The sixties were coming to a close and everything that was important was happening on a college campus—or at least I thought it was. Civil rights, women’s rights, protests against the Vietnam war, fighting for the rights of migrant workers, the Beatles, hippies, the draft, getting the vote for 18-year-olds. But I wasn’t going to college.
Okay, so I can’t go to college. I won’t let this stop me. I will be part of the social revolution!
Thankfully, my mother had insisted I take a typing class in high school. “Just in case,” she said. Just in case what? “You’ll always be able to get as a secretary.”
In case I don’t get married was what she meant. In case I don’t go to college was what I thought.
But just like college, marriage did not look like it was going to happen. Living at home wasn’t’ in my plan either. Neither was Timothy Leary’s philosophy of “Tuning in and dropping out.” I needed a job. So, secretary it was.
How could I explain my fall from activist grace to my friends. I couldn’t admit that I had succumbed to the evil establishment. Women’s libbers were encouraged to resist the society’s traditional roles, pull away from the stereotype—be all we could be, whatever that was. And it wasn’t a housewife or secretary.
I felt like a social activist camouflaged as a secretary. I had to redeem myself in the eyes of my fellow resistance fighters.
Did I mention I lived in the Deep South? No? Well, secretaries in the South in the 60’s and 70’s wore the clothes from hell—dresses, nylons, pumps. No pants, no bare legs. Kathryn Hepburn was not a highly regarded role model for young women. But this was it! This was my cause! Pants in the office, trousers as Kathryn would say.
Images of Gloria Steinem’s revelations of the degradation of women as Playboy Bunnies flashed before me. I would expose the misogynistic dress code and fight for women to be allowed pants in the office.
I was ready to defend the rights of women!
I stood outside my boss’s office door building up my courage. I smoothed my A-line skirt and tucked in my shirt.
“Mr. Sanders. I want to talk to you about the requirement that women in our office wear skirts or dresses. Women should be able to wear pants in the office.”
“You are absolutely right,” he said.
Who knew he was such a liberal! I began rehearsing a more hard won version of this victory to my friends depicting myself as the quiet revolutionary.