My grandmothers were born 1898 and 1902, when women were yet allowed to vote in either Sweden or Norway. When my grandfather talked to one of the head political honchos in the small village where he was the post-master, for a loan (or a signature for a loan) so he could pay for higher education of his eldest daughter, my mother, this head honcho thought this was just a waste of money, spending it on educating daughters who could, you know, become hairdressers or something. Happily my grandfather didn’t agree, and my mother got her teaching degree.
One day, late 50’s, early 60’s, the headmaster of the school where my mother and father were teaching (and, good friends of theirs) saw my mother wearing pants to work, and he asked if she was having an “idrotts dag” – days we have in Swedish schools where all students do some sports, or at the very minimum spend some time outdoors. Women just did not wear pants to work.
A couple of years ago, when I was running a seminar where we were discussing a paper where they investigated how dress-style influence judgments of competence, warmth, and other measures, a few of the female students reacted strongly to the fact that business-attire for American Women in the late 90’s meant skirt and pumps. As one of them said, some of us just feel awkward in a skirt!
The times they are a’changing.
Jill Ker Conway, contemporary with my parents, grew up in the Australian Bush, and had a stellar academic career in the US and Canada. In her books, Road from Coorain and True North, especially true north, she chronicles the blatant and hostile sexism she encountered during her academic career. I have encountered none of that.
Too bad that that cigarette company took that slogan, because we have come a long way.
Doesn’t mean it is all roses. Doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do. Doesn’t mean we are now safe from sliding back to where women are routinely seen as possessions, chattel or high-prized pets. But we are, now, in a place in the west at least where we clearly can say that if no women are present it is because the dudes in charge just didn’t look carefully enough, not because there are no competent women.
And, yes, sometimes you do have to remind them that, along with the dudes, there were also some sharp women present*, and some men have not yet to get the memo that being a letch is just so passe.
But, whenever I’m tempted to be depressed, I look back just a tiny amount of time, on the circumstances for the women who came before me – some of whom are still around (like my mom, and Jill).
Not bad. Not bad in slightly more than a century.
* Scroll down to Bobbie Spellmans comment, and David lists all of them. Impressive bunch. Or just read the whole post with the comments. Definitely worth your time.