Feminism, my mum and me

When my mum finished college, despite having a bachelors in Geology, essentially her only career choice was teacher. My dad was drafted soon after and she began teaching on army bases. In the era of civil  my mum’s love of teaching and of people had her working to serve the needs, cultural and educational, of all of her students. She was working for equality. But she hadn’t really thought of equality for herself. She worked to support my dad as he went forward to add a master’s and a Ph.D. all in Geology. While working she also went into the field with my dad. For a part of that time she was pregnant,  and dad’s work was in death valley. She used to joke that she should have had a Ph.D. as well, that was how much she did with and for him.

Mum was a very strong woman but she was also terrified of my dad and insecure in her own power. In college, she was very attracted to dad’s room mate.Through lies and tricks my dad convinced her that he wasn’t interested and began dating mum instead. Before she knew it they were engaged, invitations were out, and she did not know how to back out. Then they were married. Once my brother was born that was it. Divorce in 1965 was hard even without the pressure of a man who was bipolar, wouldn’t medicate and was possessively in love with her.

She was trapped in his rage, his emotional and verbal abuse, his silences, his highs. I learned early that I should be as invisible as possible: I was quiet, trying to calm the rages, help the lows, keep peace in the family. I was also learning to avoid conflict and to not speak out with my opinion. So

me of that was my dad and some a society that valued boys over girls. I paid for my college education. Three years younger than my brother I graduated and was working years before he graduated. I was lucky enough to have inherited some money. My brother had shot through his. Mine helped with university but most was invested and two years after I graduated I was buying a condo.

That was when I discovered new challenges in being a single female. My mortgage company dragged there feet. We went past closing with no warning so I was moved in  and paying $120 a day in rent. I was desperate and while I was determined to do this on my own, nothing I was doing was working. They didn’t want anything more but they just weren’t doing anything. Finally, I had mum call. All she had to be was call and say I hope you aren’t doing this to my daughter because she is a single female. I closed the next day.

I was working as an administrator in the male dominated field of meteorology. As my career advanced I was frequently the only woman in the room. Despite my position I  would be the one to make the copies, help people with the coffee, and I also frequently fixed the IT problems. I had a great relationship with my boss and we were a great team. Still, I tended to work new ideas through our deputy director so they could get traction. I was a partner to both of them and together we were the super senior in our senior management team. Through all of this I was the lowest paid member of the team. I was actually in the bottom third of our staff. It was, and still is, virtually impossible to get the title and more importantly pay, to go with your responsibilities it you are female and especially if you start within the administrative field. Some of the female scientists are getting equity but they are still in the minority.

It’s a lesson I want to pass on to the millennials today. We aren’t at a post-feminist age. The struggle is still real. My mum and I had discussions about Hillary Clinton in 2008 she was discouraged by the attacks that had been hurled at Hillary in the 90’s she understood the power of the first female President. That glass ceiling had been cracked but broke in a different direction. We worked for the election of President Obama and were beyond excited by his win but were disappointed that our glass ceiling was still intact. We were proud of Hillary Clinton’s grace and enthusiastic support for him. My mum didn’t live to see the to first female President. If the most qualified candidate this year, one of the most qualified candidates ever, is not elected I’m not sure when it will happen or if I will see it.

This isn’t an elect her because but it is a reminder to men and women alike that we cannot move forward if we don’t move forward. Listen to those of us who have lived this generation after generation – we still have glass ceilings and we still have men who challenge women not on their experience but on whether they are yelling, or telling them they interrupt to much. Its not about a woman card its about equality. That is all we want. Girls need to see themselves as leaders. We’ve had enough white men its time to see the successes a woman will bring us.

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