Category Archives: How it used to be

Stories from the past to remind us of the journey we have travelled so far.

Harmless fun or something more? Branson picking up women

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Branson picking up women

Branson picking up women

Call me a prude, say I have no sense of humor, but isn’t there something wrong with this picture?  See the slide show here.  It seems that Richard Branson picks women up like this on a regular basis as a media exercise, but one wonders where this is coming from.  Sure it looks like fun and the women seem to be OK with it, but is he also picking up older women like this and is he picking up men as well?  And what does it mean to pick up someone like this when chances are you barely know them? I think it means he is attracted to them on some level and thinks that they are not his equal, so compliant.  Can’t see him picking up Hilary Clinton can you?

It says to me that he see’s these women as objects, trophies, prizes and something that he can have and do with as he likes in the name of advertising.  Possibility the most disturbing is the way that he picks up his female staff!  If you or I did that or had it done to us by one of our co workers or managers it would be assault.  I think there is a little sexual thing going on with this picking up stuff as well.  You see men pick up women in movies and take them into the bedroom, men used to pick women up in this way to take them across the threshold when they got married so I think there is some sort of sexual/ownership stuff going on here.

Ok, Ok, so you think I am being over the top?  Let me tell you about the time when I was about 26 and worked for a guy that looked a lot like Tom Selleck.  Big tall good looking guy who could have any women he wanted.  Was good at his job, ex army and an in control type of guy.  Great guy.  Problem was that I had to work with him but didn’t report to him.  Even so, he thought it Ok to tell me to get coffee for him and shout orders at me like I was his slave.  Well I was having no of that and refused, and told him way in no uncertain terms.  One day, he couldn’t get me to do what he wanted me to so he picked me up in the same way as Branson is pictured picking up these women and held me over the stair well to the dock floor – a good 15 feet below.  He was basically (in a good natured way, ha!), trying to get me to do what he wanted.  Basically, he was bullying me to do what he wanted by using his physical strength to try and dis-empower me,and force his will on me.  I told him that he was assaulting me and if didn’t want a court case he had best put me down pronto.

He did, but the other guys in the office who were truck drivers thought the whole thing incredibly funny.  Of course it was not and I made my point known in no uncertain terms.  This was about 1982 and things have changed slightly, but then maybe Branson has some cave man in him still?

 

I watched a show about the history of Playboy last night and found it extremely interesting on a number of fronts.

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During the show, on SBS One (Australia) May 10, 2012, Hugh Hefner (the founder of Playboy) said he was surprised at the feminist backlash he and Playboy received in the 80’s.  He said that it took him by surprise because he (genuinely) thought he had helped women to take part in the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 60’s, saying that Playboy not just about beautiful women, but that it is an entire lifestyle.  Playboy represented the lifestyle of the rich and famous, a fantasy world that few could actually inhabit, but that so many people were keenly interested in and wanted to be a part of.  In the early Playboy days, the rich and famous flocked to the Playboy hotels and casinos around the world, and the Playboy image and business became extremely successful.  The Playboy image became one of the most recognized brands around the world.

Hefner acknowledged that the ‘playboy bunny’ (stylised bunny suit worn by female Playboy Casino workers) promoted an objectified view of women, but he thought that Playboy gave all women a sort of sexual freedom, an ability to be a part of this (largely male) lifestyle of the rich and famous.  To a degree, this assertion was true, and as one early ‘bunny’ put it, she was proud to be involved with the organization.  Rules were very strict and with an emphasis on ‘classy’, the working environment was reasonably safe for a single woman.  In the 1960’s this appealed to many women’s ideal of what it is to be a woman.  Feminism was just asserting itself and western women were starting to test their independence.  One early ex bunny who was interviewed by the show, said that when she was a bunny in the 60’s, women could not do much financially without the signature of a male.  They couldn’t get a loan or credit card by themselves, as many women did not earn an income so they needed a male ‘guarantor’ to co sign for them.  Yet working in the Playboy Casino’s these women were able to earn incomes that were often higher than the casino managers own wage.  Wages and tips were very good and when combine their wages were often higher than that of their own fathers!  The ability to earn such high incomes in relative safety gave the women a sense of freedom, and the ability to shape their own financial destiny.

