By Susie Ling, Associate Professor at Pasadena City College
We baby boomers were flying so high in the 1970-80s. I was so proud to be a feminist, and I shunned my mother’s limitations. My mother baked, ironed, and volunteered at my school. My mother made paper doll clothes with me, but I was going to be so different. I was a professional woman and a partner in an equal marriage. By the 1990s, my own hypocrisy became obvious. I depended on Mama to be the third parent for my millennial children.
I did all I could to balance career and family responsibilities. When my baby was not 48 hours old, I went to a short meeting that I could not avoid. My kids did not do after-school activities or even get their puppy, as I just could not handle the extra burden. I can still picture the kids so mad at me for picking them up late from day care again. I went to work, I brought my work home, and I kept the house within health codes. When we went to Grandma’s house, she let me take naps on her couch. My goal was to watch a whole episode of Murder, She Wrote on Sunday night—that seldom happened.
I admit I hoarded the opportunity to work; I love my career as a teacher. I did not say “no” to extra assignments. And I hoarded money. I worried about becoming a young widow like my mother, or a divorcee like many others around me. I kept emotional distance from single women as I was jealous of their ambitions. And I kept emotional distance from single moms because I was afraid. There was this single mom in my neighborhood that literally drunk herself to death; that tore me deep.
Female professionals in my era put up and shut up. We did not make coffee or take shorthand, but we had pressure to act “professional.” I seldom discussed domestic problems at the office. Instead, I chatted with colleagues about politics and the movies and sports that I never watched. New moms pumped breast milk secretly, sometimes hiding in the toilet stalls. I tried to time my babies’ births to coincide with my summer breaks. I hid years of menopause. Worse, we hid sexual harassment.
When colleagues made inappropriate sexual and/or racial comments, I would “laugh” it off and do elaborate footwork to avoid being alone with them. How can you report misdeeds to the bosses when the strings of bosses—male and female—were all compliant? It was a former boss who suggested we avoid hiring younger females as they often have family obligations… When I caught myself “laughing” it off with a junior co-worker, I progressed to appearing “quietly perturbed”. Several male teachers where I work were “encouraged to retire” or “resigned for personal reasons” as they were perpetual and gross perpetrators. I should have screamed and stomped my feet. We should have yelled at Human Resources and the layers of authority. Why should indecent people have their privacy protected? When two of my female colleagues retired recently, they told me of past “incidents.” The truth is that sexual harassers and perpetrators abound in my teaching profession. But, alas, they also fester in Hollywood, in churches, and in politics.
Looking back over the decades, I am truly sorry I was an enabler when I should have been more of an empowerer. When it happens again, what is the next step?