“When I was growing up long , long ago, girls had limited career options. In alphabetical order, the choices were : ballerina, nurse ,sales clerk, secretary, stewardess, or teacher.” Sue Grafton in Why I Write.
The times that Sue Grafton is writing about were the early sixties , barely fifty years ago and it is difficult to imagine how much the landscape has changed . Women today are able to do practically anything and no profession is closed to them. Education has leveled the playing field or almost so. An article in Atlantic magazine , three or so years ago pointed out that girls are out-performing boys in almost every category. Whether it is the percentage of high school valedictorians , AP courses taken, scholarships earned, or the numbers attending and graduating from college , girls are more than holding their own with boys. In stark contrast to the situation described by Sue Grafton , girls today can aspire to almost any career they want .With every passing year , the barriers are falling. Recently , women in the armed forces won the right to serve in combat positions ( though why they would want that , I don’t quite understand).
In spite of all the progress women have made , I still see the occasional article that purports to show that women are paid less than men for the same work. The last such statistic said that women earned only 83 cents for every dollar that the men made. How these figures are arrived at , I don’t know. While agreeing that there still are inequities I am hard put to believe that they would result in such a disparity.
The one factor that militates against careerwomen is their biological imperative , their need for children and a family which is at odds with the demands of the job, particularly in today’s globalized marketplace. They cannot put in the hellishly long hours necessary in some jobs or travel at the drop of a hat as men do… not if they have to take care of children or otherwise hold the family together. (For the same reason , many women, unable to juggle the demands of job and family , opt out to stay home and bring up the kids. As a result , they don’t get to climb the career ladder and reap the rewards.) This is reflected in the relative scarcity of women in some lucrative fields such as finance. Still, one is better off focusing on the gains that women have made rather than on what still remains to be achieved.
Many years ago, I watched Betty Friedan , the pioneer for equal rights for women, being interviewed on a TV talk show . The interviewer began by asking her to define ” Woman”. She replied that ” Woman is a human being of the female gender.” I thought it was a great answer, implying as it does the equality of men and women. It is a principle that wasn’t fully embraced then but is today taken for granted in our society. Equality also means equal opportunity and I for one couldn’t be happier at this development.
P.S The 21 year old Sue Grafton taught herself typing and got a job as an admissions clerk, then a secretary in a hospital clinic. Then she ran the front office for a family physician. All the while, she would come home, cook supper, wash the dishes, put the kids to bed, and then sit down at her desk and write from 9 PM until midnight. Her first book published in 1967 when she was only 25 years old , earned her an advance of only $ 1,500 but she persisted and went on to become a best selling mystery author.