Right after we moved into our apartment and while my mom was visiting, we had a major problem with our home that required a manager from the condo’s management come to our apartment. He was neither helpful nor pleasant. As soon as he shut the door behind him, my mom and I looked at each other and spoke at the same time. “He’s sexist,” she said. “He’s a jerk,” I said.
To me, that exchange captures both our age differences and the slow progress of feminism. For my mom, who had to put up with overt comments, attitudes and gestures about her sex earlier in her life, his behavior was rooted in sexism. While for me, who grew up without experiencing obvious and outward forms of sexim, I classified his behavior as general asshole-ism.
This isn’t to say I naively assume that sexism doesn’t exist. I know it’s there every time I hear that women earn 78 cents to every dollar a man makes or that we pay more for everything from dry cleaning and deodorant. Or I think back on that time in second grade when we were asked to play our favorite newscaster and there weren’t enough female ones to go around for all the girls in class.
But for my mom, and other women of her generation, sexism was a whole lot more in their face on a daily basis. Take for example the art director I met at my first job. She told me the story of how in the 70s, the decade I was born in, a man told her to her face during an interview that he wouldn’t hire her because she was a woman. Today, he would be slapped with a lawsuit so fast, he wouldn’t know what hit him.
My mom, though not a bra burner, is a feminist in her own way. She went to college after I was born, taking classes on weekdays when my brother and I were in school and the occasional night class. She graduated with a degree in accounting when I was 9-years old and went on to become a CPA. She hammered into my head that I should not get married until I was at least 25-years old and had established myself in my career.
I vividly remember her excitement as we watched Geraldine Ferraro’s speech at the Democratic convention back in 1984. Ferraro was the party’s nominee for vice president, the first time a woman had been on a major party’s ticket. This was the Reagan years so my mom was a Republican, but she was moved by Ferraro’s speech and what this meant to women. I don’t think either of us expected it to be 24 years before a woman would be nominated for the vice presidential spot again and that we still wouldn’t have a woman president 16 years into the next century.
In 1992, I covered all the excitement of the Year of the Women for my college newspaper. That was the year four new female Senators were elected, bringing the total to six (!!!) out of 100 seats. Today that number has risen to a better, but still pathetically lopsided, 20 — yet another reason I know that sexism has not been obliterated.
Indeed, sexual discrimination has become something I know and live with and try to change in whatever ways I can. That may be as small as reprimanding my husband on negatively commenting about a woman newscaster’s outfit or hair or seeking to empower young women through various volunteer or mentoring efforts or even instructing a friend’s teenage niece that she doesn’t have to put up with inappropriate touching or rubbing in crowds or on the subway.
Even still, the emotion I felt when casting my vote for Hillary Clinton in the Connecticut Democratic primary last week came as a shock to me. I brought Nola, my 15-month old daughter, with me, because she’s home with me full time so we pretty much go everywhere together. (That’s her at the polls, top.) Seeing a woman’s name on the ballot for president of the United States of America filled me with so much hope for the future — specifically my daughter’s — I actually got a little teary-eyed.
(I feel the need to take a pause here and explain briefly that I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. I’m voting for her because she is the best candidate in the field.)
My hopes for Nola are far too numerous to count. Among them, I sincerely hope that by the time she is an adult, women are paid the same as men for equal work, she gets paid maternity leave, she can take down a man (verbally and physically if she has to) if he disrespects her or inappropriately touches her, that she grows up in an age when the concept of a lopsided Senate is as crazy to her as the idea of someone being told she’s not getting a job because she’s a woman is to me and that she has a full slate of women to vote for –or not vote for, as long as it’s her choice — for president.