This Woman's Experience is a series of blog posts about what growing up, and life in general, was like for women who were born before 1965. It's intended to show the young women of today how it used to be. They need to know this.
Kitty Philips is my guest blogger today. Kitty is a 7th generation Floridian currently residing in the mountains of Tennessee. She grew up in rural North Florida and is from a long line of farmers and working women. (More info at bottom of post.) She's also, in my opinion, more than a bit of a 'bad-ass' and someone I wish I'd had the confidence as a young woman to be more like.
So, here's Kitty:
Can you imagine a world where you, as a woman, can’t get a credit card or any credit in your name without your husband’s approval? You can’t buy a car. You can’t get birth control. You can’t have any 'female' surgery. You can’t open a checking account. Your husband can call your doctor and have access to all of your records without your permission.
This is the world I came of age in. The 60’s. Those were difficult times for women. Not that my father was like that. Women in my family have always worked outside the home. It was encouraged and not frowned upon. But once I left home, I found doors closed to me. Car loans. Apartments. Credit cards. And certainly reproductive services.
These were the things the Women’s Movement was about. We didn’t even think about being called 'honey'. We wanted basic rights – equal pay, equal employment, equal care, equal financial opportunity. As late as 37 years ago, I couldn’t get the same amount of life insurance as my husband, even though I made the same amount of money. My salary wasn’t as important as his. Which translated to . . . I was a lesser person.
Many of these restrictions were laws – laws! Some were just understood.
The Women’s Movement or the Women’s Liberation Movement came about in the mid-60's and lasted until the early 80's. The main objective was to make women equal class citizens. There are some who say it came out of the civil rights movement. I think it really started during World War II, when women filled the jobs left by men going into the armed forces. Rosie the Riveter exemplified those women. After the war, and the men came home, women were no longer satisfied to stay at home and be the little wife.
We marched. We burned our bras. We staged sit-ins. We staged walk-outs. We wrote our legislators. We talked to our men. In some cases, there was violence. But change oftentimes involves violence. The movement was really about the patriarchal and sexist system in this country. The media portrayed us as man-haters, but that was far from the truth. Unlike today’s Me Too movement, we didn’t hate men. We loved men. We just didn’t want to be second class or subservient to them.
As a result of our work, women’s issues were brought to light. Roles were revised. Sex could be discussed. Our feelings and needs were brought out into the open. Our problems were added to books and courses in sociology, psychology, and even biology. Departments on women’s rights were set up. Colleges began to teach courses.
Abortion laws were changed. Women wanted to rid the country of the idea of objectifying women. We protested the Miss America Pageant. We wanted control over our reproductive processes. We wanted to be paid for maternity leave. We wanted safe havens from abusive relationships. We wanted laws that would make marital rape a crime. We wanted the right to initiate and achieve a divorce, including a 'no fault' divorce.
My generation of women fought to change these antiquated laws made by rich, old, white men. Because of us, women have access to birth control. Women can have credit without their husband’s permission. Women can expect and receive equal pay for equal work. Women can buy a house without asking anyone. Women can buy a car. Women’s health records are not available to their husbands, except with their permission. Women can serve in any position in the military and can take any job they are qualified to perform. We don’t have to be married or have children to lead full and rewarding lives. We can get a divorce. We can get help if in abusive relationships. We can talk about sex in the open.
But I fear many of our rights are eroding, and we are regressing. Look at all of the anti-abortion laws or attempted laws today. I don’t care if you call me 'honey'. I do care if you try to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body. I can’t imagine being a man in today’s corporate world. I would never be alone with a woman for fear of the accusations and retribution. That is not what we fought to change and protect. We did not hate men. We gloried in our differences. We wanted equality, not dominion over men. I will not be part of the Me Too movement. They have lost sight of what we fought so hard to achieve. They are making a mockery of our work. Many don’t even know what we were able to change. They should read works by Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller before going forward.
More About Kitty Philips:
After high school, she took a year off, traveled, and married. At 23, she found herself divorced and pregnant. As a single parent, she understood the need to find an occupation that would provide an income for life - and she knew it would not be in a traditional woman's job. Relying on her grandmother for her daughter's day care, she commuted to college in Daytona and earned a degree in computer science.
After graduation, she entered her career as a programmer and met her husband, Jeffrey. They've traveled the world diving, horseback riding, and cooking. Along the way, she became a US Coast Guard Captain, a SCUBA intstructor, and Florida Master Naturalist instructor, and a chef.
She and Jeffrey, and two horses, live in Tennessee and continue to travel. She is now a junior at Tennessee Tech, majoring in Environmental Science and Sustainability.
I've posted this tribute to my dad several times, but it's a good one & I think it deserves another post in honor of Father's Day. My dad passed over twenty years ago. He was a (as he would say) 'real kick in the pants.'
We only get one father—biologically speaking. But a dad? That’s a different story. For some people, Dad is the one who contributed his DNA to you. For others, it’s the guy who volunteered to step up and be the dad. I am thanking all dads, whether they’re blood-related or not. And as a tribute, here’s to them and their foibles.
