I was very lucky to never have been taught that I was a second class citizen because I was a woman. Most women aren’t that lucky. Until he passed away earlier this year, my father was my best advisor and supporter of my professional career — having had one himself as an electrical engineer. For an example of successful women in my family, you can read about my cousin, Donna Livant, the cancer resesarcher who has her own oncology lab at the University of Michigan.
My first encounter with sexism was in 1985 at my first job after a couple years in college when an assistant manager grabbed my butt. I believed tv and this didn’t happen anymore — I was shocked and had to think about it. The next time he did it, I told him if he didn’t stop I would have his job for it. It never ocurred to me that I should worry about losing my job. This same manager went on to call a female assistant manager a vulgar word I can’t print. When I asked her why she didn’t fight it, she said; “He’s my boss. What can I do about it?” It took me 20 years before I understood that statement.
The first women’s discussion group I attended was in 1990 at the University of Rhode Island. It was titled, “Is Feminism The New ‘F’ Word?” At the end of that discussion, I thought so. It was mostly an estrogen posse out to string up all men because they were responsible for all the ills we suffered including pms. The topic for the discussion was never raised. A nice man who had been there had to ask my permission to hold a door for me becasue he was now worried I would take it as an insult to my competence. From my point of view, any woman who would have a raging fit because a man showed her courtesy by holding a door has serious issues. I wrote a letter to the school paper stating that we now had the laws behind us and it was up to us to carve out our future rather than remaining chained by our hatred over past abuses.
About a year later, I got a summer internship at the American University doing research into artifical intelligence. The faculty had hired equal numbers of men and women. We women talked about whether this was an ethical practice knowing that many less women were in the technology field. We were all qualified to be there — they had not hired anyone who wasn’t. I decided for my part that it was ok. I felt that we needed the help advancing and since we lacked the opportunities this was not a serious problem.
Last weekend, I was in New York City for Microsoft’s Code Camp #CodeCampNYC on Twitter for the Tweets, and I had the opportunity to attend a Luncheon for Women in Technology. Things have changed a lot in such a short amount of time. The issues facing us are normal now. How do we interview? How do we negotiate salary? How do we handle workplace issues as professionals? What does that mean to us as women?
It has been my experience that the new generation is very accepting of women as equal professionals. I think that most of the hardest work has been accomplished and now women are defining themselves in the professional world. Perhaps feminism will be the new “F” word becasue it will no longer be needed.