Guest post by Jennifer Ballard (learn more about the author at the end of the article):
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Charlotte Brontë
When presented with the opportunity to write a guest post for Women on Business, I knew that, as a woman, I wanted to write something that would be meaningful for other women to read. I wanted to connect not just with businesswomen, but with all women—mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, soldiers, caretakers, philosophers, scientists, wage earners, teachers, students, leaders, and supporters. Women who work hard to earn a living to take care of their families or to make a difference in the world and within themselves. I aspire to reach out across generations and establish unity by showing that, despite our differences, we all have so much in common and possess unlimited potential.
Although gender equality is not as much of a debated issue today, it is still important to recognize how far we have come.
“American society has gone from employing 18 million women in 1950 to 66 million in 2000 – a 257% increase.”
This is an astounding statistic, one that, amongst others, instilled a curiosity in me that needed to be explored. Instead of conducting in depth research, scouring articles and flipping through history books, I decided I needed a first hand perspective. Who better to ask than the own women in my life who actually lived in those times and know all about the woman’s struggle within the past century? Women who made it possible for me to live the fortunate life I live today?
I sat down with my grandmother, Shirley, and my aunt, Robin, and asked them some personal and thought-provoking questions. I also took the time to learn more about my sister, Dianna, who is currently in Afghanistan serving in the Marine Corps. The result provided me with more knowledge and inspiration than I could have hoped for. Here is what I came up with.
My grandmother is the kindest, most caring and generous person I know. She is essentially my mother, she raised me since I was young. She always cared for me more than anyone else, and still does. Her primary concern is her family and I know that is what means most to her in life. But I never really asked her about her life, and what made her the person she is today. It was time to learn her story.
Shirley Anne Heald was born in 1932 in Providence, RI. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a commercial butcher. When she was 12, her father died of cancer and her mother became a single working mom caring for her, her sister, Carol, and her brother, Fred. They moved in with her grandparents, 15 people living in one house. I asked her what it was like growing up.
“I grew up after the Great Depression, so no one had very much money. Dad made 32 dollars a week. We just didn’t expect a lot of things. We had jump ropes, roller skates, a dog and rabbits and chickens and you helped with the chores. I grew up in a small neighborhood where everyone knew everyone. In those days they weren’t worried about kidnapping or anything bad happening. You could roam the neighborhood and as long as you were home by dinner nobody worried about it.”
She told me about how times changed once World War II started in 1939.
“They started rationing everything. You could only get one pair of shoes a year and could only buy so many gallons of gas. My dad was a butcher so he traded meat for everything. When Carol was born she got a ration card. That’s when women began to work in factories while the men went to war. That’s where Rosie the Riveter came from. It liberated women because they would fix things around the house since they didn’t have men to do it for them. It changed the history of the battle of the sexes.”
Then I learned more about the expectations of women while she was growing up.
“Boys got the good education and all of the advantages. My brother went to Brown University. I wanted to go to a university to be an Archaeologist, but I wasn’t allowed to. Girls could only go to business college or nursing school, and their career opportunities were limited to jobs as nurses, secretaries, or teachers. They were supposed to marry someone with money.”
My grandmother got her first job at a department store when she was 15. She went to 2 years of business college and got a job at an insurance company as a secretary for 3 years. She went to work for the foreign service state department in Washington DC, then went to Hong Kong investigating fraudulent passports. There, she met her husband Willis Ballard, a marine embassy guard. They got married and had 3 kids, Clark, Robin, and Mark (my father). She went on to become an elementary school secretary. Her husband worked for Boeing and was sent all over the country so they moved a lot and she took little jobs here and there as a secretary. But her main job was raising her family. Cooking, cleaning, and being an amazing mom. The matriarch of the family and the glue that held it together. That has always been her main role in life and she has taken it on with pride and an immense love for the people she cares for. In many ways, it is what defines her.
Finally, I asked her if she had any other wisdom to share about being a woman.
“It’s a tough job. They can say whatever they want but women are still mostly responsible for holding a family together and still responsible for doing the menial chores. Unless you’re well off and can have a nanny or cook. But women still have the babies. And you, Jennifer, can do any bloody little thing you want!”
I look at my aunt Robin as being extremely strong-willed, independent, and determined. She knows what she wants and she gets it. She is very active and doesn’t rely on anyone but herself to make her happy. During this interview, I got a lot of great insight into what it is like to be a strong woman, and the struggles many of us have and had to endure.
Robin Anne Ballard was born in 1956 in West Seattle, WA. It was hard for her growing up because her family moved every 3 to 4 years, so she and her siblings were constantly changing schools. Otherwise, her childhood was pretty normal. They did chores, hung out and watched tv.
I asked her what the culture was like growing up.
