Remember the cigarette ads for Virginia Slims cigarettes? In 1968, we women got a cigarette designed just for us, giving us equal rights to die of lung cancer. Yay equality!
Meantime, equal opportunity issues abound in the workplace. In my last job, the commercial reps were all white men. When I had my exit interview, I pointed out how ridiculous that was. The HR rep, herself a woman, told me with a straight face that they couldn’t find any qualified applicants who were females or minorities, even though other oil & gas companies seemed to manage.
I worked in administrative hell, where we couldn’t even get appropriate software to do our jobs, even though that meant exposure to fines and contract violations because we couldn’t keep track of thousands of contract provisions in our heads. Women worked in administration, and administration didn’t generate revenue, so we just had to make do. After a failed campaign to update our systems, I knew it was time to go.
If I seem unduly stirred up by something that happened seven years ago, it’s because of what happened last week.
By now you’ve probably read the crazy obituary of author and neuroscientist Colleen McCullough, most famous for her novel The Thorn Birds. Does anyone remember Richard Chamberlain in the movie? Hubba hubba. But I digress.
Anyway, if you haven’t read it, catch up on it here. This prolific writer, with scores of accomplishments outside of the world of words, was diminished in an obit that focused on her appearance.
Of course, this is nothing new.
Ever since I returned from the U.K., I’ve studied various biographies of Charlotte Bronte. Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte, which influenced generations of readers, portrays this brilliant woman as a tragic figure whose subversive Jane Eyre was an accident of a poor, spinsterish daughter of the church who didn’t know any better.
Sadly, Gaskell, who knew Charlotte Bronte, took her cue from the author herself, who had already written apologetically about her sisters, Emily and Anne, for publishing “coarse” novels that included Wuthering Heights.
Sure, Bronte was a tragic figure. Anyone who is the last survivor of many siblings, who herself dies young, gets a pat on the back for a tough life. However, like Colleen McCullough, Charlotte was ever so much more.
Jane Eyre broke new ground in its portrayal of a woman who would have love only as an equal. In real life, Charlotte Bronte turned down several marriage proposals (eventually marrying late in her life). She had an intense relationship with a married man — unconsummated, and unrequited, but one where creativity and intellect brought out her deepest passions, which fortunately for us ended up on the page.
She was, by all accounts, “plain,” just as Colleen McCullough was reported to be. But who cares?
Someone does, obviously, or we wouldn’t still have to deal with this drivel.
Novels written by women still do not garner the same attention for awards as men’s novels do. Female politicians are expected to be “hot” more than brilliant.
I know when to hand the phone to my husband because certain people, such as mechanics, will respond differently to him as a man. I can’t tell you how many jokes I’ve had to listen to about women and shopping, women and shoes, women and [fill in stereotype here].
Ladies, we need to claim our power. Whatever we do in this life, we need to share our fullness and strength. We are more than our weight, our complexion, or our hair. The Guardian did a better job with Ms. McCullough here, acknowledging her many accomplishments with warmth and humanity. Let’s acknowledge those who treat us with respect and continue to call out those who do not.