There are a few things I know for sure about dads. They like sports, especially football and—when Mom’s not in the room—cheerleaders. They relish a cold beer after mowing the lawn. They make the best tree forts. They believe winking at you erases a clumsy remark. They have deep, meaningful conversations with the family dog, but can’t cough up a word when asked by Mom to help explain the birds and the bees to their kids. They love steak. They wear T-shirts from their high school or college days until they disintegrate. They tell the same corny jokes year after year and laugh harder each time, ignoring Mom’s eye-rolling. They adore their children.
My dad passed away twenty-one years ago. I question both his and my mother’s (very much alive) sanity. They decided to have a big family, wanted all six of us. I’ve raised three children and can’t imagine having had three more. I don’t know how my parents didn’t succumb to the temptation to lose one or two of us. In my dad’s wake, he left a legacy of events and stories that still entertain us. Tales about Hawaii after World War II, college pranks, and how he won my mother over from some other guy.
Dad loved to dance. When I was little, sometimes I’d wake up at night and hear music. I’d sneak downstairs and find my parents on the sun porch doing a wild, swinging jitterbug to big band music. They were laughing, smiling—no, beaming ear to ear.
Dad was cheap. He thought nothing should cost more than fifty dollars—ever. No matter how much time had passed since his find-a-nickel-and-see-a-movie childhood. He’d tip waiters and valets with quarters. As we grew older, we realized Mom always tucked extra cash in her purse for surreptitious purposes. He did get a little better with the tipping thing, but we all were prepared to leave a sweater on a chair as an excuse to run back to the table. He loved cute waitresses, and back in the days before political correctness (think Mad Men era), he’d pinch their bottoms and laugh, embarrassing us. Dad was a charmer, though, and the waitresses never looked angry. Really. I guess some people can pull off anything. My middle son inherited that gene. He’d never pinch anyone, but boy, one smile and whammo—he’s got the popular vote.
My dad’s favorite drink was the Manhattan. Four parts rye whiskey to one part sweet vermouth with a dash of bitters and a Maraschino cherry. It’s etched into my brain because Dad taught me to make them when I was ten. These days, that would probably be considered child abuse. Heck, my kids didn’t learn bartending skills until they were at least twelve. Kidding. While Mom was busy preparing dinner for eight people, I’d fill the cocktail shaker with Manhattan ingredients and frost a martini glass in the freezer for him. When he came home from work, he’d sit at the counter and do the crossword puzzle, sipping the drink I’d served and talking to Mom.
But here’s the endearing part, something I didn’t realize until many years later. He’d pluck me up and onto his lap and challenge me with some of the crossword clues. No matter what I’d answered, if it was the right amount of letters, he praised me and filled it in. (In ink. He and Mom always did their crosswords in pen.) After a few answers, I’d get bored, jump down, and go find a sibling to pester. Now, as an avid puzzle doer, I can only imagine what a pain in the rear it was to work around and ink over those incorrect answers.
Before the internet, or even the concept of a home computer, dads relied on nudie magazines. Keeping them hidden from the wives and children was a big challenge. We kids always found the stash, however. We never let on, and we never told our moms. It was our only source of sex education. What we didn’t know was that all the moms knew exactly where they were also. Yeesch. Everybody just pretended they didn’t know diddly. As it turned out, to share the financial burden of keeping up with the latest issues, Dad had an exchange program going with the Episcopal minister (father of five) next door. They traded copies back and forth for years. I told you he was cheap.
I miss him.
I hope you have a dad in your life. He may not be the biological contributor, but love is not measured by DNA. Treasure every bad joke, every inappropriate or clunky comment, every moment they choose to spend with you. Appreciate the efforts made to cheer you on, lift you up, and lessen the pain, even if they don’t work. He cares enough to try, and it hurts him more than you know to see you go through life’s inevitable adversities. And don’t ever let him be all alone on Father’s Day.
This Woman’s Experience is a series of blog posts about what growing up and life in general was like for women who were born before 1965. It’s intended to show the young women of today how it used to be. They need to know this.
The Old Maid
Hard to believe now, but when I was a teenager in the early 1970s, it was still very common to call a woman who hadn’t married by her early twenties an old maid.
So prevalent was the idea that a woman staying single was a social pariah, that there was a popular card game called Old Maid. The loser of the game was the old maid. We played it all the time as kids—it was on the shelf right next to Monopoly, Parcheesi, and the checkers set—and thought nothing of it.
It was believed a woman who wasn’t married was either ugly, stupid, had an objectionable personality, or didn’t bathe regularly—or all the above. Something clearly had to be wrong with her, and she got whispered about.
The name given an older woman who’d never married was spinster. The word just sounds awful, doesn’t it? The name for a single man was and is bachelor. No stigma to that—ever—not now, not then. In fact, he was quite sought after, instead of shamed like the women.