“There was the Vietnam War, the Beatles, the culture clash between the Conservatives and Liberals, the Hippie Generation, the Beat Generation. Music was a big part of young people’s lives. Other important events that happened…. I remember the day President Kennedy was shot. Everyone at that time remembers. It was a very big shift in America, everyone young to old was affected by it. A loss of innocence maybe. The war started and the protests started, it was the first time there were riots on college campuses. Cops were the pigs and there was the Liberation Army and the Black Panthers. Civil rights was strong. I watched most of it but was not really a part of it. The war ended 2 years before I graduated.”
I asked her about the expectations of women while she was growing up.
“In the late 60’s, women said they could have it all. Like burning bras. Birth control was making its way into the mainstream so there was more sexual freedom. It gave women something they’ve never had before. Women were expected to have careers and families. There was controversy about women’s salaries vs. men’s salaries and the ability for women to be powerful. There weren’t a lot of women CEOs. Men were paid more. Civil rights interacted with women’s rights. Women were still expected to look fabulous with great hair and great clothes and take care of the home. They still weren’t treated as equal. Before women went to college to meet husbands. Now they were going to college to actually learn and have careers. Families were more nuclear and there was less divorce. Fathers were the breadwinners and mothers would work too. Boys did boy chores and girls did girl chores. Things were changing but there were still some of the same expectations.”
Robin knew she was always going to work. She got a job as soon as she got a work permit. She wanted to get out on her own. She moved out when she was 17 when her parents to Washington so she could stay at her school. She has always worked hard in her career.
I asked her how she feels her generation is different than others (particular in the female aspect).
“They were different in that they were expected to enter workforce. They were expected to get careers, and college was a way to get a better career. A lot of girls married young and started families young. More women my age now are looking at retirement. Many often have second careers after retirement. They do more volunteer work than most prior generations. The women I know are more involved in the community.”
Now, Robin is an Educational Program Manager. She has worked 28 years for the state at 3 different colleges and 2 districts. She applied for the job and stayed with it because she liked it. There are steady promotions, it’s versatile, there are creative and detailed aspects and she loves the people she works with.
“One good thing that came out of 60’s and 70’s is that it shouldn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman in the workplace. There is greater equity now. If a woman wants to have a child she needs to have time off. Working 60 hours a week with a family is unreasonable and unhealthy. Workplaces have to continue to be aware of women’s needs.”
My sister, Dianna, is 23 years old (I am 2 years her elder). We have some things in common but have lived almost completely different lives. We grew up together and fought often as siblings do. We both had our own personal struggles throughout our childhood. Since I was always a straight A student and excelled in school while she had troubles in that area, I know that she sometimes felt like she wasn’t smart enough, or that she would not succeed in life. She didn’t have any clear goals on what she wanted to do, or what she wanted to be. Then she made the decision to train hard to join the Marine Corps, and is excelling extraordinarily and becoming a leader to her peers. Serving since she was 19, Dianna just recently made Platoon Sergeant. Currently she is in Afghanistan providing communications to different compounds on Camp Leatherneck. Her role is crucial for the unit to be able to transmit data.
I think Dianna is a great example of how far women have come in achieving leadership roles, specifically in the military. In 1918, women were allowed to enroll for clerical duty in the Marine Corps. By 1975, women were allowed in all occupational fields except for infantry, artillery, armor and pilot/air crew. Today, women are “integrated into nearly all Military Occupational Specialties with the exception of offensive combat.” Women have been making great strides in all fields of work and business, and now have almost reached complete equality when it comes to fighting for our country. Unlike my grandmother’s time when all the men went to war and the women stayed at home, women are now free to serve if they so choose. Not only that, but they can be chosen to lead both men and women. I think this is an extraordinary accomplishment for women, and I am very proud of Dianna for everything she has achieved. I wish I could ask her more, but I will have to save that conversation for the next time she comes home.
Since I am writing this article and investigating other generations, I feel that I have an obligation to provide some insight into my own. As a Millennial, I feel very fortunate for all of the opportunities that have been provided to me. Especially after learning about what little career opportunities women had to choose from just two generations ago, I am especially grateful that I can choose to be anything I want to be. I also feel lucky that I am not less capable of success just because I am a woman. Today, women are joining men in the workplace, in the military, in political offices, and in the philosophical and scientific realm. There is nothing to hold us back from doing what our hearts so crave and long for. All it takes is hard work, determination, faithfulness, loyalty, and morality.
This is why I call myself The Lioness, and I encourage any young women who feel as I do to similarly embrace the title. In the animal kingdom, it is always the male lion who is revered for his beautiful mane and regal strength. Likenesses fashioned after him, it is always the male lion you hear about or see in the pictures. But, it is the lionesses who do the hunting for their pride, and the lionesses who take care of the cubs. They are swifter and more agile than the males, and know how to coordinate with each other to bring down prey. Without them, a pride could never operate successfully, or produce more kin to maintain their legacy. Just like my grandma, my aunt, and my sister, all women have an important role to play. Whether you think it is big or small, it is necessary, and meaningful.
On that note, I say do not forget your power, Lioness. You are strong, in body and mind, and will only get stronger with time.
About the Author
Jennifer Ballard is a Marketing Specialist for Meritshare.