Friday, November 2, 2012

Look around the room, you don't belong here

This is a series of posts about discrimination that happened to me as a girl and woman in the 60s-80s.  See the first entry at: When we had to wear dresses to school This is a record for my kids, and for others so we don't forget how it was and what we can't go back to.

When I was in high school, I had a strong preference for math and science.  I was a really geeky, shy and introverted, but I had an adventurous side even so.  I loved trying new things. Outside of school I did High Adventure Explorers, and at school, the Vo-Tech building was calling to me.  There was stuff there I wanted to try!

So in my Junior year of high school in 1977, I requested permission to take a class in the Vo-Tech building and got the go ahead.  I was going to take Drafting!

I was the first girl to take a class over in the Vo-Tech building and a little nervous (I was not a very self-assured kid) but the teacher was very happy to have me in the class and I excelled at the precision that was required and loved drawing the diagrams of bolts and other mechanical things.

So my first semester went great, I got an A and I was very eager to continue because next semester it was to be Architectural drafting.  Drawing layouts of houses, exterior and interiors.  I was champing at the bit.  First day of the semester my wonderful teacher introduced a new student teacher who would be working with him this semester.  I didn't think much of it at the time and happily started working at my now familiar drafting table.  But it wasn't to last.

Although I don't think it started the first day, pretty soon this student teacher took to visiting my drafting table daily and heaping on me his derision and hatred of me being in his class.

"Look around the room, you see that?" (Indicating it was all boys) "You don't belong here."
"Women don't belong in technical fields."
"You shouldn't be in this building."

And on and on.  I completely wilted under this daily barrage.  I was so painfully shy and had a strong respect for authority figures such as police and teachers.  I was utterly crushed.  I had no idea what to do.  I never told my parents, other teachers, anyone.  I stopped doing work for school for all my classes and barely hung on for the semester.

Sadly the teacher who had been so great for me spoke to me in the last few days of the semester.  He knew something was going on and he was going to give me a passing grade anyway due to the 'circumstances.'  So he had some clue, but didn't stand up for me or stop what was happening.

In my senior year I just kind of made my way through and barely graduated.  I tried to start college, but my heart was not in it and I dropped out.  I had lost my hope.  I settled into a job at McDonald's doing breakfast during the week, and night maintenance on the weekend with no thoughts of going to college.  I was ready to live a minimum wage job life.  This man had changed the course of my life for the worse, and it could have been permanent.

Now, working in a highly technical job with a mathematics degree under my belt I wish I'd had the spirit and strength to just deck the guy.  It still bothers me every time I think about it.  What was this guy's problem? Picking on some little girl just trying to do what she loved.  I feel sorry for any woman who got involved with him, and my only regret is that he probably messed up more lives than mine.

Sometimes I wish I could look him up and find him and and go "IN YOUR FACE!!!" and show him my damn degree, how I graduated Summa, and what my annual salary is now.

The reality is mine is a mild story of discrimination.  Many women at that time faced much worse than me.  It's important to keep these stories out there so that the women born and raised today never have to see anything of it's like again.  They face their own challenges, more subtle now, but nothing so damned overt at least it didn't feel that way until this past year.  The War on Women reminds me of those bad old days, like a zombie risen from the grave.  I thought we killed that thing already damn it!

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