The Last Word
Wanted: someone to take care of me
AT A MEETING of my book club recently, a roomful of professional women, two professors at two different institutions of higher learning said, “Do you know what the young women of today say they want? To get married and have someone take care of them.”
A stunned silence drifted through the room like fog.
“That’s their life’s ambition?” we asked.
Nothing against marriage. I’m all for marriage. I’ve had some myself.
It’s that other part — “and have someone take care of me.” That’s the disturbing part.
“What about women’s lib?” we asked. “All that stuff we went through in the ’70s? What about the suffragettes before that?”
“Oh, they don’t know anything about that,” the college professors said.
Don’t know anything about it? What it was like before you had to be paid equally with your male counterparts? Before you could get a credit card in your own name or a bank loan for a house or car?
In the heat of women’s lib, I applied for a job at a big Tulsa company that had advertised that they particularly wanted a woman for the job. But when the job was described to me, it sounded like three jobs rolled into one. For the price of one.
“Why exactly do you want a woman?” I asked.
And the male interviewer told me, “Because we find that women are more reliable. And frankly, we don’t have to pay them as much.”
You could say that back in the ’70s. That’s what the work force was like 30 years ago. And that’s why we went through all that hassle.
But if we think we had it tough, I just learned about hiring practices 30 years before that. Back in the ’40s.
Someone gave me an excerpt from an issue of the Transportation Magazine dated July 1943. This was written for male supervisors of women in the work force during World War II.
Here is some of the advice, quoted from the magazine.
• Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters. They’re less likely to be flirtatious and they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it.
• Retain a physician to give each woman a physical examination, one covering female conditions. This not only protects the company against lawsuits; it reveals whether the potential employee has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.
• Allow for feminine psychology and give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.
• When possible, hire husky girls, those who are just a little on the heavy side, because they are more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.
There is more advice — not ridiculing a woman because it breaks her spirit, providing a variety of uniforms so each girl can have a proper fit and cautioning against strong language. But you get the drift.
Back to my book club and the accounts we were getting of contemporary young women and their life goals.
Surely this is a bad sampling, we decided. It’s not a cohort that reflected accurately all young women’s career ambitions. So we changed the subject.
“What about young men in your classes?” we asked. “What are their ambitions?”
“Oh, that’s different,” the professors told us. “They don’t have any ambition at all.”