“Playboy is an American men’s magazine that features photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. It was founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and his associates, and funded in part by a $1,000 loan from Hefner’s mother.[3] The magazine has grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc., with a presence in nearly every medium. Playboy is one of the world’s best known brands.[4] In addition to the flagship magazine in the United States, special nation-specific versions of Playboy are published worldwide.”  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playboy]

Sexual Harassment is real – stories from the past

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Makes you feel uncomfortable

In speaking to many young Anglo Saxon women today here in Australia, I get a feeling that they don’t feel discriminated against at all.  In fact, sometimes I have been treated with disdain for suggesting that women are still not treated equally in the workforce.  I have had comments like “I (said with an emphasis on the i), haven’t experienced sexual harassment or discrimination at work, it’s just not a thing that happens in my industry“, or “some women might experience a lack of equality in the workplace, but that is not my experience“.  Interesting, that the young women that responded where highly educated, good-looking, articulate women working in management roles in classically female roles, like Marketing and PR., yet, conversely, the most interest in this Changing Women’s Forum comes from countries where women often struggle to gain an education or any sort of equality in the workforce.

Although many young women in countries like Australia think that they are equal, I have my doubts.  You only have to look at the lack of women represented on boards to know that all is not well.  Like many older women who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s at the height of consumerism and sexual harassment, I worry that younger women have forgotten – or are just ignoring where we have come from only 30-40 years ago where we struggled to advance equality for women, so I have decided to write these “stories from the past” which are from my experience as a young women in the workforce.

I wonder if many women today have forgotten why we have sexual harassment laws in place in Australia.  I don’t think that as women, we tell the stories of how it was 20-30 years or more ago and how it really was in the workplace for women.  Maybe it’s like child-birth; we don’t really tell the truth about what it will be like.

So here is my story.

When I was about twenty-six (26) years old, I had already been married for the last seven years and had a young baby, who was only two.  We had just moved back to Sydney from the country and I got a job working for a national transport company in Sydney’s inner suburbs.  I worked as a “pickup” operator, taking the calls from customers who wanted their parcels picked up by one of the drivers.  After a while doing this, I progressed to Customer Service where as a Clerk we worked to find missing parcels for people from across Australia.  I really enjoyed my job, and sat with a small group of women in the centre of the busy office where outside the many trucks would be unloading on the dock.  During this time, as a young woman in a male dominated industry, I both experienced and saw what we now know as “sexual harassment” in the workplace.  This was the early 1980’s and men didn’t even consider that a female would not welcome their advances.  So harassment was not a term that people understood or even acknowledged.

As women, we were relegated to “admin” roles like secretaries, receptionists, clerks and tea ladies, and even as I write these titles the spell checker is telling me that I have used a “bias term”, so some things have changed.  We certainly were not expected to become a manager – you could be a supervisor but this was usually only if you were supervising other women – it was rare to see a woman in charge or in a leadership position.  As young married women we were often made to feel guilty that we had “left” our children with someone else whilst we worked outside the home and that our job would never be as important as our husbands.  Remember this is the late 1970’s, early 1980’s that I am talking about – not the 1940’s.

I saw very experienced women training young men in management and in many cases these young men would become their manager of the women who had trained them only to then treat that women like an idiot.  These women would be asked to hand down all their knowledge and experience to these young men who were often arrogant and less than gracious to their more experienced teacher.  Often when these young men did reach manager status at very young ages, they then treated their trainer, now their subordinate, very badly.  I saw most of these older experienced women take this treatment without complaining, but it had an effect on me that has stayed with me ever since.  It was no surprise that many women accepted this treatment – for many it would have been no different at home when most women who worked outside the home also did the majority of the housework as well.

As a “pickup” operator, we would have customers ringing up to find out where their pick up truck was so we would need to get an ETA (estimated time of arrival) from the radio room.  To do this, we would write the customer’s pickup information on one of the pickup cards and send it down the little conveyor belt in front of us to the radio room on the other side of the glass.  Here a radio operator would call the drivers and allocate jobs to the correct driver over the two-way radio system.  To know which driver, you first needed to know who did what area and what area was closest to the address of the pickup customer to call the correct driver.  You also needed to know the current and planned jobs for each driver so that they didn’t waste time retracing their paths and going backwards and forwards too much.  This would make the burly truck drivers extremely annoyed and sometimes they would come into the radio room from the dock in the afternoons and have a go at the radio operators.  As you needed to deal with “tough” drivers and understand locations, this job was always done by a man as women were just “too soft” to deal with these men with any authority, and of course, everyone knew that women had no idea about directions or maps!  There was always a lot of swearing and yelling coming from the radio room and sometimes we as pickup girls would have to go into the radio room to find out what the delay was.  I always loved going into the radio room – it was way more interesting than sitting with a bunch of women answering the phone all day that’s for sure and because of this, I got to know a lot about the way the radio worked.  The operators would collect the little pickup cards as they came off the conveyor belt and sort them into areas that matched the driver’s areas.  Then the radio operator would “call” the driver over the radio, usually a number of them at once and using a knee control for the radio that could start and stop very quickly.  The calls would be like;

“Car 56,

61,

76.

Car 56,

61,

76”.

