Cynthia Oi
Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

We still have a world
of womanly concerns

"You've come a long way, baby, to get where you've got today.
"You've got your own cigarette now, baby, you've come a long, long way."

SO chirped a silly jingle from a television commercial circa 1968, an anthem of condescending and unhealthy consumerism aimed at women.

Whole generations have been born since those days, and it is easy to forget that back then, women were truly seen as a secondary corps in society.

Even today, we of the female persuasion still fight for employment and pay, and against perceptions and misguided expectations, as evidenced by the stories in the Star-Bulletin this week.

Yes, there really was a time, dear younger sisters, when women in this country were a subordinate citizenry. It was during my teenage years that I saw the prevailing "barefoot and pregnant" notion dissolve fully.

Furious changes in America were reshaping the way women were viewed and how they viewed themselves. Women started taking America at its word when it promised that anyone could achieve if she worked hard enough. Part of it was due to the so-called sexual revolution, when contraceptives gave women choices and control over their bodies and women began to apply that model of self-determination to all aspects of their lives.

There also was a realization in the money-talks corporate world that while men wore the pants, women were wearing pants, too, and more important, holding the purse strings.

After a while, it occurred to the guys who sold goods and services that their enterprises might be more profitable if women were involved in the businesses, maybe not all at the top, but at least a few in the vicinity.

So the field of jobs for women broadened, no longer corralled in "traditional" vocations.

Still, there were hurdles. Women who were promoted were often marked with an underlying belief that sexual matters played a role in their advancement. Affirmative action could tag women as undeserving and spark hostilities among both sexes.

I recall when a female colleague and I met with a boss who crowed with delight when he told us our promotions had earned him big bonuses from headquarters eager to display members of the "weaker sex" in their list of editors. He was clueless as to why we did not share his cheer.

I'm sure many other women have had similar experiences with professional callousness. But I'm not complaining because I know I am a beneficiary of the ranks of pioneers like Congresswoman Patsy Mink, attorney Harriet Bouslog and Bonnie Wiley, one of a handful of female combat correspondents who covered World War II.

Yet I sometimes wonder if the younger sisters, having not lived through the transition, recognize their good fortune. It is a small thing, but disturbing nonetheless when adult females call each other "girls." The term, once used patronizingly, is iconic of the lesser regard previously applied to women.

Like I said, it's a small thing and women, young and older, have far more important matters to take on. For all the gain of the past few decades, we stand to lose again if a minority of special interests have their way. These would wrench away privacy rights and cheat women of their freedom to manage their own affairs.

Meanwhile, in other countries, millions of women suffer horribly. They are raped and impregnated, mutilated and beaten, worked relentlessly and killed for nothing more than unveiling an ankle.

American women have the right to choose, and I'm not talking only about reproductive issues. They can elect to hold up beauteous models or literary masters as their idols, form their aspirations around snagging a rich husband or a CEO position, keep house or a lucrative stock portfolio. But they also ought to be mindful of the legacies of Patsy and Harriet and Bonnie. There's a long, long way to go.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.

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