Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Baggio: Interview

I understand that the second wave of feminism began during the 1960s with a push for women’s liberation and freedom from domination, and that there were many women actively involved in the movement. But I also believe that although every woman wasn’t aggressively involved, they still had an unconscious effect on the results of the feminist movement. I think many women were not intentionally fighting for equality and freedom, but rather they were only trying to better their own circumstances. Women were trying to survive and make a living for themselves. However, while defeating the many obstacles that faced them, they made an impact on the lives of future women.

I believe my grandmother is one of those women, a woman who didn’t fight to change the world, but who fought for a better life for herself. She did not consider herself a feminist, trying to free herself from a man’s domination; rather she was only trying to survive. When she faced difficulties within the home, as well as in the workforce, she overcame them because that’s what she had to do. I chose to interview my grandmother because she is not only someone who is very important to me, but because she is a role model to aspire to, having led a very successful and intriguing life.

Leuveda Phillips Garner, Deeta as I call her, married my grandfather and started a family at the age of 17, not long after graduating from high school. She raised three wonderful children: my mother, my aunt, and my uncle. In 1982, after 22 years of marriage and at the age of 39, she divorced my grandfather. She said, “As my children grew into their teens and my marriage grew apart, I began to feel that there was much more to life than what I was experiencing. I felt that I had no identity other than the wife of Charlie Phillips and the mother of my three children.”

Having been married for the past 22 years, Deeta was now facing a world with different standards and new technologies as an independent woman, working to support herself. Not only did she enter the working force, but she also went back to school to finish her education and earn a degree as a paralegal. She had worked on and off as a secretary during her marriage, and now her experience was paying off. She was offered a job as the assistant (glorified secretary) to the founding partner of a CPA firm that had a Management Advisory Services department specializing in law firm automation. Deeta told me that “this was at the beginning of personal computers in the workplace and I had an extraordinary talent for making software sing and dance and an excellent talent for communicating those skills to others!”

Because the firm that Deeta was employed with worked with the top 200 law firms in the country, she was given grand opportunities. She had the chance to visit other firms to help them decide whether to move from their dedicated word processors to WordPerfect, the leader and very best word processing software in the PC-DOS environment. “C
ompetent communication of product knowledge, classroom management, and presentation skills enabled me to become one of the first instructors in the country to achieve WordPerfect Certified Instructor status (1988), and to maintain certification until November 1995, when the certification program was discontinued.”

As my grandmother told me during the interview, there weren’t too many career options for women in the 1960’s and 1970’s, during her marriage. But she took advantage of the opportunities available to her and eventually became not just the first female instructor of WordPerfect, but the first instructor period. She then seized control of her own career, starting a business of her own. Although she may not have known it at the time, she could be considered an inspiration to all women. During a time when women weren’t exactly welcomed into the working force with open arms, she charged full steam ahead and created a successful business of her own.

I started my own business in 1988 in Atlanta and provided training and support to companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, Inc.” Through her business, she had the ability to travel to major cities within the US. She provided training in word processing, document management and personal information management, time entry and tracking, electronic messaging and other network related products. She realized she had finally found her lot in life, teaching people about something that she herself was extremely knowledgeable about and that she loved. She told me, “apart from raising three wonderful children, I knew that this was my mission and purpose in life – what I was meant to do. I retired in 2002 after a wonderful and extremely fulfilling career.”

Considering women were not given many chances to even enter into the workplace during the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, it is impressive when a woman took the initiative to create a business of her own. It is even more incredible that she could make it a successful and fulfilling career. Based on what we have learned in class, before the 1960’s, women “worked” at home: raising families, maintaining households and providing stable environments for their children. If women were allowed to work, they became secretaries or clerks, versus men, who became lawyers and managers.

It wasn’t until the mid-sixties that women began to fight for the right to enter the workforce as man’s equal. Though my grandmother worked sporadically as a secretary during that time period, she never ran across a male secretary or clerk. Therefore, she could never make an accurate claim that men made more money than women. Although from her experiences, she felt that women seemed to work twice as hard as men for about half as much money.

Deeta had never worked beside men and blacks as equals until she became an applications trainer. In this position, each individual struck their own deal or salary requirements with the systems integrators or training companies. My grandmother had never been exposed to a woman in management until the 1980’s, when she met one of the women who inspired her to apply to college. She then knew and understood that the only way to make more money and move up in the workplace was to acquire a degree. Therefore, she worked during the day, and went to school at night.

Though my grandmother worked off and on during her marriage, she felt that her husband, Charlie, did not like for her to work. “I think it was because he felt that he wasn’t able to fulfill his duty and provide well enough for his family. And, of course, many people still thought that a woman’s place was in the home.” I thought it was wonderful when she told me, “to be perfectly honest, I think a mother should stay home to nurture her children when they are young, or at least pre-school. It’s just a small interruption to her career in the whole scheme of things.” It’s amazing because not only was she able to raise a spectacular family, but she also made a great, yet small impact on the feminist movement. She made a career for herself despite the hardships and discriminations within the workforce.

I think women such as my grandmother are the building block of feminism, and that her method is a good way for feminism to progress. Women have to prove to men that they can be just as strong, just as powerful, and work just as hard as them. And my grandmother proved this. Not only by rallying and having conferences, which is an important part, but by doing what we want to do. Women can have successful and fulfilling careers, the same as men. Women can raise wonderful families and work at the same time. One day, women will reach equality with men, but it will take hard work and determination.

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