Then car 61 might answer, with “61”.  The operator would give the job out over the radio in a form of shorthand – but it was easy to understand.  A couple of times I actually filled in for a male operator while they were away at the toilet or out on the dock for some reason.  Often when we would walk past one of the male operators chairs, or when we would try to get through the door some of the men would stand close to us, often rubbing up against us as we tried to do our job.  It was very common for our male Manager to stand behind our chairs and rub himself up against our back or our arms whilst we were taking calls from customers.

Rubbing up against you is not on!

No means No

On one occasion, the very good-looking young manager in training that I spoke of earlier in this post decided that he was going to block my way through the corridor to the ladies toilet.  “Come on”, he said “just give me a kiss”.  After a few of these incidents of pushing past him, one day when he blocked my way,  I said “Sure“, whilst squashed up against the wall “I am sure that your new young bride will just love this kiss” and I planted a ruby-red lipsticked kiss mark onto his clean white shirt collar.  He had to rush out and buy a new shirt before going home, but it taught him to keep away from me in future.  Amazing, since he was younger than me by a few years, and I knew his wife well, but thought that now that he was a Manager he could do what he wanted.

It was also a daily occurrence to walk out onto the dock where all the trucks where to find a parcel and be “wolf whistled” by many of the men.  You would have to try to do your work, maybe talk to these guys while others were shouting out rude (and often offensive) remarks for other men about what they would do with you if they were alone with you.  In a group situation this could be scary and for many women, extremely frightening.  Many of the women that I worked with just didn’t want to go outside because the comments made them feel so uncomfortable.  As a young women reading this today, you might think that a “wolf whistle” or two is something that is great and shows you have what it takes to attract a man, but I can tell you that this is not the case because this type of male behaviour only objectifies a woman and doesn’t appreciate her wholeness as a woman.  It is primal, sexual and can get very nasty.  It didn’t worry me too much as I would go up to these men and gently say something to them like “that is so nice that you think I look good today, but I would appreciate it so much more if you would just say hello and say something like, gee you look nice today Susanne“.  It took guts to do this, but it made a huge difference to my relationship with many of these men and a huge difference to my working environment.  Very soon, these men learned to say “hello Susanne” or “hello love, you look nice today” instead of the lude comments they were so used to doing before.  It made a much more comfortable environment for all of us to work in as they were no longer under pressure to “perform” in front of the other men.  My experience was pretty mild by comparison to some women who pushed into the open truck trays and groped or assaulted as the trucks parked with their open back doors into the dock.  This was acceptable behaviour; remember this was less than 30 years ago!  It was assumed that you “were asking for it”, and was not seen as assault or harassment – it was just the way that men behaved.  It was common for men to restrain you or hold onto you while that spoke to you – today that would be assault.

My most confronting moment came when I wanted to work in the radio room as a Radio Operator and went to speak to the department manager about applying for the job.  He sat in a large glass walled office in the middle of the floor so had full view of all and we had the full view of what went on in his office.  Unfortunately, he was a bully and would often get people into his office and yell at them, leaving them embarrassed in full view of everyone through the glass walls.  I wasn’t scared of much then and am not scared of much now, so I was prepared.  Of course he brought up all the usual reasons why women couldn’t do the job, no authority, no idea how to use the radio, etc but I had already done this work well so he couldn’t justify this as a reason.  Without a good excuse, he decided that he could give me a go on one condition and that condition was that I slept with him.  Hmmm, I thought, Susanne you need to use whatever tools you have at your disposal to get this job, so….I repeated what he said at the top of my voice so that everyone in the office could hear me.  “So you have just said that I can have the job as long as I sleep with you, that’s correct?”  He went red in the face and didn’t know what to do – he just sat in his chair holding the arm rests so tight I could see the whiteness of his knuckles.  By this time everyone was watching us and before he could answer, I grabbed a piece of paper and pen from his desk and wrote as I again spoke loudly:  “SO if that is the only way that I can have the job, here is my IOU (promissory note) for the sleeping with you part, just remember you never said WHEN I would have to sleep with you, so I have written that it is at my time.  Ok, so now I have the job, when can I start?”.  He didn’t know what to say or what to do.  At the time, I was only a tiny person of 5 foot 2″ and weighting in at about 50 kilo’s, but I knew what was right and I was not going to take a backward step.

I got the job and did it well as so became the first female radio operator for that company.  A big step.  Sexual harassment in the workplace was very real in those days and the laws that are in place today to protect people from this sort of harassment exist now for a reason.  These laws were hard-fought and necessary.  Many people’s lives were badly affected having to work in these situations, constantly under the threat of something happening to them.  Sexual harassment is alive and well today.  We have laws to protect us, but don’t forget why we have them just because you are OK doesn’t mean that everyone is and that someone is not being victimized or denied equality in the workforce because of this type of harassment.

