‘The wonder is not how well the bear waitzes but that it waltzes at all. ' That is from Dr Samuel Johnson, I believe - a man who regarded women as no better than third-class citizens, lower than Scotsmen or Americans - two groups quite low in his esteem.
All through the twentieth century the legal status of women slowly improved. By 1982 almost all the laws discriminating against women had been repealed.
More subtle but at least as important and beyond repeal was the cultural bias against women. An example:
In the summer of 1940 when we were living on Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago, we were especially loaded with house guests during the mo weeks bridging the Democratic National Convention. One Howard trustee, Rufus Briggs, said to me one morning at breakfast, I left my laundry on that balcony couch where I slept. I need twenty-four-hour service on it and tell them to soft starch the collars - no other starch. '
I said briskly, ‘Tell them yourself' I was not feeling overly sweet-tempered, as I had been up late the night before, arranging shake-downs for late arrivals, such as Briggs himself - he was, one of the cheerful idiots who had arrived in Chicago oblivious to the fact that for this period all hotel space as far away as Gary, Indiana, had been booked solid months earlier. Then I dragged myself out of bed early and ate in the kitchen in order to cook and serve breakfast to a dozen other people.
Briggs looked at me as if he could not believe his ears. ‘Aren't you the housekeeper? '
‘I'm the housekeeper. But I'm not your servant. '
Briggs blinked his eyes, then turned to Brian. ‘Mr Smith? '
Brian said quietly, ‘You have made a mistake, Mr Briggs. This lady is my wife. You met her last night but the lights were dimmed and we were whispering because others were asleep. So apparently you did not recognise her this morning. But I am sure Mrs Smith would be happy to send your laundry out for you as a favour to a guest. '
I said, ‘No, I would not'
It was Briney's turn to look startled. ‘Maureen? ' http://o-broderie.ru
‘I won't send out his laundry and I will not cook his breakfast tomorrow morning. His only comment this morning was to complain about his eggs; he did not even say thank you when I put his breakfast in front of him. So he can go out for breakfast tomorrow. I imagine he'll find something open on 63rd Street. But I have this announcement for all of you, ' I added, looking around. ‘We have no servants here. I am just as anxious to get to Convention Hall on time as you are. Yesterday I was late because I was making beds and doing dishes. Only one of you made your own bed - thanks, Merle! I'm not going to make beds today; if you don't make your own bed, you will find it still unmade when you get back. Right now I want volunteers to clear the table and do the dishes. .. and if I don't get them, I am not going to cook breakfast for anyone tomorrow. '
An hour later Brian and I left to go to the Convention.
While we were walking to the El station he said to me, ‘Mo, this is the first time we had a chance to speak to you privately. I really did not appreciate your failure to back me up in dealing with another trustee. '
‘How? ' I asked (knowing quite well what he meant).
‘I told Mr Briggs that you would be happy to send out his laundry, and then you flatly refused, contradicting me. My dear, I was humiliated. '
‘Briney, I was humiliated when you attempted to reverse me after I had told him to send out his laundry himself. I simply stuck by my guns. '
‘But he had made a mistake, dear; he thought you were a servant. I tried to smooth it over by saying that of course you were happy to do it as a favour to a guest. '
‘Why didn't you say that you would be happy to send out his laundry? '
‘Eh? ' Brian seemed truly puzzled.
‘I can tell you why you didn't offer to do it. Because both you men regard sending out laundry as women's work. And it is, when it's your laundry and I am the woman. But I'm not Rufus Briggs wife and I will not do servant's work for him. He's a clod. '
‘Maureen, sometimes I don't understand you. '
‘You're right; sometimes you don't. '
‘I mean - Take this matter of making beds and washing dishes. When we are at home we never expect house guests to wash the dishes or to make their own beds. '
‘At home, Briney, I always have two or three big girls to help me. .. and never a dozen house guests at a time. And our women guests usually offer to help and if I need their help, I let them. Nothing like this mob I'm faced with now. They are not friends; they aren't relatives; most are total strangers to me and all act as if we were running a boarding house. But most of them at least say thank-you and please. Mr Briggs does not. Briney, at bottom you and Mr Briggs have the same attitude towards women; you both think of women as servants. '
‘I don't see that. I don't think you are being fair. '
‘So? Then I ask you again: if you wanted to be gracious to a guest, why did you not offer your own services to take tare of his laundry? You can use a telephone and the yellow section quite as well as I can, then you can arrange for or do whatever is necessary. There is nothing about sending out laundry that requires special womanly skills; you can do it as easily as I. Why did you see fit to volunteer my services in the face of my stated opposition? '
‘I thought it was the gracious thing to do. '
‘Gracious to whom, sir? To your wife? Or to the business associate who was rude to her? '
‘Uh - We'll say no more about it. '
That incident was not unusual; it was exceptional only in that I refused to accept the conventional subordinate role under which a woman, any woman, was expected to wait on men. Repealing laws does not change such attitudes because they are learned by example from earliest childhood.
‘These attitudes can't be repealed like laws because they are usually below the level of consciousness. Consider, please, who makes the coffee. You are in a mixed group, business or quasi-business: a company conference, a public interest group, a PTA meeting. As a lubricant for the exchange of ideas, coffee is a good idea, and the means to make it is at hand.
Who makes the coffee? It could be a man. But don't bet on it. Ten to one you would lose.
Let's move forward thirty years from the incident of Rufus Briggs the soft-starched clod, from 1940 to 1970. By 1970 most legal impediments to equality between the sexes were gone. This incident involved a board meeting of Skyblast Freight, a D. D. Harriman enterprise. I was a director and this was not my first meeting. I knew all the directors by sight and they knew me or at least had had opportunity to know me.
However I admit that I was looking younger than the last time they had seen me. I had had my pendulous baby-chewed breasts reshaped, and at the same Beverly Hills hospital I had tucks taken up under the hairline to take the slack out of my face, then I had gone to an Arizona health ranch to get into top condition and lose fifteen pounds. I had gone next to Vegas and splurged on ultra-chic, very feminine, new clothes - not the tailored pantsuits most female executives wore. I was smugly aware that I did not look the eighty-eight years I had lived, nor the fifty-eight I admitted. I think I looked a smart forty.