Because of the Civil Rights Act, and later, Title IX, I had more opportunities and freedom to take my place in the world. I could apply for a job that traditionally had gone to men. The Help Wanted ads could no longer specify Men or Women.
I could apply for a credit card in my own name. That meant I could build my own credit score, rent an apartment, buy a car or a house. I had personal economic freedom. I also had the responsibility to pay my bills.
Event the sexual harassment laws changed. My workplace became safer. (There were jerks then and there are still jerks now.) I had a policy by which I could report the various harassments. (My Big Mouth had backup.)
The Overton Window, the image with this post, might offer insights into society and culture. The arc of history tends to create more opportunities for people—and demands more personal responsibilities. While most of us think certain ideas are Sensible, and even Popular, until we create Policies, things don’t change.
But let me first address the implications of these changed policies. First, they offer us many opportunities.
In 1977, I had a good job because companies were actively recruiting women. Because of the policies, I had credit cards, an apartment, and a car. I had the freedom, opportunities, and responsibilities of independent adulthood.
I’ve written about my first day at work in 1977. (See Why Aren’t We Better at XP (or Almost Anything)? “Stop Making It Harder” for the details.) Culture doesn’t change even if the law (policy) does.
But let me take an easier discussion: buying a new car. In 1980, my dad suggested I go to the local Oldsmobile dealer. He bought Oldsmobiles because they were reliable. I wasn’t so sure, but I gave my dad and the car the benefit of the doubt.
At the dealership, I saw a possible car and sat in the driver’s seat to look in more detail. A salesperson approached me and said, “Hey little lady, are you looking for a new car?”
“Yes, I am.” I didn’t pay him much attention because I wasn’t ready to talk.
“Who’s with you?”
“I’m here alone.”
“Where’s your husband?”
That’s when I got out of the car and stood to really look at him. He was probably in his low 30s, less than 10 years older than I was.
He was talking to my breasts.
I looked him up and down and focused on his eyes. I asked, “Do you sell them here?”
“Do you sell husbands here? Because I’m here for a car. Not a husband.”
That was 1980. The policies had changed, but the culture hadn’t.
No one has offered to sell me a husband in a very long time.
And the most recent time Mark and I bought me a car, the salesperson spoke to me, not to Mark. As a society, we’ve changed.
I’ve alluded to responsibilities we have now that we did not back then.
When we worked for one company our entire adult lives, that company offered us a pension for retirement. We are now responsible for our retirement.
Society in general offers all of us more opportunities now, to live and work the way we prefer, assuming we do not have an abundance, not scarcity approach.
Opportunities and Responsibilities Are a Pair
The arc of humanity tends to more freedom and opportunities over time. Sure, we have to work for those opportunities—no one ever gets something for nothing. (There’s no such thing as a free lunch—thank you, Robert Heinlein.)
As we offer people more opportunities, how do we need to articulate their responsibilities?
And if we want more opportunities, we need to change policies, at work and in society. Policies that are sensible and popular aren’t enough—we need to change policies. Once we have the policies, the culture will change. Often, slowly, but it will.
I have more and more opportunities now. And the responsibilities that go with them. How about you?
That’s the question this week: What opportunities do you have now that you did not back then?