Today many young women take their current freedoms for granted. Today’s woman can buy a home, take out a line of credit, and enjoy financial autonomy without the control of a father figure or husband.
During the early 1970s, I was the only girl in my family. During those years, this preteen could not fathom the plight of women in the country. Around that time, the Feminist Movement found its way into the forefront of everyday life, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. Women marched, burned their bras, and demanded equal rights. It divided many in my hometown of Alameda, California, and even my home was not safe from resistance and opposing sides.
As a young “almost” woman, I could not understand the fuss about equal pay. Even though John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, many women still did not did not receive fair wages even for the same jobs. During those years, women needed a cosigner for a mortgage, and they could not open a line of credit without their husband’s permission.
At family gatherings, the topic would come up, and I could not believe the attitudes, for even some of the women thought it was only fair men earned more money since they were the breadwinners. Seriously? Give me a break. With the mindset during that time, for years, all I could think about was a women’s role in her family and society. Often, I wondered why women even wanted to marry, and those sentiments remained for years, even after I married.
Because of my outspoken views, the family would laugh at my “childish” beliefs, which made me more determined to object over the unfair advantages. Even at my school, Chipman Junior High, the feminist debate found its way into current events. When I was twelve years old in seventh grade, the topic roared into my classroom. Often when a girl stuck up for women’s rights, she was labeled a troublemaker, and the teacher and the boys loved this “debate.”
One afternoon in class, they talked about how women could not become firefighters or soldiers since they lacked the strength to do these jobs. During those years, I wanted to be a journalist. Someone brought up the fact that women should not take some of those jobs since they would sometimes have to work in dangerous areas. Of course, I objected, which did not sit well with the males in the classroom, but I didn’t care. Bring it on.
Their next argument was about sportscasters and how women could never do that job because they would never be allowed in the locker rooms. But I was ready and made my stand. Even though they mocked me, I told them that one day we would have female sportscasters. The boys laughed, and my male teacher became frustrated, which made me hold onto my resolve. Now, I was raised to be polite, and I remained so during our “disagreement,” but I refused to budge on my stance.
Finally, in frustration, my teacher sent me home since I would not change my mind. He took me to the hall and told me that he had enough of my insolence and that I needed to go home and think about my arrogance. Fine by me, that was the last class of the day, and I had enough of his outdated ideas.
Walking home, I fumed. I crossed the intersection, rounded the corner, and slowly strolled down my street. I wasn’t worried about getting into trouble; I just didn’t want to answer all the questions about not being in school.
Dad was home early that day; I saw his car parked in the drive. Slowly, I walked into the backyard and decided to hide in the basement. If I disappeared in my brothers’ hangout, no one would notice that I arrived home early.
Their room was an elaborate pub turned playroom. Along one wall, it had a red leather booth and table, with an intricately carved bar at the other. A black veined mirror adorned the back wall, and below it rested a long shelf. The room was dark, for only one small window offered light, and it was situated near the narrow stairs that lead to the second floor. I loved this room and often hid from the others, so I could spend time alone. I loved the small doorway too. To enter, one had to duck and then carefully scale steep steps. I would often sit on the steps near the window and read. So that was my plan; I would grab my book from my backpack and read until my brothers returned from the elementary school.
Quietly, I entered the laundry room, walked across the room, and opened the door that led to the garage. My plan did not work out as I hoped for my dad was on his way out, and we almost collided. Surprised, he questioned, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school.” I nodded in reply.
Taking a deep breath, I explained what had taken place. Waiting for a lecture, I was surprised when my dad started laughing. Stepping forward, he locked me in a warm embrace. I felt safe. Teasing me, he asked, “Even at school, huh?”
“Dad. This is not funny, and it’s not fair.” Finding his stool, he sat down, so we could have our heart-to heart. He always listened to me. I explained how women could not even get credit on their own. As always, I felt better after talking to my dad. That day, we did not solve the woes of my world, but my father listened to his feminist warrior.
And my father had really listened to me. That summer, I took a steady babysitting job for a neighbor that lived two houses down. Not long after, my father took me to one of my favorite clothing stores and helped me open a line of credit. I was speechless. It was 1974, a few weeks before my thirteenth birthday. Now, he had to take a stand of his own. He told them he would cosign, and after some persuasion, he won that round. He won that round for his daughter. My dad wanted me to begin establishing credit in my name. I was so proud of him. He told me each month, he wanted me to charge an item, and then pay it off as soon as I got the bill.
The day that I received my card with my name on it was a big deal. For me, it was a rite of passage and a small victory for my feminist cause. That evening when dad pulled into the driveway, I raced to show him. He chuckled at my excitement. And at that moment, I knew that while women still had a long road ahead of them, I also knew that I had one man in my corner that always had total faith in me.