Marcia Gloster: Not Quite Benign
Updated: Jul 5, 2018
It seems simplistic in light of what has been transpiring since last fall (Harvey Weinstein et al, #metoo #timesup etc.), but a couple of years ago, when I was writing I Love You Today – my novel of New York in the 1960’s – a stunning article about women in advertising appeared in the New York Times. It was an interview with five women who, after years of silence, finally had the nerve to speak out; to relate how they had been harassed, discriminated against, and generally demeaned, not to mention being paid less than their male counterparts and passed over for promotions. Red-faced, the agencies cited, as well as several others, immediately announced they had set out to establish “new” guidelines. A couple even went so far as to promote a few women to jobs they should have had in the first place. At the time the piece was eye-opening. Today, it appears as just a blip on the radar of social commentary and current events.
I Love You Today is the story of a young woman who comes to 1960’s Manhattan to find a job in advertising. Refusing to become trapped as a secretary or receptionist, she perseveres and, after several months, finds the job she hoped for. Ironically, the story bears truth; some of it was based on my own experiences. In those years, and well beyond, it was what we, as women, were accustomed to and actually considered the norm: men spoke down to us, asked us to fetch coffee, paid us less, patted our behinds, and stage whispered obnoxious comments, all too frequently about various body parts. For the most part, we just laughed it off. What else could we do? Complain? To who, another man? As we continually said, “It’s just the way it is.”
That article, with its heartfelt interviews, made me open my eyes and take another look at the story I was writing. While the book wasn’t the place to comment on the current events of a latter era, it made me go back in and actually intensify the story. In retrospect, the events of the 60’s, though still clear in my mind, didn’t seem quite as benign as we treated them at the time. It also brought forth more memories, of not only dating, but of other interactions with men in the workplace; everything from expectations of quick sex to negotiating salaries and occasionally having to beg to be paid for freelance jobs.