OF GIRLISH THINGS

I never thought being a woman was a deterrent to becoming what I wanted to be. I didn’t worry if it would be more difficult because I was a woman even though I was working in a very male profession — which computer development was back in the 1980s. I probably should have, but that’s not how my mind works. That being said, there were two occasions when it was impossible not to notice that my girl-ness made me different.

Doubleday in Garden City

The first time I noticed was when I was working at Doubleday. I’d been working there for more than a year. I had a friend who needed a job. He’d never done any professional writing and didn’t have a degree, but he was well-read and talented. I was sure he could do the job, so I recommended him.

He got the job. His first salary was almost $5000 a year higher than mine, even though he had no experience or a degree. That was the first time I realized my sex might have something to do with salaries. I shrugged it off. Shortly thereafter, I left Doubleday and the U.S. and moved to Jerusalem, Israel.

In the mid 1980s I worked as part of the group at the Weizmann Institution developing DB1, the first relational database. I was in charge (among other things) of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. IBM bought it and from this, DB2 and every other relational database ultimately emerged.

The head of our development group was the money guy. He knew less about computers than me, but since his money paid our salaries, rent, and kept the lights on, he had a lot of clout.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or my personality. He just didn’t like women at work. I was undeniably female.

I wrote this

At the pre-IBM presentation meeting, he looked at my materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered. Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said. “I wrote it.”

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done yet. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. It was one of those things I didn’t need in my life. Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. Me.

“Oh,” said Micah.

I didn’t say anything. The deadpan faces around the table were examples of people trying not to laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

That was the second time I noticed how not having a penis was an impediment to getting paid. I might have guessed by looking around the room and realizing I was the only woman, but I didn’t think about it.

So, how much did being a woman impede my progress? I think I was more impeded by my own choices. I preferred having a home and friends to spending all my time at work, though that could not account for the huge pay difference. I was never going to become a manager because I liked writing. I tried managing a group of writers. I was good at it. I also hated it. I wanted to write, not tell other people how to write. I also firmly believed in not working overtime unless there was a genuine reason to put in extra hours. I was fast and rarely needed more than a standard day. Often, I had spare hours in an 8 hour day. Culturally though, working overtime was a “thing.” It proved your dedication or some such nonsense.

Weizmann Institution in Rehovot, Israel

I spent a lot of time trying not to let anyone know how fast I could work. Smart bosses eventually realized I could write a 500 page book faster than most people could write a brochure. At my best, I was really good.

I couldn’t do it now to save my life, but age takes a toll — especially on speed and memory. Back then, I could remember everything. I could take a book apart, save the pieces in files and reconstruct a better book by remembering where I needed to put each section. Now I can’t remember why I’m standing in front of the refrigerator.

So did being a woman prevent me from getting a better position? Probably not because I didn’t want that position. Did it prevent me from being paid what I was worth? Absolutely. Men — no matter how pathetic their work — were always paid more than I was. A penis is for more than sex. It apparently also guarantees a better salary.

The worst part of this is in 2022, all of this is continues to be true. Women still don’t earn equal salaries to men doing the same or lesser work.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – Merriam-Webster



Categories: #Women, #Work, #Writing, Anecdote

Tags: , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. I think we can all recognise the sort of challenges you faced. I would have loved to have seen Micah’s face though when he realised it really was you who had written those booklets 😆

    My eye-opening moment was soon after leaving university when I went for a job interview. The post was for a librarian in a secondary (high) school and I was desperate to get it because the school was near the home of my then-boyfriend. I didn’t get it but was given feedback by the headmaster. Apparently I’d done an excellent interview but the job had gone to a young man because they thought a man would be better at getting books back from the teachers who had a tendency to want to keep them in their classrooms rather than the library where they belonged. Today I would be able to challenge that decision but not back then. However I am sure such decisions are still taken, they are just more careful about disguising the reasons!

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    • Surprisingly little has changed. The gap, at least in professional positions where you need a degree to get the job, the gap is a bit (minimally) narrower, but it is still there. Every time a bill comes up that would guarantee equal pay for equal work, it goes down in flames. Republicans seem to be against equality. To get full pay and “fair” play at work, you have to be a white Christian man. Heterosexual, of course.

      After the Civil war, a huge majority of white people lost the concept of equality and not just toward dark skinned people. They just LOST it. They resented and objected to absolutely ANYTHING that would narrow the inequality gap and because until the late 1940s, it wasn’t even illegal, they raised their kids to be the same narrow-minded prigs they were. And here we are. 2022 and women — who are NOT a minority (we outnumber men!) — are still a notch below men professionally. I think we are the ONLY major power (other than Russia) who has never had a woman running the country.

      And they are proud of it. They want to know why we think they are stupid. I want to know why they DON’T think they are stupid because they really are. Not for lack of brains, but for lack of culture, education, and even a willingness to learn.

      I wish I saw a brighter day in the future, but I don’t. Mostly, I see hotter days, filthy oceans, and an ever increasing level of poverty, deprivation, and ignorance. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

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  2. It’s sad to think that so little has changed in our lifetimes.

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    • And now? We’re going backward. It’s demoralizing and it’s humiliating. Especially when you KNOW you are much better than the boys earning the much bigger bucks. It’s just pure prejudice against women in the workplace. AND there is absolutely NO legitimate reason for it. I don’t think there ever was, but now? Really?

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  3. Marilyn, the women of the world have had to shoulder a lot in their time, so men have got to pull up the socks, the writer who got the job, with the $5,000 uplift, that’s credit to the talent giver, well, of course they try to say it cleanly, but to say it short, women and girls are always the main victims in wars, same as those who care naturally, amen

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    • I wouldn’t argue any lack of talent, but there was also a massive lack of experience and there was no reason why he would earn more than me — except being male. It’s gets tiring to never get a salary you’ve earned. I know the gap has closed slightly, but not nearly enough.

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      • it’s good to remind the male dominated past, of the clean up that is ahead of them, cheers, hope all is good, keep the words flowing, always a good read, thanks

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