I am a woman of a certain age – meaning I am now referred to as “ma’am”, and “mature”, and “experienced”. I am a a card-carrying member of Generation X, and AARP, and therefore can claim to know a thing or two.
I find myself mildly annoyed by professional, educated women under the age of 40 today, who vehemently protest the lack of equality for their gender in today’s society – as if no progress has been made. They tend to overlook the fact that they are carrying on a fight that in very large part, has already been won. The BIG battle was fought for the legal right to equality – which, thanks to the generation who came before mine, has been ours since 1972.
Now, I am NOT in any way suggesting that sexism doesn’t still exit. It does, and there is much work yet to be done. But I am suggesting that the younger feminists of this society sometimes fail to acknowledge that they have it much easier than the women who came before them. So. Much. Easier.
I was born in the 60’s and came of age in the early 80’s, in the midst of the second most profound feminist movement of the last century (I count the Suffrage movement as first, because without the vote, well…) I have the right to claim real understanding of economic and social oppression and the fight to gain women’s rights through the ERA and EEOC – because, hell, I lived it. I was also lucky enough to be a part of the generation that changed it.
I was a first – the first woman hired into professional level jobs that had previously been held exclusively by men – in the first three professional jobs I was hired to do. At three separate companies, in three separate industries.
It was a big deal, but I didn’t really understand it at the time – the significance of it, the challenges I would face, and the out-and-out anger and resentment and abuse I would experience. After all, I had been raised to believe and presume that all paths were open to me. I was raised to believe and presume that equality was an inalienable right.
The problem was, that wasn’t really true – at least not yet. Title IX (equal opportunity for girls in school sports) was passed and implemented when I was in the 5th grade. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school in my district until 1974. And the ERA was not fully enforced until I was a college student in the early 1980’s.
My first career level job was a paid internship for The Seattle Times advertising department – a position I was awarded after working my way through a highly competitive selection process in which candidates had to be nominated by an adviser in one of three specific fields of study. Only three schools in the region were invited to submit candidates, and only one candidate from each university was allowed. I was the only female candidate. I got the job.
This scenario played out two more times in my career – in my next successive positions, both at Fortune 500 companies. The experience was the same in all three situations. I was the first (and only) woman hired into the job class / office / district / region – as a result of EEOC compliance requirements. And I was unwelcome.
What does unwelcome look and feel like? I could go into gruesome detail, but to do so would require digging up a painful set of memories I have worked hard to bubble-wrap and pack away. It was openly hostile. It was openly abusive. It was openly threatening. And there was nothing I could do about it but stand my ground – or quit. I was alone on the front lines, without a a chain of command or any allies. No one had come before me, so there was no one to call on for help. We women had gotten what we had asked for, and now we had to suffer the cost of victory. Change often comes at a very high price.
But it got better. So much better. In fact, so much better that my now twenty-year-old daughter had no idea that girls didn’t always get to play on sanctioned basketball teams and go to college on sports scholarships. It never even occurred to her that there was a time when women couldn’t be police officers or firefighters or anything else they wanted to be. She never learned about the origins of the modern feminist movement in her very progressive suburban school system. I had to tell her.
And I continue to tell her, and all of her friends, and countless other Generation Nexters and Millennials I encounter about the realities of blood, sweat and tears they won’t have to shed because their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers slugged it out for them. Things still aren’t great, sure, but they are better. So. Much. Better.
Which brings me to why I admire the ABC / Marvel min-series AGENT CARTER. There are only two cultural epochs in modern US History which parallel my personal experience as a professional woman in a time of change – black men (and eventually black women) entering the job market in white corporate America following the Civil Rights Act, and the plight of women in the work force and society at large after the end of World War II.
AGENT CARTER harkens to and pays homage to women who were every bit as essential to the defense of their country as the soldiers who were celebrated. And it does so with humor, and honesty – and a fair measure of accuracy.
Peggy Carter’s world of women is one that begs and deserves to be honored and represented well and truly. It is one which today’s young women need to understand and appreciate, in the same way my generation needed to understand and appreciate it. Because we all stand on the shoulders of super heroes.
So carry on, young women of today – fight the good fight. But do so acknowledging that even though it might not feel like it, you have the privilege of denouncing sexism from a platform elevated by a struggle you will (hopefully) never experience.
And Peggy Carter? She friggin’ rocks.