Friday, July 19, 2013

I Enjoyed Being a Girl - 3

Girls at Work

When I finished University in Toronto the late 60’s, there were very few acceptable careers open for women.  It still took a real outlier to squeeze through the quota system, with its restrictions against women and Jews, to get into any of the professional faculties.  

Interning meant one thing.  It was the year a prospective ‘catch’ spent after medical school, working at a downtown hospital.  The concept of interning at a business for free, for a few years, on your parents’ dime, so you could put something on your resume, like Hannah and her buddies, on the HBO 'critically acclaimed' series, "Girls", had not yet been instituted as a way to exploit perfectly capable, legitimate employees.  

(By the way, I’m relieved to see this worm is turning….there are now serious discussions about the value of free interning to the actual intern….it seems there isn’t much.  Quelle surprise!…as we used to say in French class).

My girlfriends and I had held part-time and summer jobs for real money since our early teens.  Although one of my friends did, menially, shove shoes into boxes at a factory one summer for a minimum wage, in general, our work was meaningful and often even educational…. 
We led children’s club groups after school and on weekends at the ‘Y’, worked as counselors at summer camps, did office work at insurance companies and banks.  One girlfriend held an after-school job at the local bakery and put on a few pounds sampling the merchandise!  But that was allowed, in those days.  (Twiggy had yet to be discovered so starving oneself was not yet in fashion.  There was exactly one anorexic at my high school, but we didn’t call it that, then.  She was just ‘skinny’. …like those starving children in poor, far-off lands held over our heads and leftover vegetables).

The important thing I want to emphasize is that for all these various jobs, WE WERE PAID!  ….sometimes, the minimum wage, but sometimes a bit more.  We had to save up for University!  For travel!  To move out of our parents’ houses into our own apartments, which was not as easy as it sounds, since, as I’ve already explained, way back then, practically the only way you could get an exit visa from your childhood bedroom was to get married.

Employers accepted that people, even young people, weren't likely to come to work, day after day, for nothing, like they do today.  There were even things like 'on the job training'.  We would never have thought it made sense to work for hours and hours for no remuneration.  Or to pay for countless post-graduate courses to become 'certified' for skills that we could easily pick up while earning money.

So we girls teachers, social workers, speech pathologists, dental hygienists, dieticians, psychologists, and one or two doctors and lawyers.  Very few of us had student loans to pay off.  They hadn't been offered until my final year and anyways, as I mentioned before, we had earned money towards tuition or our parents had forked over the $420 a year necessary to attend university.  This was not that onerous an amount, either, even in 'old tyme money'.  If you left high school with an average of 80%, you were awarded an year's free tuition as an Ontario scholar.  In certain faculties, if you maintained an 'A' average, tuition was on the house!  (The concept of the university as a profit-generating machine had not yet been discovered).  

And we went to work.  Immediately.  Even with 'just a B.A.', there were lots of every field.  As possibly the least enthusiastic graduate of the College of Education, I attended a job fair where I was harassed with offers from every board of education in the province until I finally chose the school my friend was teaching at, so I could get a ride to work.  

Everyone has her priorities.  Mine was a ride!

An aspiring actor friend of mine was dragged off the sidewalk in front of the same job fair and recruited on the spot!  He'd just been walking by.  But he did have a B.A. in geography and a willingness to attend a quickie teacher's certification course in July, so he fit the job description.  And he turned out to be a terrific teacher, too.  Directed the best pre-teen production of "Guys and Dolls" ever seen in these parts.

The following year, I was invited to teach in a different school by one of my practice-teaching mentors and I happily switched schools and boards without a care about whether I was sacrificing my seniority.  

Jobs were everywhere.  None of my friends was unemployed.  People were getting married, setting up apartments, buying houses, having kids, for goodness sakes!  
All in their twenties.  

And now young girls shlep around in perpetual adolescence, 'interning' so they can put something on their resumes, hooking up with no emotional investment and wondering whether they'll ever save up enough money for a downpayment on a 400 sq. ft. cubbyhole in a downtown condo tower where they can hole up with a cat for company.  

While it's true, they can be anything they want to be, the problem is, can they get a job and earn a salary while being it?

So instead of Rona Jaffe, it's Sheryl Sandberg they're reading.  
The author may be different, but the fantasy goal is the same....
"The Best of Everything".

Is this what we struggled for?  What the hell happened?

For theories you might want to read a piece in today's NYT, "Love in the Time of Hookups" by Ross Douthat, which tackles these issues and attempts to offer perspective on recent efforts to analyze these new cultural realities:

1 comment:

  1. We call the youth 'entitled'... Maybe they're just offended at being undervalued. I, for one, an older 'youth' was entirely disillusioned that the dream of life, love and marriage fell through before we got a chance to try at it.