Sexual harassment is real and we need to be watchful that we don’t become complacent just because you don’t have any problem in your working experience.

Other references and articles on Sexual Harassment;

Australian Human Rights Commission – What is Sexual Harassment

*****Definition: Wikipedia – Sexual Harassment in the office

*****Holly Kearl – guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 August 2011 17.52 BST – Feeling harassed? Do something about it

“Friday is Women’s Equality Day in the US, yet routine street harassment blocks that goal for many women. But we can act”

*****Irin Carmon Aug 31, 2011 7:20 PM – Politician Survives Telling Students They Should Trade Sex For Advancement

*****Gender Bytes THE 50 MILLION MISSING CAMPAIGN, August 29, 2011 – She Isn’t Eve, And It Ain’t ‘Teasing!

tags: eve-teasing, sexual harassment, sexual violence, street harassment, VAW, violence, women

Down to the Wire: Ninety-One Years of Votes for Women | Obama for America | 2012

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Down to the Wire: Ninety-One Years of Votes for Women | Obama for America | 2012.

A little reminder of the journey so far.  91 years of the vote in America is a very short period of time considering how long we have been here.

DISCUSSION: Feeling like you are not a good mother?

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Do you ever get the feeling from other women that you are just not a good mother?  I did!  When I had my first child thirty years ago now, I went to work when she was only 3 months old and, I was still breast-feeding her!  I didn’t plan to do it, I was in a situation where I didn’t have a lot of choice.  I had to move cities to work and when I got there I had to leave my beautiful little baby girl in the care of someone else that I didn’t know.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of having relatives to look after her, so I had to pay for someone to look after her while I was at work.  I got a day care mum and whilst she was fantastic, it just wasn’t what I had planned for my first child.  I had planned this pregnancy for over a year before I feel pregnant, so working in the first 3 months was just not what I had thought was going to happen.

Both my husband and I had been out of work for a couple of months by this time (another story) and we needed to take the first job that we got: and I got the first job, so I was the one that had to take it.  I remember the first day I left my baby with the day care mum.  It was very upsetting, after I dropped her off, I got in the car and I cried all the way to work!  I was still breast-feeding and had to go off to a new job having expressed enough milk for her to have during the day whilst I was at work. Trouble was, I was like a dairy cow and the more I expressed, of course the more I made two-fold!  I was going to work at the front reception counter of a five-star hotel so the whole time I worried that I was going to have one of those leakage accidents that you tend to have as a new mum.  By about lunch time my breasts were so sore and swollen I had to express again so by the time I got home I was sore and swollen again.  You know the story….

Well, things finally got better, but what always amazed and saddened me at the same time, was that most of the women that I spoke to just looked at me like I was the worst sort of criminal that they could imagine for leaving my baby and going off to work.  I was only twenty-four myself and had no experience of having a baby and with little family support I was completely in the dark, so the last thing I needed was judgement by women who surely must have had some idea of what it was like being a new mum!  I didn’t find any support in most of the women that I met, instead I got frozen stares accompanied by a sharp intake of disapproving breath from the older women who would just throw their permed heads in the air and turn on their heels and walk off, and snippy statements from women my age.  They were the worst.  They would say things like “oh I’m not going to work when I have my baby”, and “what about your husband?”  This was the early 80’s remember and up until then most women still left work when to have their babies and then generally didn’t come back to work until the babies were around two years old.  With increasing pressure on families to keep up any lifestyle at that time and in order to save for a home there were many two income families in the work force.  More and more women were going back to work after they had their children, but it was still frowned upon and not seen as the ideal.  Never mind if you had thoughts of a career!  You really were seen as some sort of freak women then.

I remember that most of the men that I worked with seemed fine about me working and I don’t remember any disapproving looks,  well not about having a baby at home anyway.  At the time women in the workforce still had to deal with a lot of inequality anyway so we already had challenges to deal with.  It was expected that you would not bring your personal problems into the work environment, so mostly it just wasn’t mentioned and you just had to get on with things as best as you could.  Other women mentioned it in that snide sort of way.  Even my sister would look at me with a disapproving tisk tisk in her voice and would proceed to tell me how “she was going to stay at home with her babies”, thank you very much!

It’s funny how women are described in the media in ways like “Joy Brown 32, mother of two” regardless of what else she is.  She might also be a person, a wife, a fantastic organiser, a CEO – oh well, not mentioned.  On the other hand we have “John Brown, CEO of XYZ Company, keen sportsman”.  He might be a father of 16 for all we know and happily married for the past 20 years, but we don’t hear that information.  Have you ever wondered why these descriptions are different for men and for women?

I think that it has more to do with the way women judge women than it has to do with the way that men judge women?  What do you think?  Did you have an experience like me?  If you did it would be great to hear it.

Susanne