This diary was inspired by Deoliver74's comment to me in her Recommended Diary here. The ensuing conversation regarding the outright sexism demonstrated by the Republicans during the Sotomayor hearings reminded me of how up-close and personal discrimination really was to me. It wasn't all that long ago that women were routinely denied education and employment. It brought to mind what profound discrimination my mother had to endure in order to get her first degree in the 1960's. This was more than 40 years ago, which sounds like a long time until you put it into personal perspective, then you realize how recent this time really was.
This diary is a tribute to the perseverance of my mother and to all others who have been told that "you can't do that" because of discrimination. Oh, yes we can.
The following is a short interview-style paper that I wrote for an assignment for one of my college classes last year. I've only edited out the personally identifying information.
Interview with (Heiuan's mom), Age 72, English Professor at (a technical college). November 12, 2008.
In 1965, (Heiuan's Mom) attempted to enroll in the School of Math, Physical Science, and Engineering at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She was unable to enroll in this particular School without the express permission of the dean of the school. The dean said that they had never graduated a woman from their college, and they never would. The School of Math, Physical Science, and Engineering was an exclusively male enclave and no one was interested in changing the demographics.
Eventually, the dean said that he would contemplate allowing her to enroll, however, in order to do that she was forced to justify why she thought she could and would succeed in the Electronic Engineering program. She was made to prove why she thought that this career field was "appropriate for a widow with six children." She needed to justify her decision in light of her "physical limitations, and caregiver/worker conflicts." She told him that she felt it was a good fit for her because this program "emphasized brains over muscle."
The dean finally approved her admission to the college with two provisos. First, before she could be accepted into the program, she needed to persuade her male teachers that she was capable of the work and that if she could do the work, she could get hired by a company. The instructors were unwilling to "waste a space" on her if she couldn't get a job. Second, if the teachers approved her application to the school, then she would be admitted provisionally for one semester to prove that she could maintain "excellent" grades. She took that to mean that she must keep a 4.0 average and do better than all the other male students. She said " at that time, women had to be better than men to even enroll in any school."
In order to meet the first criteria, she said she had to drive around to the large employers in the area, meet with the HR departments, and persuade them to give her a letter stating that if she graduated then they would consider hiring her. Out of all the companies she visited, only one would give her that letter. She explained that most of the businesses who denied her said that it was company policy that they did not hire women for this type of position. The job was on the "do-line," at out-of-town sites. They couldn't have women out there with all those men.
She finally did receive one letter from a company who said that they would consider her for a position and that letter allowed her to enroll in the school. She was kept on provisional status for two years until it became obvious that her grade point average was excellent and that there was no reason to suspect that she could not succeed academically.
After graduation, (Heiuan's Mom) said that she faced additional discrimination in finding a job. Again, most companies who even let her apply and take the entrance exams told her that even though her test scores were consistently the highest in the group, their company wouldn't hire a woman.
She eventually did find a position with the European Space Research Organization, a satellite tracking station. She faced reluctance from her co-workers to give her any hands-on training with their equipment for whatever their own personal reasons. The Foreman's way of letting her train was to hand her a component and tell her to fix it if it was broken. Often, she wasn't given schematics for the equipment, nor was she told what it was.
The site manager "wasn't quite as heartless" so he gave her a job in the stockroom, packing and sealing boxes and doing inventory control. By doing this, she learned what all the components were that the company used, and also where all the schematics for the pieces were located. She taught herself how to work on the broken pieces. She kept this job until 1972, when she and her family left Alaska and moved to Florida. She said that the atmosphere at work never did get any better
This is one woman's direct experience with one instance of discrimination. Now multiply that by the millions of people who, even now, face bias and discrimination EVERY SINGLE DAY in order to pursue the rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Anyone who has the nerve to tell me that affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws aren't still necessary in this day and age deserves to have the cosmic clue-by-four firmly applied to the back of his or her head.