZu loves this because it has a happy ending.
In addition to encouraging gender equity in schools, Title IX had other far-reaching effects. I tried to buy my first house in 1974. No bank would give me a mortgage unless my parents would co-sign. I was a single female and even though I had tenure and a hefty down payment, it wasn’t until laws went into effect in 1975 that I finally was able to buy my first house without a male co-signer.
I went on to sell the house for a major profit, buy three acres of land on which I built another house where I’ve lived for 36 years. Another happy ending. ZuZu is dancing.
In 1987, at the age of 28, I joined the US Army Reserves. I was assigned an MOS (Military Occupational Skill) of 84B20 – Combat Photographer. I was supposed to be a Photo Journalist, but our military has been known to make mistakes. Now, at that time, women were not trained for combat, but, as I was given active duty assignments with other Reservists and National Guard Troops who were being trained for combat, I underwent the same training as the men in those units. Although people truly believed not training women for combat was protecting their safety, at the crux of the matter was that being combat trained would open up many more slots/chances of advancement for women. And, of course, that would mean fewer slots for men. Going successfully through the training, I hope I helped a little to disprove the preconceived notion that only men can be warriors. But gender equality at that level was a long time in coming.
I have many other stories, but this will give you a little perspective on the fight women have had and still have to attain gender equality in the US. Women only received the right to vote in 1920 after much struggle. Fifty years earlier, black men, once slaves, but not black women, had been accorded this right in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment to our Constitution. We are an entrenched Patriarchal Society. Couple this with being a Corporatocracy where the rich CEO’s rule, and you find that women are still way at the back of the room. Some have adjusted to this very well.
I know women who are comfortable getting what they want and need through their relationships with men. The post election polling shows that 53% of white women voted against Hillary. 68% of Latino women and 94% of Black women voted for her. Women supporting women is critical in moving us closer to the front of the room . Although many more women unified this time around, it wasn’t enough..”We have met the enemy and it is us.”
I worked with women who had affairs with men in order to be given higher positions. In one case, a married Superintendent advanced a teacher with whom he was involved in an ongoing affair, to assistant principal. In another case, a woman in my department married the principal and was made a department head the following week. In both situations, neither was the most qualified person for the job and both women were quite open about the method they’d used to advance their careers. A friend’s wife left him and her family because she wanted to be married to a professor. She rode that professor’s coat tails to a professorship of her own. There certainly are women who are comfortable with this route to advancement. But there are many women who do not want men to have that kind of power over us. We want control over our own finances and even more importantly, our own bodies. Patriarchies, not even benevolent ones, don’t work well for us.
I think the worst part of this election, for me, lies in the fact that many young women chose not to vote. They seemed to ignore the gains made over many years that gave them this sense of entitlement. The blatant message sent out to little girls by allowing a man who is openly and publicly abusive to so many women was that there are many people in this country who would prefer an orange-face, loud-mouthed, rascist, ignorant buffoon to a competent woman. Anyone else, but not a woman!
And that is the dirty laundry which was aired for all to see last week.
Other countries are now feeling the same anxiety many of us in the US are feeling. But, Putin is a happy man right now. The Russians refer to our President-elect as a “useful fool” and many of us fear the buffoon eventually will become a “useful tool” in helping to further destroy our ideals of democracy.
So many of your comments have led to wonderful conversations since last Tuesday and I thank all of you for every word you took time to write. I still have hope for this country and it lies in the independent women, the men who support us and in the young Hispanics who have become united because of this debacle. There are not many photos in this post. I leave it to you to paint a picture in your own minds.