Breaking Glass Ceilings
“Next time you are about to call a little girl “bossy,” say instead: ‘she has executive leadership skills.’”
One last visit with the Bunkers, I promise.
In a 1972 episode of All in the Family called “Gloria and the Riddle,” Gloria poses a riddle to the entire Bunker family.
A father and his son are out driving in a car. The car crashes, the father is killed, and the little boy is badly injured. The boy is rushed to the hospital and taken into the operating room.
The surgeon walks in and says, “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son.”
How is this possible?
The Bunkers spend the rest of the episode trying to solve the riddle. They come up with ridiculous answers – the man killed is the boy’s step-father, the “father” killed in the accident is a priest. Archie even suggests that the father killed is his own “double” (doppelganger), but none offer the correct answer.
Finally, near the end of the episode, Edith comes running down the stairs all excited and proudly proclaims. “The reason the surgeon cannot operate on the boy is that she is his mother.”
OK, the failure that everybody but Edith had in answering the riddle was a sign of the times 50 years ago. Correct?
We were conditioned to think of surgeons as being exclusively male.
Even though that was not entirely the case even in the 1970s. The title for the first female surgeon in the U.S. goes to Mary Edwards Walker, who became a surgeon in 1855. More were to follow.
What if that same riddle was posed to the general public today? What would be the response now, assuming we are more enlightened?
Funny you should ask. Boston University conducted a study in 2014 giving “Gloria’s” riddle to one group consisting of 197 psychology students. And the second group consisted of 103 children between the ages of seven and 17.
The results were totally unexpected, considering that a half-century has elapsed since a popular TV show made us aware of our propensity to stereotype certain occupations.
Only 14 percent of the psych students answered the riddle correctly, some of whom were self-identified feminists. The children did a bit better at 15 percent, demonstrating that social conditioning starts young and is stubbornly persistent throughout our lives.
As of 2019, only 22 percent of general surgeons are women, and even fewer are represented in surgical specialties.
In concluding this four-part series on women, it’s time we acknowledged those extraordinary women who call Pocahontas County home.
Women are competently working jobs here in Pocahontas County that are seldom seen in many parts of the country.
Take the Beaver Creek Sawmill, for example.
Jessalyn Gum and her grandmother, Donna Miller, are not just selling lumber out of an office.
Jessalyn starts with logs and saws them into boards for construction projects ranging from woodsheds to finely crafted houses. Her parents were loggers and her grandmother, Donna, was a farrier at one time.
Jessalyn comes by this once male-dominated trade through the experiences of the women in her family. Her interest in running a sawmill started when she was 14 years old. Her career was furthered by taking forestry classes in high school.
(The Beaver Creek Sawmill and the women who run it will soon be the subject of a feature-length article.)
This series of stories about women is not an exercise in male-bashing – far from it.
Lisa Walton at the Denmar Correctional Center explains that women employees there have had a different experience than many women I have heard from in researching this article.
Describing the positions filled by qualified women at Denmar, Lisa said, “We have an Associate Superintendent of Operations, Sylvia Haney, who has been in Corrections since 1987. We have a Unit Manager, Minnie Dean, who was an officer, Case Manager, and then worked her way up to Unit Manager.”
Lisa points out that these women have experienced little to no resistance from their superiors, coworkers and inmates.
“Not only have they had to work their way up with predominately male counterparts,” she said, “but they have also earned the respect of the adult male offenders that they work with every day.”
Lisa Walton is currently the Associate Superintendent of Denmar Correctional Center. Thank you, Lisa!
Jaynell Graham’s experience working a so-called “man’s job” was also readily accepted by her coworkers. In the 1980s, Jaynell was a log scaler/grader. For those unfamiliar with the logging industry, this is a person who determines the quality and board footage of each log. At the time, she was the only female log scaler in West Virginia. She was also the safety director for the company where she implemented a program that, in its first year, reduced days lost to accidents from 383 down to eight.
Interestingly, Jaynell’s grandmother was a lumber grader in the early 1900s for the American and Column Lumber Company when its mill was in Buckeye.
The requirements of a good snowplow operator include knowing your roads, stamina for working long hours – both day and night.
This job can be dangerous, particularly with our unpredictable mountain weather. An excellent driver needs to be calm in high-stress situations.
Mill Point resident Trixie Lewis was recognized state-wide as an excellent snowplow operator. Some say she was the very best.
