Uncategorized — March 16, 2011 at 9:29 am

The birth of a feminist


The other day, I blogged about President Obama coming out in firm and vocal support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. I told the story of my mother wearing a button with “59¢” on it, representing the amount of money a woman earned over thirty years ago for every dollar a man made to do the same job.

Today, as I said, that number has soared to an astounding [sarcasm]77¢[/sarcasm].

One of my readers, a self-described “little old lady from Arizona” sent me a story from her childhood that brings into sharp focus what this egregious discrepancy means where the rubber hits the road. Her story is a poignant description of how this pay gap has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of work women do relative to men. In her story, the work the girls do is, in fact, superior to the work done by the boys. Her story shows how this is, pure and simple, a degrading finger in the eye to women. It’s a not-so-subtle, in-your-face statement that women are not valued and are seen as inferior to men. There’s often no opportunity for them to show their worth; it is simply accepted that, no matter what they do, their work isn’t as good or valuable as the work of men.

I am reprinting the story she sent to me. These are her words, not mine. They are an eloquent reminder that women alive today faced offensive, harmful discrimination in their lifetimes. The fact that the pay gap is still 77¢ show that this discrimination is still with us today.

Please enjoy her story. It’s a first for this blog to post someone else’s contribution and I can think of none as appropriate as this to be the first. Her name is Annarosa.

I’m just sayin’…

Do you remember the first time you stumbled through that doorway between childhood and adulthood and realized there was no going back? I don’t mean the physical changes, but rather that shifting of gears in your head that makes you see the world in a new way. For some, I would think that the gears shift gradually and smoothly, but for me, it came abruptly one summer day when I was twelve years old.

I was thrilled to get what I considered a real job, picking fruit at a local farm along with some other girls and boys near my own age. I anticipated making a substantial contribution to my family which was going through some hard times. We were to be paid for each basket of collected fruit we collected and received our money at the end of each day.

The job turned out to be a lot harder than I imagined even though I was not a sedentary child and was used to rather heavy chores around my own home. I was hot, sweaty, dirty, and achy at the end of each day’s work. I got bitten and stung by insects that gathered around the rotting windfalls. I had cuts, bruises, and scrapes, but, still, I was proud of the money I was bringing home to my family and determined to stick it out.

There was a big difference in the ways the boys and girls worked. The baskets were really heavy when full, and the boys would often drag them individually to the harvest center and their fruit often became damaged. We girls would help each other carry our baskets, one on each handle. There was less competition among the girls and more cooperation. Our competition became a contest to beat the boys and pick more and better (because our fruit wasn’t bruised and battered.)

One day, we girls discovered that the boys were getting 5 cents more per basket than we were receiving, even though we were working just as hard and actually picked more per person with less damaged fruit. One boy actually boasted that he put some of the windfalls in the bottom of his basket to pad things out so he didn’t have to work as hard.

I can still feel my outrage at that. Not only was it cheating, but it also wasn’t fair to those who were doing the job required. There were seven of us girls and we discussed all this and decided to confront the farmer together to ask for the same wages as the boys.

It’s been too many years and I can’t remember all their names, but I can still see those sweaty, dirt-streaked and determined little girl faces standing with me. We brought our issues to the farmer in a polite way. It was never acceptable for children to be rude to adults when I was a child. The farmer’s response was basically “boys get paid more because they are boys.” I know he said a lot more than that, but those are the words stuck with me.

This is when I fell through that child/adult doorway, when the gears shifted and I accepted that life truly wasn’t fair at all for girls. I was also shown rather abruptly that, as a girl, my labor, no matter how hard or well I worked, was less valuable than a boy’s. I still feel the resentment. I think that’s the day I became a feminist. This was 55 years ago and women still struggle for equal pay for equal work.

Thank you again, Annarosa.