Think the 21st century is bad?


As someone who grew up in the 1950s, when women had to be compliant, non-critical and accepting of male domination, I thought I would share with you one two experiences that illustrate not only the sort of treatment we received, but the submissive way in which many of us dealt with it. Here goes:

I am a student at University. One of the lecturers, a distinguished and gifted writer and teacher, also had a drink problem. He preferred to conduct his seminars in a bar that tolerated his exuberant behaviour. This bar, however, had a firm ‘No women’ rule. The lecturer simply decreed that he would not accept women in his seminars. Not one woman felt she could complain about the attitude of the lecturer or the bar!

I am a newly married woman, and also a professional university graduate. I want to open a bank account. I have to fill in a form. In the slot marked ‘Profession’ I write ‘Secondary school teacher’. The bank clerk says, ‘What is your husband’s name?’ I meekly tell him, and he crosses out my profession and enters ‘Wife of’…and my husband’s name.

The third is the most scarring of all. Even fifty years on I shrivel with misery when I think of it. I grew up in a poor family and didn’t have many pretty clothes. One day, my aunt asked me to call. She worked in a dress shop where she got discounts and she presented me with a pretty flowered skirt – full and flouncy with a nipped-in waist in the fashion of the day, and a pretty frilly-necked top. I felt wonderful and she was thrilled too, to see me look so nice. She put my old clothes in a bag and I walked home in my new clothes feeling a million dollars.

On the way, an acquaintance of the family passed on his bicycle, nodded, and went on his way. I thought no more of it, until I met him a few days later, and he planted himself threateningly in front of me. ‘I want a word with you, young lady,’ he said. ‘I saw you the other day – you had no business to be walking down the street looking like that. You’d better be careful, my girl, you’re going to get yourself in trouble.’ Then he walked away. I was shaken and bewildered, felt sick with guilt – but what should I feel guilty about? I was prettily dressed – in an outfit chosen by my devoutly Catholic aunt, for God’s sake. I just didn’t understand, at that young age, what I’d done wrong. I realise now what his problem was: he’d known me from childhood, and I suddenly appeared before him as a pretty young woman, with breasts and hips.

He probably didn’t expect the reaction I produced in him – lusting after a fifteen year old girl. He felt guilty about it and then decided to transfer the guilt to me. He didn’t use the ugly term ‘jailbait’ but I know now that’s what he meant. It affected me for years, making me afraid of my body, afraid to trust my sexuality, suspicious of men, fearful of the reactions I might unintentionally provoke for which I would have to bear the guilt. My fault, I’m female.


Anna, UK


19 Responses to “Think the 21st century is bad?”

  1. sz Says:

    Thanks for sharing these.

  2. Grafton Says:


    As an undergrad in the early 90’s I had a professor who was notorious for giving lower grades to women, and being rude to them. Everyone knew it. You could compare your paper with a woman’s paper and see how unfairly graded they’d be.

    One of the most prestigious things you could achieve at that school was to be selected to join his ‘salon’ of half a dozen of the most ‘gifted’ students. Always all male. This is still going on, though he has retired and women no longer have to get their GPAs scuttled by ending up with him in a required course.

    • Ames Says:

      I had a professor with similar grading attitudes around 2005-2006. On top of this, he remarked near the beginning of the year that girls are actually better at math, but they only do REALLY well when they’re wearing tight shirts.

  3. Anon Says:


  4. Brittany-Ann Says:

    Thank you for sharing these. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    This is what I think of when I think of the 1950’s. It disgusts me that people are nostalgic of this era.

    • Matt G. Says:

      Well, I find the aesthetics of the fifties charming–the cars, economy models, even, were about ten times as interesting to look at as those made today, for one example.

      But certainly the countless societal injustices are nothing to get nostalgic about, unless you’re in the KKK or something.

  5. Agnes Says:

    That last one is so sad – but, unfortunately, not that different from what happens today, when women (especially young women) are made to feel ashamed for wearing ‘revealing’ clothes. You’d have thought we’d have moved forwards in half a century!

  6. CM Says:

    Thank you for sharing. I wish I could give you a hug, if you so wanted it.

    It boggles my mind that all this happened within my parents life times. It goes to show how far we’ve come, yet still have a long way to go.

  7. Mary Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It shows that even though we’ve come far as a society, some things are ever the same.

  8. Willy Says:

    As recently as 3 years ago a female friend of mine attempting to open a bank account in Kent was required to provide her husband’s name to go on the account.

  9. SkyHawk Says:

    Just think, this is what the crazy teabaggers are really fighting for. Yikes.

  10. Gail Says:

    Thank you for sharing these event in your life. Life was hard back then.

  11. Minerva Says:

    I believe that it wasn’t until the 1980s that British banks stopped requiring a husband’s signature when a woman applied for a loan.

  12. Marie Says:

    I can empathise with the last part, even 50 years later, as I got more or less the same awakening when I was 15. There was this old man in a book shop who gave me CDs, gave me lots of attetion ad was all round cuddly, which was fine until he tried to make out with me.

    Of course a kid at that age (especially vulnerable from a recently dead grandfather) couldn’t (and still finds it hard to) comprehend that kindness doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is looking out for your interest. The whole thing caused me massive amounts of shame, guilt, as well as probably escalating trust issues that were already there. It seems that depressingly little has changed in the five decades between these events.

  13. Merely Academic Says:

    Thank you for sharing these. It reminds us so vividly of what we don’t want to return to – and how easy it would be to slide back.

  14. Jessica Says:

    Thanks for sharing. So sorry you had to go through that. 😦

  15. Jen Says:

    I had a politics Professor (who is still teaching) who used to make constant comments about ‘women’, ‘feminism’ etc., etc. The one I remember was “I don’t know why you’re bothering coming to university anyway. You’ll only get married and have children.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t trying to be funny.

    • CH Says:

      While generally I’ve mostly had positive experiences with my professors I had one who still causes me to cringe when I think of his class.

      He first told me that the high divorce rate in the US was caused by women who had too many dreamy notions of marriage and when they found out their husband’s weren’t perfect wanted a divorce. Then they stole all their husband’s money and the children, leaving him broke and alone. Then he told the men to be careful who they pick to be married.

      He also told our class to debate the idea that “A spouse must always be willing to fulfill the other’s sexual needs.” You know, marital rape. Obviously this wasn’t an open and shut case to him.

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