However, equal pay for equal work continues to adversely affect women.
Beth Little shares her experience with Ma Bell (AT&T) in the 1960s.
“The argument that a woman is taking a job away from a man who has a family to take care of, is a similar argument to justify paying women less for the same job,” she said.
“I worked as a plant staff assistant – a desk job with no requirements for physical strength or ability. I learned that I was being paid half what a man with the identical job and seniority was being paid.
“Years later, a class action lawsuit ruled that Ma Bell had to rectify the injustice, and award back pay to women employees.”
So, does gender pay inequity still affect working women?
According to a 2019 article in Money, the overall pay difference for women is 21.4 percent. That is up from earlier years but it means that, on average, women make only about 79 cents for every dollar earned by males. *
At the current rate of wage increases for women compared to men, women will not receive equal pay for equal work until 2070. Gender pay inequality stubbornly persists. This is just a fact of life for our daughters, sisters, mothers and nieces.
But it shouldn’t be because it cannot be justified by any rational argument.
Moving away from the pay issue, I would like to shine a light on several women whose efforts have made a huge difference. Understand that this article is allotted only so many words. I couldn’t possibly include all of the extraordinary women in Pocahontas County in a single column.
So, I’ll just have to write more articles about women.
The following are women I would place in the “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” category.
Ruth Taylor is the statuesque and fashionable woman who is often seen cleaning up cemeteries and repairing aging churches. She is a dynamo when it comes to developing and overseeing restoration projects and creating events throughout Pocahontas County.
Like so many others around here, Ruth is reluctant to talk about her achievements. I would have used a word considerably stronger than “reluctant,” but I lost my thesaurus. Her achievements had to be pried out of her – she preferred to talk about other women leaders.
“For my part, likely the most worthwhile projects would be my involvement in passing the Hotel/Motel tax in Pocahontas County and creating the CVB,” Ruth said.
“Additionally, I am responsible for the Eighth Grade Luncheon, educational field trips for the students. I concentrated my efforts on anything that involves keeping the county beautiful and enhancing Tourism as an industry.”
I’ll take my chances with the wrath of Ruth and state unequivocally, she’s done a hell of a lot more than that.
What about the restoration of Pleasant Green Church and cemetery or her work with the Pocahontas County Historic Landmark Commission? The list is endless, but this is a newspaper column with limited space.
Enter Mary Dawson, not statuesque. This petite woman is the force behind many of the things that will benefit our community and those who visit this beautiful area for many years to come.
Decades from now, the citizens of Pocahontas County will behold the breathtaking sight of the Milky Way Galaxy in the night sky because of the foresight of Mary Dawson and Louanne Fatora.
Their considerable efforts earned Pocahontas County the distinction of having a portion of our county designated as International Dark Sky Parks. These include Cal Price State Forest, Watoga, Droop and Beartown State Parks.
Several years back, Mary Dawson and Maureen Conley had a sterling idea; a foundation dedicated to the betterment of the largest park in the state – Watoga State Park.
Among the many improvements completed by the Watoga State Park Foundation include the aforementioned Dark Skies Project and the bench project. And heating the frigid but beloved swimming pool, once only frequented by the occasional polar bear.
Consider all of the young women that High Rocks Academy has – as their banner proclaims – “educated, empowered and inspired to exceed their own expectations.”
Without the collaboration of two women of extraordinary foresight and resolve, Susan Burt and Virginia Steele, this worthwhile endeavor may never have come to fruition.
Think about Dotty Kellison, the first female sheriff of our great county. Now, that is a male-dominated field if there ever was one.
Then there’s Jane Huppert, who decides to become a helicopter pilot. A task she completed but was made more difficult by an instructor who did his best to scare her off. He didn’t know Jane very well, because it didn’t work.
Likewise, consider the achievements of Liz Gay. After getting her nursing degree from Boston University, Liz wanted to work on a hospital ship or be stationed in Danang during the Vietnam War. She was, instead, stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where her patients were primarily soldiers who had been wounded in Vietnam.
Liz is now a cherished member of the Pocahontas County Honor Corps. Her service to this country was for a lifetime.
These are just a few of the many extraordinary women who live and work among us here in our mountain community. And, to the men: be proud, be very proud of the exceptional women of Pocahontas County.
“Women are better than men. And, they are always trying to bring us up to their standards.” ~ Ricky Gervais
Until next week,
* Haven Life/Money, Tom Anderson October 25, 2019