Life in the sixties was great if you were male. Your wife stayed home, took care of the kids, did the laundry, cleaned house, cooked meals, and was the family operations officer.
Divorce was frowned upon. Newly divorced, with two children and no recent work experience, was not a good situation to be in. There were few female hiring managers and you couldn’t count on them for support. Their status had been hard won and they were not about to risk it for the sisterhood.
Women had the vote, but you’d hardly know it from questions posed by male interviewers who could make personal inquiries such as. “Do you plan to re-marry?” “Not unless hell freezes over” did not come across as being a politically correct response. “Are you out of your freaking mind?” did not seem like a professional response either.
Or, “You will marry again someday and we will have to replace and re-train your position.” One male interviewer actually stated, “You would want to mesh your new union with a child”. With his superior visionary abilities, he had determined in a ten-minute interview my future matrimonial and family planning objectives.
“What will we do when your children are sick?” Biting my tongue, I wondered, but did not ask, “What do you do when your kids get sick”? Assuring a prospective employer that you had arranged for care for your children was next to impossible.
After swearing to never date or have sex until well past retirement, you might have a chance at getting a job that paid less than a man performing the same duties. After all, men were the head of the household, thus entitled to more compensation. I wanted the opportunity to make a semi decent living, not to become indentured. We were clueless as to how to handle heavy-handed male interviewers. We lived the frustration of reduced potential in terms of capabilities and compensation.
It was “a problem that had no name”, a phrase Betty Friedan introduced in her book The Feminine Mystique to describe the feelings of unhappy married women, with children. While the book did not address social and political inequities for working class women it was the beginning of a start in that direction.
An increasing number of women do not know Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem paved the way toward the beginning of equality in the workplace. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana’s quote is a grim prognosticator as lawmakers create new rules that govern the most personal aspect of women’s lives.
If we do not remember our past, don’t be surprised if “Do you plan to marry?” is a query on future job interviews.