In 1953, a young woman evaluated her options for going to college. She was an Honor Roll student and wanted to apply for a scholarship to the state university. Her guidance counselor told her:
You shouldn't apply since you're just going to get married after high school anyway.
She refused to be undeterred, working at the local YMCA to save money for night school. After college, she secured a job, managing an advertising agency in Manhattan. Her managerial style was no-nonsense, but effective. Her co-workers called her, "Dragon Lady," and rather than run from that title, she embraced it.
In the late 1960s, she was one of the charter members of a local NOW (National Organization for Women) chapter. And, she didn't follow the path that her guidance counselor predicted. She married at age 34 and had her only child, me, two years later.
My Mom raised me to believe that I could do anything and be anything. She hoped that I could be respected for being a strong and educated person. She taught me about equal rights and feminism when I was in elementary school.
The world in many senses was my oyster. Nonetheless, as far as women's rights had come, I learned at an early age that being a girl wasn't the same as being a boy. (And, no, I'm not talking about biology or anatomy here.) Two examples:
In fourth grade, I was the Teacher's Pet. (If you knew me then or know me now, that shouldn't be hard to picture.) When I finished my work, I would grade everyone else's papers in class. I knew that I had the elementary school equivalent of straight As, and that one boy in class had one B and the rest As.
However, when report cards were issued, he had all As, and I received one B. My parents asked about that in their conference with my teacher and were informed:
Boys need encouragement, and girls shouldn't have things handed to them too easily.
In high school, I went out one night with a guy, Golf Boy. He proceeded to tell the entire school what we did and even lied about having a videotape of our evening. I tried my best to ignore him after that. But in History, he came over to my desk, got on the floor in front of me, and put his hands up my poof skirt to touch my underwear.
Several other people in the class laughed, and I yelled a few expletives at him. The female teacher saw what had happened, and made me put 75 cents in the curse jar for saying three bad words. She didn't punish him at all.
When it came time to select a college, I chose a woman's college. My school allowed all of us to shine in one way or another, and I grew without having to worry about sexism holding me back.
I took several classes on women and the law. Sexual harassment in the workplace was brought up in the curriculum on more than one occasion. We were taught that harassment wasn't to be tolerated in any circumstance.
Those lessons and the relevant case law were in the back of my head when I began my first job out of college. As a legal assistant, I worked long hours and would often go to a club afterward.
Since sexual harassment was wrong, I thought that meant that I could dress however I wanted to at work. If my dress was a little short or my blouse was a little too tight around my chest, then who had the right to care? I should be judged solely on my work performance. And, besides, I really didn't want to go home at 11pm to change.
I started to notice something, though. As smart as I was and as strong as my work product was, the partners in the law firm felt like they were justified in making inappropriate comments about my dress or me.
"Your guy couldn't hold onto his balls this weekend," one attorney said after my then-boyfriend fumbled in Sunday's NFL game.
"You're a sexual harassment law suit waiting to happen," another partner told me in my first job after law school.
"The things I could do to you," my boss informed me.
I realized that there was a correlation between how I dressed and how seriously I was taken professionally. I'm not saying that was right. (In fact, I think the comments that were made to me were incredibly inappropriate.) But, the adage, "boys will be boys," has been around for such a long time for a reason.
With the first two examples, I was offended, yet I never filed a complaint. By the third, I was confident enough in my work abilities to call my superior out on his behavior directly:
"You wish you could handle this, but we both know you can't. Can we get back to the case now?" I told him with a firm attitude and a big smile.
He never made a comment about my appearance again.
I also reevaluated what I could do to be taken more seriously in the workplace. I left my mini-skirts and tight sweaters at home and invested in a lot of Ann Taylor and Tahari suits. I noticed how people responded to me differently. My opinion and my accomplishments were more respected. I liked that.
Why am I writing about all of this on a relationship and sex blog? I love my sexuality and my curves. But, I also love being taken seriously as an attorney. If we lived in a society that didn't view women as sex objects, then I could be both a lawyer and a sex blogger. But, that's not the reality. Double standards may not be as overt as they once were, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.
I, thus, didn't feel comfortable participating in Boobquake today. (For those of you who are unaware about what Boobquake is, read here.)
I'm thankful that women in the United States have countless freedoms that women in so many other countries do not. I admire the idealism and social media savvy of the college senior, Jennifer McCreight, who came up with the idea to for women to wear low-cut tops. The goal of Boobquake: to test (mock?) Iranian Prayer Leader Sedighi's theory that dressing immodestly causes earthquakes. I vehemently disagree with religions, cultures and regimes that try to suppress women educationally, economically, politically and personally. But, I've learned that I can be a better advocate for those women and myself, if I keep my revealing attire out of the workplace.
I support those of you women who wore low-cut tops today in protest of Sedighi's misogynistic and misinformed statements. But, I hope that you'll also support me. I'm the woman in the black Ann Taylor pants suit with sensible heels to your left. Yeah, that's me. I'm Dragon Lady's daughter and proud of it.
Did you celebrate Boobquake? Was it just a college joke, in spite of the media coverage and massive on line support? With an estimated 200,000 participants, how can this event turn into something more to advance women's issues?