We don’t do feminism the way our mothers and white women did 30 years ago.
We are built like porn stars and think like shrewd CEOs. We are all about making our own money by pursuing our own passions. Some of us are products of familial/affirmative action, while others worked 30 hours a week to pay tuition while carrying a full course load and raising a kid.
My mother moved to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico when she was nine years old. It took her a while to pronounce the word “chair.” She kept saying, “Shair,” but eventually she figured it out and grew to love the English language. It was her favorite subject, and in the 1960s, if you were a Puerto Rican high school girl, you went to secretarial school to learn shorthand and type 75 words or more in a minute.
She eventually landed a job at The Citibank Building, which my father repeatedly pointed out to us kids when we would pile into the station wagon and drive to the city from Long Island. “That’s where your mutha worked before you were bawn,” he told me. Brooklyn accents die hard. “She was making $10,000 a yea-h. That was good money at the time.”
Years later, I asked my mom, “What did you used to wear to work?”
“Hot pants and knee-high boots.” She giggled. “My boss would corner me all the time.”
“Oh my God, mom. How did you expect people to treat you?”
“I just thought I looked cute,” she said, throwing her hands up.
It’s shocking by today’s standards, especially if you are not a woman of color. There was no such thing as sexual harrassment. And yet, I understand my mother’s need to “look cute.” It is something I have struggled with since my boobs popped out at 9, “early” by mainstream society’s standards. Do I wear the shirt that I like on me, or do I “go more conservative” so that the focus remains on business?
Now that we are leading companies, we are making the rules.
By trial and error, by falling and getting back up, we are slowly figuring out how to balance our culture with our business sense.