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A Guide to Hiring Women, Then and Now

By Wendy Kaminer

        Barack Obama’s appeal to younger democratic women is a source of great frustration to many of their mothers and grandmothers but a source of pride for me.  It reflects what feminists of my generation (and Hillary’s) have strived to accomplish – the rise of a new generation of women with the confidence to feel unconstrained by femininity.  Of course many recent college graduates will still encounter sexism in academia and the workforce, in unexpected slights and some discrimination, but their confidence is not delusional: Legal equality is a fact, not an aspiration; social equality is greatly increasing.
   
        When I was in high school, employment ads were still divided into columns for male and female jobs (a practice that persisted for at least a few years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.) Discrimination against women in higher education was not just legal but customary and perfectly respectable:  Not until Title IX was enacted in 1972 did it become illegal for undergraduate and graduate schools to maintain stingy quotas for female applicants (which is why women’s colleges attracted high achieving female students.)  
       
        But compared to the social and legal inequality that confronted our mothers, women of my generation were liberated.  Read the advice offered to male supervisors in this “guide to hiring women” published by Transportation Magazine during World War 11, when women were temporarily invited into the workforce.

        Tip # 6 is one of my favorites: “Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so that they’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes.  Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.” 

        Or, consider Tip # 3: “General experience indicates that ‘husky' girls – those who are just a little on the heavy side – are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.” 
 
        Hillary Clinton and other professional women with little down time might get a kick out of Tip #8: “Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day.  You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology.  A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.”
   
        For women of my generation, this 1943 hiring guide is a poignant reminder of what our mothers endured, or surmounted.  But happily, young women are laughing at these hiring tips, (circulating in emails and thousands of websites,) and that's a testament to feminism’s progress: 1943 may seem like ancient history when you’re 25 or 30, but 60 years is a relatively brief period in which to accomplish dramatic social change, which, win or lose, Hillary Clinton will always signify.


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