Looking Back and Stepping Ahead


My high school speech teacher Mr. R. liked me. No, not in that way. In a fatherly, interested way. He gave me extra attention and advice. He liked the speeches I wrote. I got A’s in his class and in a number of my other classes, and was taking some college prep classes.

One day he called me aside to chat about a speech. He hoped I was making plans for what I would be doing after high school. And then he suggested what he thought would be the perfect career for me–I should become a stewardess! His daughter had done that and it would be perfect for me, too. I could travel the world and meet a handsome pilot, get married and have a family.

I remember my feelings to this day. Confusion. Embarrassed perhaps? Did he not think I was capable of going to college? My parents had always expected I was headed to college, but perhaps they were wrong. Mr. R. would know better than they. Maybe I wasn’t “college material.” Today I know that I was experiencing shame–I never told my parents, nor did I mention it to any friends.

However, in kind of a perverse way, he was correct. I remember reading a study about 25 years ago reporting that women coming out of college had lower self-esteem than women who did not go to college. Counter-intuitive, right? Not really. Those college women saw the guys around them having all kinds of careers to choose from. When I went to college in the early ’60’s, I could graduate and become a teacher, nurse or social worker. That was pretty much it. Perhaps there were some women in the business classes, but I don’t remember many. The women doing well in science were generally heading into teaching careers. There were exceptions, of course, but not many.

Much has changed for women today, thanks to those “nasty women libbers” who ranted, raved, marched, and demanded. They carried signs. Yes, they may even have “shrieked,” and did they really burn bras? Whatever. They got the job well under way. Some worked so quietly behind the scenes that we never noticed them. They were strident and they were powerful.

This weekend of President’s Day, I am not celebrating our presidents. We seem to have sunk to a new low when it comes to presidents. I am celebrating all those women (and some outspoken men, too) who continue to push for equality. Thanks to them, my grand-niece who was born this month can choose from all those careers. Yes, she can become a stewardess. However, if she chooses not to go to college, she will not be expected to automatically marry and bear children.

Me? I had a strong woman as a mother who would never have allowed me NOT to go to college. I listened to her instead of Mr. R.

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