This appeared in the Pasadena Star News on July 2, 2017
When I read Elizabeth Warren’s new book, “This Fight is Our Fight,” I was struck by the similarities between us. There is one major difference: I am retired and she is a United States senator.
Elizabeth and I were born in 1949. We grew up in a time when expectations for girls were limited. A girl could be a nurse or a teacher, but boys could be anything they wanted. In my family of five children, my parents gave their sons money for college, but not their daughters.
Elizabeth Warren wanted to be a teacher from the time her second-grade teacher put her in charge of the Yellow Birds reading group, so she could help them learn to read better. That early experience inspired young Elizabeth go to college so she could be a teacher.
I was inspired when I realized that my high school boyfriend’s sister was headed to college, just like her brothers. I just had to figure out a way to pay for it.
After high school, despite resistance from her mother, Elizabeth went to George Washington University on a scholarship.
I got a job at the Ohio Bell Telephone Company as an operator for $75 a week Every payday, I put $70 in a savings account. By the following fall I had saved enough money to pay for two years of college at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
I got the highest grade in my geology class the first quarter at OU. I would wake up in the morning in the top bunk of my triple-decker bunk bed and get butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of going to class. I loved college that much.
Both Elizabeth and I got very close to the brass ring but stopped short. Elizabeth accepted a marriage proposal halfway through college and dropped out. I did the same. Marriage took priority over both our educational ambitions in those days, as it did for most women.
Elizabeth earned her bachelor’s degree after she got married and then commuted to law school. She would drive to campus, drop her daughter off at the babysitter, go to her law school class, pick up her daughter after lunch and then shake her little girl’s leg on the way home to keep her awake. Elizabeth needed her child to nap at home in her crib so she could study.
After I married, I juggled kids and college too. I commuted to school with my younger sister, who was single and worked at an office job. She picked me up after work and I drove the 30 miles to school while she ate the dinner I had prepared for her in lieu of gas money.
Over the next 20 years, I attended classes when I could while raising my two children. After attending five colleges in three states, I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. With a lot of insecurity, and a high tolerance for rejection, I became a writer.
A young women reading this today may not believe that people like Elizabeth and me were told, by our own mothers no less, that we shouldn’t step outside society’s boundaries. Our generation faced a culture that pounded home the message that that is where we belonged — at home. We knew better, and we went for it.
Since the 2016 election, most women are worried about the aggressive attacks on our rights, particularly our reproductive rights, led primarily by old men. I recently asked a friend, who is in her early 80s, why she had three kids in rapid succession. She looked at me, incredulous: “Kathleen, there was no birth control!”
I can’t imagine a time when women had no control over how many children they had. Women today can’t imagine being discouraged from going to college. Women of the next generation will scratch their heads and wonder why there was such aggressive resistance to electing a woman president of the United States.
The world is very different now than it was in 1949. We who stand up today are not novice feminists. We are accomplished women with a track record, a clear vision of the future and a long memory of the past. We are a strong-willed, determined bunch and will not go back, no matter how hard some political forces push. We worked too hard, for too long, to go back.
Elizabeth and I both have grown daughters. I am certain she told her daughter what I told mine when she was growing up: Spread your wings and fly.
Kathleen Vallee Stein