Earning Titles, Part Three

As I stated in the previous two posts I wrote those posts years ago but never clicked “publish.” I chose to publish those posts because of a conversation I had with a woman I admire; a conversation which reminded me of the women I have known over the years who have broken barriers that make my life possible.

These women include, but are not limited to, the journalist who had to fight to have her name as her byline and not be listed as Mrs. Her Husband’s Name. There is the woman who was the first married female teacher in a school district, being allowed to hold that position only after the superintendent asked her husband for permission. There are the women who told me about being unable to wear maternity clothes at their jobs (especially if they were teachers) because they were not allowed to mention their pregnancy at work. There are the women who have shared how they were looked down upon because they worked outside the home and hired help to clean the house. There are the women who had to stop working once they were married because married women were not allowed to work for that organization. There are the women who are partners in their family business but have been ignored when it comes to outside people wanting to talk about the business. There are the women who have chosen to stay at home with their children because they could and been referred to as lazy because it is assumed they wasted their education.

All but one of these stories come from women who are still alive today. Some of them are enjoying their retirement years, and some have decades more of work. I have learned these stories because I have asked. I have wanted to know how other women navigate living and working in a society that often minimizes the accomplishments of women at every age. I have learned for most of them their biggest supporters have been their spouses, their kids, their best friends, and sometimes their pastors, while some of their biggest opponents have been colleagues, supervisors, and strangers. This is the same type of experience I have had, so the only surprise is that this is still happening after all these years.

I am of a generation who had more opportunities for education and employment than earlier generations, while also still having to fight to be seen in the classrooms, to learn how to flirt because men in power are more amenable when a young woman flirts with them, to make coffee and copies while also learning how to moderate a meeting and balance an organization’s budget. I have been written up more than once by older female supervisors for not wearing enough dresses/skirts, for not wearing enough makeup, and for not trying to look more appealing. I have slipped out of the grabby hands of enough men to recognize an incoming inappropriate touch, and I have learned how to ask that certain jokes no longer be told without fear of losing my job (or at least with confidence I cannot be fired immediately). This is the reality I inherited and that I have worked hard to change. It is one that all the women who have shared their stories with me have described.

The reality of our society is that women are treated differently than men. The titles women earn are often seen as threats to the men around them, and sometimes cause resentment in the women who were unable to realize the same professional goals. Thankfully this continues to change as we become more aware of the power of our words and actions. Thankfully there are women who lead the way, like the women who have shared their stories with me, who encourage and celebrate with me; and who make small decisions that change the world so women have their own bylines, choose their own professions, wear comfortable clothes to work, run their own businesses and organizations, and support other women to do the same.

I aspire to be the kind of woman who supports all people as they achieve their dreams, so the stories I tell will be about the generations to come who have no idea what it is like to be known only by their spouse’s title.

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