One Step Forward, One Step Back

Where to begin? I bought a sander at Home Depot last week, my third BTW, and when I returned to exchange the sandpaper I was sold for the correct type, the sales floor guy assumed that since I’m a woman I must also be an idiot. “Those are grinders, the sanders are down here,” he said as I passed by on the way to show him the model I bought. Bottom line, he plowed ahead with his impatient, condescending spiel until he realized HD didn’t sell what I needed, whereupon I suddenly I became “dear.”

I located a hardware store that sold my sandpaper online, and guess what. That salesman assumed I didn’t know what the various sandpaper grits were for.  Lucky for them, neither of these dinosaurs wore a necktie, because when a paint salesman once said, “Do you want to go home and ask your husband?” I grabbed his. Kudos to the store’s manager, because he actually came to my house to apologize.

When my granddaughter was 9, she took a summer class at Villanova to learn how to program her own computer games. She was paired with a boy about her age who kept taking the mouse out of her hand, impatiently preventing her from finishing whatever task she was working on. She didn’t know what to do about it, so I suggested that she slap his hand the next time he reached for the mouse. Please note: Both of us are now mature enough to “use our words.”

We may kid ourselves that the unconsciously demeaning attitudes and the glass ceiling are phasing out, but it seems to me when one mountaintop is achieved—such as more female US athletes winning Olympic medals than US men—new subliminal messages are invented. Clothing for instance. Attractive as our young women look, I have to wonder who is behind the tight, low-cut, short-short fashions trending now. Are female designers trying so hard to get women noticed that they want us to resort to any means available? Or are male designers objectifying us yet again?

I saw one episode of “Mad Men” and didn’t care to watch another. I hear it was good, but living it was not. Back when I was a “secretary,” my boss and his salesman (small company) invited me and the other girl (both of us were underage), to an unused room in the converted ranch house/office, where they wanted us to play Spin the Bottle with a bottle of scotch. In hindsight the men’s behavior was ridiculously juvenile and, sadly, less frightening than what happens now. And I’m sure you’ve guessed I was the wet blanket who got the heck out of there.

What I chose to do with my excellent typing experience was become a mystery author. I published seven novels with St. Martin’s Press before going into business for myself, as so many authors are doing these days. I love the freedom, the many challenges, and also the higher (much higher) royalties. And guess what: A Publisher’s Weekly salesman trying to convince me to buy an expensive ad actually said, “Why don’t you talk it over with your husband and get back to me?”

Laughable, for sure. But do female authors get the contracts men do? Nope. How about editorial reviews? Not so much. Awards? Ditto. In 1986 author Sara Paretsky founded Sisters in Crime, which is now a vibrant national organization, to address inequality in our business. Has it helped? Allow me to put it this way: Do we still get called “dear” and told to ask our husbands? Do women get equal pay for equal work? Is there still a Miss American pageant? Is there a balance of male and female characters on your favorite TV shows or in movies? Senators? Presidents? Create your own list, then please please please do whatever you can to fix this. More granddaughters are being born every day.

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