I am no fan of "Madmen." Glamorizing the sexist attitudes of the fifties and sixties seems to me the last thing the world needs at this moment. I admit that I have seen only one episode, the first, and about twenty-three minutes of the second, but that was enough to turn me off from the series for good.
My favorite "good times" of the second half of the twentieth century involve the antidote to the culture of Madmen – the international effort that is still spreading known in those days as The Women's Movement.
|Betty Friedan and Friends|
If you are younger than fifty-five and came of age or were born into a world where working women’s rights were protected, stick around find out a bit about how we got to where we are today.
|Rosie the Riveter|
Whatever the historical factors, I doubt the revolution would have gotten off the ground it were it not for thousands and thousands of ordinary women on the line who fought the battles on the job, who showed up every day and got the work done, and thought up imaginative ways to thwart the status quo when it stood in the way of progress.
I know a lot of stories from the pink collar wars. Here's one of my favorites. It is a perfect example of what made the Movement move:
In the state of Nevada in the 1970's, there was a thriving printing business. Big firms stamped out mail order catalogs, magazines, Sunday supplements for newspapers, all kinds of color work on shiny paper. The jobs were divided into heavy printing and light printing. Those who did heavy printing were all men and made near twice the hourly rate of those doing light printing, who were all women. The women wanted into the higher paying positions, but a state law stood in their way. Nevada’s books said that if the job required employees to lift more than twenty pounds, the work had to be done by men. Women protested, testifying that females in everyday life regularly lifted more than twenty pounds. Any mother of a toddler or housewife who did laundry and grocery shopping for a family of four could have told you that. Nevada women took their case right up to the State Supreme Court. But the justices held their ground and upheld Nevada's right to "protect" women in the printing industry from getting a sixty percent increase in their wages.
Not ready to be frustrated once and for all, the ladies looked for another way.
Printing was the second biggest industry in the state. The first biggest was gambling. And that's where our “light” printers found their answer. The big-time casinos employed hundreds of women who waited tables at the headliner dinner theaters. They preferred ladies with long legs and pretty faces. The statuesque, scantily clad members of the "weaker sex" hefted huge trays piled with dishes, glasses, cutlery.
Nevada had two choices. Either force the casino owners to put men in the place of the waitresses in stiletto heels, or change the law and let women do jobs that required them to lift more than twenty pounds. The casino owners, with their enormous political clout, weighed in, as it were, on the side of the women printers. The law changed and so did the take home pay of hundreds of women workers.
It happened that way over and over, a little triumph here and rule changed there. Progress.
Things are not perfect yet. But they have gotten better. And will continue to do so. Because of the revolutionaries in pantyhose who made it work those decades ago.