In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life (which I love and watch every Christmas eve), in George Bailey’s alternate reality, where he was never born, he asks the angel Clarence to show him what became of his wife, Mary Hatch. Clarence said to him, “You’re not going to like it, George. She’s an old maid.” And he said like it was worse than being a convicted murderer on death row. George reacts with abject horror, as though it was indeed much worse. Mary is shown all buttoned up in ugly clothes and wearing severe black-framed glasses (although she didn’t wear glasses as an adult in her life with George?), and she’s a librarian—which was known as the signature loser job for a woman who couldn’t attract a husband back then.
There was a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon (and I loved and still love all those Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons) that had a scrawny, desperate old maid chicken (woman) who was easily seduced by Leghorn. He was fooling her, didn’t mean it, and we laughed at his deception and at her gullible reaction.
So when I tell you it was prevalent, it was PREVALENT! It was everywhere. TV shows routinely made fun of single women and suggested they were desperate to the point of panic. Married women on TV and in movies were always trying to fix up their poor and unfortunate single friends. Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend Rhoda made more disparaging comments about herself and being single than the others did on the show.
It all worked really, really well. The last thing a brainwashed girl like me wanted was to go through life being thought of as a misfit. The social pressure to be a good girl and a good wife was enormous. But it’s only in looking back I realize that pressure was an influence on me. It was just the way things were.
The women who, beginning in the late 1960s, started to organize for women’s rights were disparaged in my little world. They were unfeminine. Probably disgruntled. Mad because a man dumped them—undoubtedly because of their objectionable qualities. In small towns like mine, that was the way everyone thought. Decent women turned up their noses at the very idea of protesting. Apparently, the bloody efforts to give them the hard-won right to vote by their forebears were totally forgotten. How the hell had those women been received? Not well, either.
The 60s & 70s women’s libbers were very brave to speak up at a time when most other women thought they were vulgar and mannish for daring to upset the apple cart. I didn’t admire them or think they were brave at the time, of course, being the perfect little robot. Is it any wonder I married at twenty? I had no business doing that, but I remember thinking it was my only option, and I was strongly encouraged to do so.
Now I thank God for the courage of those feminists. I can’t imagine going back to how things were. We still have a ways to go, and I do hope we soon have women representing us in government and business in the same percentages as our presence in the population. Over fifty percent, please.
I’ve had some amazing and surprisingly prescient ideas over the years. I’ve had some truly boneheaded ones, too, to be sure. But the good ones stayed with me. They were solid, marketable ideas with the potential to make serious money.
In my early twenties, I’d finally mustered the courage to leave my first husband after three years of his cheating on me with anything in a skirt and daily dressing downs about how stupid and ugly I was. (Low self-esteem issues. Read my previous posts in this category.)
I had no money. No savings. I made close to minimum wage. I didn’t even own a car when I first left the husband. (We were broke—he came from a poor family as well.) I knew no one, not even my nuclear family, with any influence, money, or power. No one took me seriously anyway, as I was a pretty blonde who didn’t go to college. So therefore, I was easily dismissed as fluffy and flighty. (The why no college is another story to tell.)
Twice I dared to write up business and marketing plans and got up the courage to broach the subject with an acquaintance I’d met through work. The first time I was laughed at and utterly humiliated by comments like, “What would you know about it?” and “You can’t do that.” The inference being that someone else could, just not me.
A couple years later, I worked as a bookkeeper for a mom & pop lumber yard and hardware store in Honolulu. The owner was a portly white man in his sixties. He and his wife seemed to be good people who treated me like I had some brains, which I so appreciated.
I had a brilliant idea for a store. Yes, it was brilliant. The idea still holds up today. I’ll tell you why in a little bit. I mustered the courage to talk to my boss about it, telling him just the basics at first.
He appeared to give it some thought, then acknowledged it might be something. I was jumping for joy inside my head. He suggested we have dinner after work one night to talk about it more. Now, I wasn’t put off by that, because I knew for a fact he did dinners with business associates, vendors, etc., all the time.
A few nights later, we met for dinner in a well-lit, well-known restaurant, so I was under the impression he was taking me seriously. I showed him a few things I’d drawn up and written in regards to the store’s concepts, why it was different, and why I thought it would really take off.
He listened to all of it. Then he put his hand on my thigh and said the things you hear creepy old guys say in the movies. “You know, I’d be more inclined to get involved with this, if you wanted to do something for me.” “I’d love to help you, but the business world is made of tit-for-tat.” Finally, he just came out and asked me. “Do you think we could, you know, do it?” Then he leaned in and planted a gross wet one on my lips. I escaped as fast as I could.
The next day, his wife was giving me stink eye. I felt guilty for some stupid reason. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Hadn’t flirted, hadn’t said anything that would make him believe I’d sleep with him. Had he told her I did? Maybe it was an offensive move on his part, thinking I might show up the next day and rat him out?
I quit that job soon after. Couldn’t stand to be looked at like that. Couldn’t stand feeling guilty for something I hadn’t done.
A couple years later, guess what opened? My store. Well, someone's store. It was almost exactly what I'd laid out and it was a hit. Made a ton of money. I don't know if my former boss had a hand in it or not. But it proved to me my idea was indeed a good and sound one.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.