Sex Sells, But We're Beyond That Now
Somehow, I keep getting involved in women's issues. Me, a middle-aged, silver-haired American male, who's coming to grips with wearing bifocals. We're the ones who've been holding women back since we were clubbing them over the head and dragging them back to our cave. Men were men, and if your club wasn't big enough, the sheep were afraid.
I vividly recall those days. Well, maybe not "those" days, but the days before women had the opportunities they've earned today. I know, there's still a ways to go. Nonetheless, if you came of age during the late 1960s in the United States, you've witnessed the tremendous strides women have made -- and continue to make. You go girl! (Oops, there's still some Neanderthal blood coursing through my veins.)
Perhaps, I can lend some perspective, having lived through the ascent of women in workforce. As a result, we are fortunate to read buzzes on the current situation from the likes of Rebel Brown, Megan Lucas, Candice Galek, and Margaret Aranda, MD, PhD., among others. By the way, Doc, I'm getting annoyed by always having to type MD, PhD, after you name. Get over it. From now on, you're Doc.
When I was in elementary school, most of my friend's mothers stayed at home while their husbands worked. Most of them worked as machinists or foreman in the numerous factories around town. I lived in what was known as the "Screw Capitol of the World." Unfortunately, by the time I entered high school, the screw industry was rocked by hard times, beginning with the rapid decline of the Big Three auto makers. It's nearly non-existent today. By the way, they've taken the word "screw" out of the once-treasured title, and replaced it with the word "fastener." Those who remained in the industry grew tired of being the butt of numerous jokes. I can't blame them.
Anyway, at the time, women didn't have to work. Their husbands were earning a handsome wage. If they wanted to work, they became secretaries or school teachers, which introduced me to the views of the modern woman. I had an English teacher named Ms. Keegan. Yep. That's when being referred to as "Ms." had not only become fashionable, but demanded. She was at the forefront of the local chapter of the women's movement, known as the National Organization for Women, referred to as NOW. The organization is in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary.
As a budding smartass, I took full advantage of good-naturedly ribbing her about the views she promoted. She asked for it. I especially enjoyed our debate the day she told us that she encouraged her young son to play with his sister's Barbie dolls and Easy Bake Oven. That was just too good to pass up. Of course, I took the side of the young, testosterone producing male -- which was appropriate at the time. You can guess the position she took. We had a great time that year, trading barbs and, eventually, developing a mutual respect. I still wonder whatever happened to her son, though. It makes my imagination run wild.
Fast forward to college. It was the mid-70s and more and more women were seeking various degrees. The opportunities for women were increasing. No doubt, spurred on by the likes of Ms. Keegan. We'd moved past the days of women burning their bras while men burned their draft cards. We were becoming one big happy family. Besides, college would have been a drag without women around. It was there that I was introduced to another variable in the march toward equality: Black women. Until then, I'd considered all women as equals -- among their gender, of course. Now, I had even more competition for a job, if I could fool the university long enough to grant me a degree.
Upon the very first day of my introduction to broadcasting class, the professor gave us white guys the unadulterated truth. He looked around the room and counted the number of women, noting their was a difference between white and black for the purpose of his point, and began to single us out for enlightenment. Of course, he started with me. He noted that the t-shirt I was wearing, which was red with white lettering, sported the slogan, "Things go better with Coke." I don't recall where I got it, but it was nothing more than contemporary t-shirt. I hadn't even been introduced to the form of "Coke" that would eventually take the forefront in the war on drugs, which he assumed was my real point of interest.
"You can't wear that on camera," he said. "Not in my class, anyway. You've got a lot of stiff competition for a good grade in this class. I want to see you in a shirt and tie." I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Then, he told us. Gentlemen, the worm has turned. Gender and color are about to take over this industry. Look around you. Even if you have better grades and are more qualified than that pretty, young black women sitting next to you, she's getting the job. If not her, then that pretty, young white one will get it. You'd better decide real soon if you really want to pursue a career in the broadcasting industry or not. He issued the warning to the black guys, too.
It didn't really matter to me. I was interested in radio, so at least looks weren't going to be a major factor. I later decided to hide behind a typewriter and pursue print journalism, which is exactly what the professor had done. He had infiltrated the Hell's Angel's and lived to write a book about it. I wasn't prepared to go that far. A guy could get seriously hurt. Nonetheless, turn on your television and tell me he wasn't right.
By the grace of God, I graduated with a degree in mass communications and sought employment as a disc jockey. It was fun, but it didn't pay the bills, and I had no intention of moving up and down the dial like Johnny Fever on the sitcom, "WKRP in Cincinnati." There were no women on the air. There was one in sales, who, I'm sorry to say ladies, was there because of her pretty .... face. It made good business sense. Plenty of business owners were middle-aged, white guys who would never slam the door in a pretty girl's face. And, from what I've seen, the practice remains in place across industries.
But, it's also opened the door to women becoming sales managers. I later worked with one who was amazingly talented and I learned a great deal. However, I was glad the general manager finally told her she couldn't bring her little dog to the office on Fridays. He looked like Toto from the "Wizard of Oz," but he was appropriately named "Chucky," as in the doll featured in the horror movies. He would scamper from office to office, depositing vomit or crap from one end to the other, forcing each of us to clean up our respective areas. I miss him. NOT!
When I began to write for a daily newspaper in the late 1980s, there were women from door to door. They were in sales, of course, but they were also in the newsroom, as well as photography, graphic design, circulation, and sports. One was the assistant managing editor, if in title only. That's why I was eventually given the title of city editor, we simply couldn't strip her of her title, although I was doing the job. She'd been at the paper since she graduated from college in the 1950s. The problem was, she was still living next door to the Cleavers.
She was a grand old gal, but she thought readers were still very much interested in local society news, like who had who over for dinner on Saturday night. No shit. She was our very own Julia Childs. We devoted an entire page to that fluff everyday. She was a fixture in the community and her husband was a well-respected attorney. We had to treat her nice or face a rebellion from the local blue-hairs. It just wasn't worth swatting at that bee's nest. She turned 75 while I was still at the paper. We thought for sure she was going to die at her desk. Fortunately, she didn't. I don't think she ever retired, either. But, she never played the woman's card. She may have designed it, but she never played it.
So, like Rebel Brown says, the biggest lie she knows about women in business is the woman's card.
There's really no need to play it. It shouldn't even be in the deck. I've worked with some women in cutting-edge IT positions, who don't just happen to own the company. They built it. I've learned a little bit about sales, marketing, and communications over the years, but I leave the heavy lifting up to my partner. He's the young, innovative, tech-savvy entrepreneur. He discusses optimizing performance and making 3-D prototypes with his 3-D printer. It's my job to relate that to a potential customer. I guess I'm really no different than a secretary in his world. Maybe he'll take me out to lunch on Secretaries Day. Fat chance. He's a millennial. Whoops. That's another can of worms.