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Beyond “#Me Too”

“You seriously couldn’t get a credit card in your own name? or buy a car?” Nods all around.

Several of us were sitting at a table reveling in delicious margaritas and platters of Mexican food at our favorite Friday night watering hole, #Los Pericos. The question had started a flood of reminiscenes.

All of us remembered experiences in the 1970s and 1980s of sexist treatment by lending institutions and society in general. But how often is it still the case?

There was the unmitigated shock when, after years of paying the bills and handling all the finances for our families, divorce could leave us without any rights at all. Trusting to our husbands, our names had not been put on the deeds or cards or loans.

If we were pregnant, we had to hide it when going to the bank to ask for a loan. We were denied purchases, especially cars, and certainly no access to credit of any sort. If we were married, we were only allowed to have cards in our husband’s names. Imagine finding out, after a divorce, that “your” credit card is not yours but your husband’s and now worthless.

After a divorce, and the numbing, crushing, devastation of seeing your world crumbling around you, it is soul destroying to learn that no bank will give you credit. Only a husband, even a divorcee, could purchase a car or a home. They still could. We could not.

Among the five of us, there were plenty of horror stories. A single woman with three children moving to California with nothing more than one fuel credit card to survive on. Another who was denied the right to buy a car even though she was trading in her current vehicle and had a good job.

One who had just completed a Master’s Degree at a prestigious women’s college where the counselors urged her to marry since the school could brag about “successfully placing women in a profession” when they were properly married off. Marriage was, indeed, considered the only proper profession for a lady.

Today, in the world of #Me Too, it still seems appalling that within the memory of many of us it was impossible for women to be able to secure credit in their own name. The problems, however,  still exist. Women are all too frequently shunted into the lower paying jobs. Encouraged by guidance counselors, what do women opt for? We all know.

My mother told me that a certificate to teach would always provide me with a job. She was right but what more could I have been? The typical “women’s” jobs, whether teachers, nurses, secretaries or even paralegals, do not provide the income necessary to afford homes or even the credit for cars. I still remember my high school principal telling me to get a second job when I couldn’t afford my house. “All teachers have them,” he said. And add children into the mix and the disastrous burdens are too numerous to mention. Somehow, we survived.

I have recently had the good fortune to share an office with a group of dynamic, enthusiastic younger women. Early marriages, several children and husbands stuck in the 19th century mentality, has halted the hopes of some. Divorce has been the fate of others, many left practically penniless by their own kindness, lack of knowledge, or a strong legal defense. Shattered by the loss of their youthful hopes and dreams, they are fighting back.  

Although their husbands may object, and the male-dominated world still does not welcome them into lucrative careers, their world is no longer closed to them. It is, thank goodness, possible to use education to scramble out of the well of despair and up the ladder of success. Just a few classes at the Junior College, then a few more years at a credentialed university, and then the hour drive down to Houston to attend law school. It’s only time, and the kids are nearly gone. The possibilities and the options are not endless, but they are there.

Doing it all either without a husband or with a husband opposed to the new career path is still challenging. Frightening, even. But these women are not stopping. Perhaps they saw what their mother’s went through. Perhaps, although they may not have heard our stories, they have seen what a few of us among the elderly have accomplished. Perhaps we have been an inspiration.

And perhaps the #MeToo movement is more than just about male domination and abuse. Perhaps it is about female empowerment. About overcoming recalcitrant husbands, and the financial demands of children, About refusing to accept the recommendations of a guidance counselor to settle for a secretarial or a teaching job. About seeing beyond the marriage vows to other options in the future. This is about the success of a whole new generation of women.

These young women will not be stopped.  

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