It’s frightful to imagine how many women were robbed of their potential because of the ingrained male-chauvinistic attitudes of the past.
That is one good reason to read a just-published book by Millie Hoelscher Moran of Sartell, a book entitled “Socially Challenged.” (See related story.) Mind you, Moran does not blame anybody for being denied so many opportunities; she merely – in a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense way – tells it like it was. Raised on a farm near Browerville, one of 18 children (can anyone imagine that these days?), Moran had to drop out of school to help on the farm, even though this lively, intelligent girl’s heart was set on education.
Later, while still a teenager, she got a job for 40 cents an hour as a nursing assistant at the small Catholic hospital in Browerville. It was at times a brutally difficult job and very emotionally trying. Even though minimum wage at that time, nearly a half century ago, was closer to $1 an hour, nursing-assistant jobs were under the category of “domestic work,” and that is how such a low wage was justified.
In those days, women had few options. They could be secretaries, nurses, school teachers, stewardesses (in rare cases as one had to be trim and “pretty”). Or they could marry and be their husbands’ helpmates. The plight of women hadn’t changed much at all since the early 1800s, the age of Jane Austen’s great novels, in which complicated marriage strategies were the chief means of a woman to escape abject poverty and/or spinsterhood.
A reader of Moran’s book will quickly understand “that’s just the way it was” back then. Nobody was purposely a “villain” to keep women down, but the rigid divisions in sex roles (boys played with trucks, girls played with dollies), not to mention the unbalanced divisions of labor, left many women in the lurch. Try to imagine a young woman back then with brains, ambition and dreams being shut off at every turn just because of the dominant mores of society. And, of course, anyone who has seen the situation comedies of the 1950s is very familiar with the hard-working dad returning home from a long day’s work as his wife, wearing an apron but always looking pretty and well coiffed, busies about in the kitchen and tries to make the kids mind. These days, one might be tempted to call those TV shows “situation tragedies” rather than “situation comedies.”
It took the feminist movement of the early 1970s to wrench us into an understanding of just what had been happening all those years: chauvinistic behavior, low wages, sexist humiliations, lack of promotions, blocked opportunities. It was hard to see those social forces because they had become such in intricate part of the world and us in it that we were mostly blind to it and its deleterious effects.
Moran, through many a struggle, realized her potential and became her own woman. The same cannot be said of many women who died with wilted dreams, their potentials unrealized. Thank goodness for the progress women have made since those days, but all one has to do is look around to understand there is still a lot of work to do.