I think my mother’s role in my life greatly contributed to my slow learning as far as fairness to women was concerned. And it should have been the exact opposite. My mother should have been angry that her salary in downtown Chicago did not compensate her to care for three children like it would have if she had a penis. But my mother didn’t really want to be in the business world. Her so-called success there (she held a job in the same insurance agency until she was 80) didn’t really register with her. She had always wanted to be married and raise six children. She got three and a dead husband. She had no degree. She will tell you to this day, even though she had two single sisters who worked hard for the money they made in the publishing business, that men should make more money than women because they are supporting families. She condemned feminist thinking and would get up and walk out of the room when the conversation turned to such talk.
I don’t know why. She could have gone to school, worked her way up in the business world, but she didn’t really want to be there, so she just held on. I think a lot of women do. To digress, I became a nurse in 1993. I was 46. I immediately experienced the back-biting and jealousies that often pervaded a hospital unit. I didn’t like it. Women need to work together to further themselves. When after only three years as a floor nurse I got a job being a nurse outside the hospital, a former staff member said, “But you took a cut in pay to do this.” When I told her that no, I actually would be making more money, she glared at me. How dare I advance myself. She had no guts for it, so why should I?
I still believe firmly that nurses need labor unions. Nurses work 8 or 12 hour shifts. On many days they do not get a lunch break or bathroom break. I worked in labor and delivery. Oh yes, I was birthing babies, how lovely. But to get to that point there’s a whole lot of work. And nurses don’t just stand at the bedside holding the hand of one laboring mother in a nice blue and pink room.
I worked at Mercy Hospital on the south end of the loop in Chicago. It was the early 90s. We had a long hallway with labor rooms off one side and a delivery room and a surgical room off the other. On every shift we had five nurses to the eight labor rooms that were almost always full. At any given time the patients in those rooms could be in their first or second trimesters, contracting or bleeding or vomiting—terrified and scared. Or they could be patients at various stages of labor. But when you have one who is pushing, another whose fetal heart tones are dropping and needs a cesarean section which requires TWO nurses—one to scrub and one to circulate—and another who is screaming in pain and making everyone else jumpy–things start getting wild and crazy. Get a break? Go to the bathroom? Forget it. You move. And you keep moving. You put in an IV or take blood samples; you check the fetal monitor; you take away a bloody pad and give the woman a new fresh one; you page the doctor for her epidural; you give her ice chips; you chart; you deal with her mother who wants to be in the delivery and her significant other is saying no. You keep moving. Her light goes on and when you turn to go to her your nurse manager says you have another patient coming in; the ER doctor says she’s dilated to 9 and pushing. She’s had no prenatal care. Good luck. You keep moving.
But when the hospital boards cut back the extra money the charge nurse is supposed to get, or when they insist they won’t pay for overtime and you better swipe out before you are into overtime—the tendency is to go along. Nurse leaders cave to the demands and they don’t fight for salary increases and better benefits.
Being a former teacher and a member of the NEA, I have always seen the value of unions, the muscle of numbers. I picketed for higher salaries and benefits when I was a young teacher. And I worked hard at my job and never felt guilty that I was asking for more.
Hillary saw much earlier than I did that women were not on equal ground and needed to fight for their place. Out in the work place, it didn’t take me long to understand that. And each year I see it more clearly. Yes, I raised two daughters who are now independent and motivated. They have masters degrees and can support themselves. I am extremely proud of how they think, what they value. And I have a son who is kind, smart, motivated and jokes that he is in touch with his feminine side. I did good with him!
I am proud of my mother too. Of what she accomplished as a single woman and mother. She was of a different age and her loss of a husband, ironically, did not galvanize her into a feminist position, but made her long all her life for that FAMILY and husband that she had for a short nine years.
Hillary only had one child and was able to continue her role as an attorney and then First Lady to the governor and then to the president. Now she is Secretary of State. She makes me proud of my womanhood, proud of my roots. I cheer her on and admire her strength. And if I were to be fortunate enough to meet her again, I would probably repeat the question: how do you get up every morning and do what you do–with the criticism swirling around you. She’s a tough woman. Go Hillary!