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After Work: A Pat On The Head

...Women make up more than half of the enrollment at the top journalism schools. Women have gained admission to the business school I was denied entrance to.

Today, women are no strangers to boardrooms, pressrooms, court rooms or locker rooms. And the pay margin between men and women is narrowing. At the speed of a glacier before global warming but narrowing, nonetheless...

Yet there is still head patting, says Dona Gibbs. Neanderthal male bosses still patronise their female colleagues.

Last summer at a citizen reporter conference in Seoul, Korea, a graduate student from the all-women’s university asked if I’d answer a few questions.

“Certainly,” I replied. She spoke English with a Southern California rising inflection at the end of her sentences, Valley-Girl style. No, she ‘d never been to the United States but she’d watched a lot of American television, she said. She loved “Friends” and “ Beverly Hills 90210”.

She asked me to step outside to the hotel lobby. She brusquely shooed away some heavily made-up young women wearing bouffant hairstyles, short skirts and stiletto heels. They clacked away, scowling.

What was it like being a workingwoman in the United States – back in the day? She wanted to interview me for a paper she was writing.

Several of her fellow students crowded around, perching on sofa arms and sitting cross-legged on the carpet.

“What did you have to go through to succeed as a woman in your career?” she asked with a wide smile.

Having spent my working life as an advertising copywriter, I explained the how-tos in detail – great detail -- in a school-marm-ish, Eleanor Roosevelt tone. That’s what my voice seems to do whenever I’m asked to give opinions. Their eyes glazed over and my interviewer stopped taking notes.

“Were you ever sexually harassed?” she leaned forward.

Obviously, she hoped for a juicy story -- say, a boss chasing a naïve girl around a conference table? Nope, never happened to me. If she spent a couple of hours in an ad agency, she’d know then that naïve women don’t choose advertising as a career. And that people are too busying chasing the elusive concept to pursue one another.

That’s not to say there weren’t the upper arm squeezers and the fanny patters, but I always thought that they were harmless. And their unwelcome little attentions I chalked up to a generational difference.

While I’m not denying that sexual harassment can create a hostile, unbearable work environment, I didn’t have first hand knowledge to make for even an interesting paragraph in her paper.

Fanny patters, I could deal with those. The head patters were far more pernicious.

Head patters?

You know a head pat like the boss who says, “ Good going” and slips you a small bonus for a year’s worth of twelve-hours days rather than a permanent salary increase.”

Or the one who uses a pet name for you -- one that diminishes you. I was called Dona-do in front of a client. Me, a forty-five-year-old associate creative director in a power suit, no less. Harrumph.

I had met up with head patters early on. I had gone to graduate school to avoid the career route of starting in a typing pool. I was the only woman to be admitted in my sequence. That was standard policy at the time.

The department head took a temporary position teaching at the University of Hawaii. He taught a course necessary for graduation. The solution: the guys could head to business school on the downtown Chicago campus. The gal – well, what about that lone gal?

I wanted to take the same course downtown.

Nothing doing, I was told. The business school was men only. Policy, you know. And they didn’t have facilities for women.

Facilities? Yes, like toilet facilities.

I would have gone without liquids and sat with my legs clenched together to have the opportunity to complete my degree with the same credentials as the guys but nothing doing.

“Besides, riding the el downtown is dangerous,” said the department head.

Ah, the head pat.

When an ad agency recruiter came to campus, I was first to sign up.

“Can’t you read?” the recruiter greeted me. The poster reads,” Advertising Agency Seeking Men.”

He looked me up and down, staring suspiciously at the cheap leatherette portfolio I was then hugging nervously to my chest.

“We’re looking for account trainees, not writers,” he snarled.

I reddened.

“Well, you haven’t seen me,” I shot back.

I don’t know where I got the courage. And I didn’t know the feisty woman I’d suddenly become.

I got the New York interview. And I got the job: the only copy trainee hired by this brash, rough and tumble ad agency who’d made its mark in the garment business.

I didn’t exactly get to gloat.

“The guys we’re interviewing we’re picking up the tab for the airfare and the hotel,” the recruiter grinned. You, we can’t reimburse, ‘cause you know you’ll probably get married, have babies and leave us.”

And that is the kind of head pat that hurts. Right in the wallet.

Women have come a long way since those bad old days. Women make up more than half of the enrollment at the top journalism schools. Women have gained admission to the business school I was denied entrance to. And ad agencies probably don’t pick up anybody’s travel tab for interviews, man or woman.

Today, women are no strangers to boardrooms, pressrooms, court rooms or locker rooms. And the pay margin between men and women is narrowing. At the speed of a glacier before global warming but narrowing, nonetheless.

Today I can’t imagine anyone giving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a head pat. Or Hillary Clinton. And certainly not Maggie Thatcher.

That earnest young woman who interviewed me missed a good story perhaps. Maybe several good stories. One from me. And several from those other “working girls” she so arrogantly dismissed.


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