Friday, July 12, 2013

Breaking Barriers - A Woman in a Man's World

It’s a thousand times easier to criticize than to create. That’s why critics are never problem solvers:
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most do.
              -- Dale Carnegie

Many years ago when I was hired by my brother to take a part time job, selling step bumpers for pickup trucks, which our family manufactured in a plant in south Georgia, I was given a free Dale Carnegie course. Carnegie was the author of some of the best books on human relationships. How to Win Friends, and Influence People, is a book all young people should read before heading out into the world to make their mark. 

After all these years I find myself thinking about his advice. “Be a good listener and people will think you are the best conversationalist in the world.”
I used to practice that one all the time. Now I find myself talking too much and looking for that “best conversationalist.”

Being a pretty young woman in a man’s world in the seventies, when feminism appeared as frenzied frustrated, bra-burning groups of radicals on TV, only made my job more difficult. I used my Carnegie skills every day as I drove for miles and miles across the flat landscape of southwest Georgia calling on truck dealers in little towns like Alma, Cairo, and Vienna.

I found they worked on the nice Ford dealer in Colquit who invited me into his plush office and talked on and on about how he had made his fortune. Perhaps he thought he was giving me good advice for my future. I spent at least thirty minutes with him mainly because he was pleasant and seemed to like me, and I dreaded calling on some of the rednecks left on my schedule that day.

One of the worst calls on my route was a dealership in Moultrie, Georgia. The parts manager, a tall redheaded, homely guy was the contact I had to see. Being brought up a nice southern girl, I was not pushy, and I was not the type to flirt to get attention. I was brought up to be a lady, or what was considered proper for a young woman of good upbringing. And I wanted to appear as professional as possible.

One hot summer day, dressed in a navy blue pencil skirt and top, high heels, with sweat running down my pantyhose-clad thighs, I walked in with my shoulders back, ready to face the arrogance of Red. The place was empty except for the parts manager and two other men standing and talking at the far end of the counter. 

I placed my portfolio of brochures and pictures on the opposite end of the greasy counter and politely waited. Red looked up a couple of times so I knew he saw me. I also knew he was deliberately ignoring me, trying to make me feel too small for him to even acknowledge. I wanted to turn and walk, with my pride intact, right out the front door, but that would let him win, and I was not going to be bested by this man, not let him squelch my hard-earned self esteem. 

This dealership was a pretty good customer, but they usually ordered on the phone. I was there that day to present a new buying plan and to leave new brochures. Just as I had decided it wasn’t worth it, and I was about to leave, Red moved toward me. I smiled thinking he had finally stopped playing his game, but he didn’t even glance at me. He walked right past me to the door, stuck his head out and spit his tobacco juice on the sidewalk.

I had followed him at first, but when he turned back, I purposely walked past him, my head held high, and out the door without a word. I never entered that shop again. I soon found a part time job that suited me much better, inside an office with AC.

Young women of today probably find it hard to imagine the discrimination against women in such businesses back then. Now almost all the dealerships in my area have a woman parts manager or service manager. Wow! When did that happen? And where is Red today? I feel sure a smart and savvy woman has his job down in Moultrie, Georgia. 


Brenda Kay Ledford said...


Thanks for sharing this story. It's a wonderful account of how we as women have come a long way since way back then. Our younger sisters don't know about the hardships we females have undergone on the public jobs to get "equal rights" in the work place. There still is much that needs to be done, but it's better than it was when we were working in the pubic sector. Glad you shared this essay.

Glenda Beall said...

Thanks for reading, Brenda Kay, and for leaving your comment. Yes, we have come a long way, and I fear that young women of today are not realizing how women are being set back by many of the things happening out there.
We need our young women of today to stop being used as sex objects and treated like second class citizens. They must stand up for themselves and other women, or we will slip back to where women had no voice, no rights other than what a husband might give them. It saddens me to see how young women seem to let themselves be used just to gain fifteen minutes of fame.