When I entered the workforce in my late teens/early twenties, the fight for equality was just starting. When I think of where we are now, it seems almost unbelievable how far we’ve come. Women entering the workforce now have almost no idea what it was like in the 70s.
I’m going to relate a couple of situations that I experienced back then.
The first situation was when I got a part-time job pumping gas. There were no self-serve gas stations back then – attendants pumped your gas, checked your oil, and cleaned your windshield. You never even had to get out of your vehicle to pay; attendants came to your window to accept payment. I was hired by the guy in the evening shift. I looked like a young lad – short and thin, when a very short hair cut. Until you looked at me up close, which the owner did one day. He felt it was unsuitable to have a “girl” pumping gas, and I lost my part-time job. Funny how it because suitable when self-serve gas stations opened. (Interesting fact – did you know consumers were promised cheaper gas by pumping it themselves? Funny that never happened, isn’t it?)
A similar situation happened when I got a part-time job as a DJ. The owner of the disco company reluctantly “allowed” me to play at weddings and parties, until one night they were stuck and needed someone to cover in a club. Then it became my second full time job. When the owner went on vacation, the vice president of the company promoted me to area supervisor, and I started helping to install discos and train DJs. Until the owner returned and was very upset about that turn of events. When I lost that job, I went to New York City and ended up employed by Juliana’s Sound Services in Manhattan, a predominantly female DJ company.
The Good Old Days?
When I started working in an office, dresses or skirts were mandatory. There were rules – so far below the knee, so far above the ankle, no bare midriff, no halter tops, no going bra less (I always wondered how they tested for that). When tellers at the Bank of Nova Scotia were given the right to wear slacks to work, it wasn’t long until most women were given the same right. The first step towards equality.
Outside the office, women were discriminated against as well, in the increased cost of products and services. Let’s take razors as an example. Razors for women were more expensive, despite being almost identical. The only main difference is the handles were pink. Must have been expensive pink.
Besides products, services were more expensive as well. The one that irritated me the most was dry cleaning. The cost of dry cleaning for women was almost 30% more. It irritated me so much, I started to lie to my dry cleaner. Here was a typical conversation when dropping things off:
“2 men’s pants, 3 men’s shirts, 1 dress.“
“These are women’s pants.”
“No, they aren’t. They’re my brothers.“
“No, the button is on the other side.”
“Ha! I wonder if my brother knows that.“
“This is a woman’s shirt”
“No, it isn’t. It’s my husband’s.“
“The buttons are on the wrong side.”
“Wow, I guess my husband didn’t notice that.“
“The material is really soft, too.”
“Yeah, he likes soft materials.“
Staring war ensues until he gives in.
But I hated having to do that every time I had to drop off dry cleaning.
Equal doesn’t mean looking the same
It’s worth mentioning that my shirts were not the frilly kind. I’ve never been the frilly type – in the 70s and 80s I was too busy believing that emulating a man would help my career and let me be taken more seriously. So, you have to picture me in white business shirt, short hair, and tailored pin stripe suits with padded shoulders. No frills.
By the 90s, friends were calling me a feminist. No, I’m not a feminist, I would say; I’m an equality. Why should I be treated any different. If a man had a rough day at work and stopped by a bar to relax with a drink on his way home, that was acceptable. But for a woman to do the same was not. If a male manager raised his voice to a staff member, he was “authoritative” (considered a good trait at the time), but if a female manager did the same, she was a “bitch” or maybe it was “her time of the month”.
I now realize that I’m more than an equality – I am a feminist. As all women should be. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. We can do the same jobs, we have the same rights, and those who feel that a woman’s place is in the kitchen are quickly becoming a minority.
But we’re not there yet.
So, what made me think about this now?
Actually two bras.
I bought two bras at a Giant Tiger store in Sutton, Ontario. Signs around the store hanging from the ceiling said “Don’t try clothes on”, so I tried them on at home, and they didn’t fit.
When I went to return them, I was told I couldn’t. It was “unsanitary”. It was a young lady, who told me that they were like underwear. I had an email from Giant Tiger’s head office, stating that “Bras, and swim tops such as tanking and bikini tops are not to be classified as undergarments and will be refunded.” The sales clerk phoned the manager, who said I could return it “this time only”.
I’m not trying to slam the store. This Giant Tiger store actually does a lot of good in the community, and I love Giant Tiger. I love the one in Newmarket, in Stouffville, in Lindsay, and the two in North Bay. But here we have a store that hires predominantly pretty young women, who tell me that returned bras (still on hanger with all tags) have to be thrown out when they’re returned because they’re unsanitary.
Despite being a franchise, I was told they could make their own rules, that they didn’t have to follow the rules of their head office. I think they should read their franchise agreement again. I’ve seldom seen one that includes that clause.
I asked why they were considered unsanitary – I’m way too old to be a lactating female. What is the difference if a man returns a t-shirt? What if I returned a t-shirt that I tried on without a bra? No answer.
Because there is no answer.
There are still those who feel that it’s acceptable to have different standards and rules for men and women. Who believe that it’s okay to pay women less than men, or to deny them promotion opportunities because they might take time off to start a family, and who feel it’s appropriate to treat a woman as a sexual object – the sex trade illustrates that.
In the Euro 2021 beach handball games this year, the men’s team wore shorts and tank tops. The Norwegian women’s team wore thigh-length elastic shorts during their bronze medal match against Spain in Bulgaria, to protest against the regulation bikini-bottom design. They were fined 1,500 euros total ($1,700) for “improper clothing”. Women are required to wear midriff-baring tops and bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg” and a maximum side width of 4 inches, according to International Handball Federation regulations.
Pink has offered to pay the fine. I should listen to her music more because I admire her standing up.
I’m standing up by writing this and by refusing to visit the Sutton Giant Tiger location until they change their policies. I’ll do the same for any other store or business with the same attitude.
Because that’s what we all need to do. Stand up. Women are not “less than” a man. We are more than sexual objects or cheap labour. We are equals.