Until today, election day 2016, I resisted writing about the presidential battle.
Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and the two also ran candidates for president were not something I wanted to think about – let alone concentrate on.
But I had to realize as I voted today that what was bothering me was that I thought the world had moved away from sexism and racism. The words in the mouths of what they now call “surrogates” and one candidate in particular made me realize that some people still do not realize that all people are equal.
My first job as a journalist began 50 years ago at a daily newspaper. I was still in college, very naive, quite unaware of what a reporter should do.
Back then I accepted the fact that I was treated as incompetent – because I was. But I learned from the editors and older reporters on staff. I learned and I made sure I said yes to every story offered to me – whether it was working late on a Friday night or interviewing victims of tragedy. I was shy and didn’t want to talk to parents who had just lost a child. I agonized over how to begin as I’d ring a doorbell or make a phone call. After a few calls, I learned the victims of tragedy usually want to talk about it with someone who would just listen.
I learned not to wear a skirt to work because you could never tell where you might be sent. I covered the story when Stanley Bond blew himself up at Walpole State prison wearing a short skirt. Hundreds of men were able to see my underwear that afternoon when I walked up a narrow staircase to the bomb site. I was safe since the press contingent was being escorted by guards but I learned my lesson.
The first time my editor left me alone on a Friday night to cover the city of Quincy I called him at home to let him know there was a five-alarm blaze. He told me to get right over there and call him back when I returned to the office.
I ws a little excited. I went to the fire and watched the water stream over a multi-unit building. When I called my boss back, I said, “It’s all right, it’s out now,” and I hung up.
He called me right back and helped me go over the details I needed to make the story work.
Yes I was an inexperienced reporter who never had a class in journalism. I got my chance because the men didn’t want to work Friday night. And I learned from patient and generous people who already knew how to get to the bottom of a news story.
After I had become good at my job, I was one of a generation of women who insisted they should be able to rise to the top of their field without giving up the right to motherhood.
I remember when that newspaper allowed a woman to move up to the role of city editor. It was a hard fight because 50 years ago the people at the top thought women should write features, social news and obituaries. The men in our company union backed those of us who were not men in this lengthy management argument.
It was sometimes contentious back then. After I wrote a memo to the head of the classified department explaining why group the jobs available section into Men and Women was not helpful and that grouping the jobs by categories such as Professional, Sales, etc. would better serve our readers, I was invited to talk with the editor-in-chief who questioned my radical leanings.
I loved my job. Writing makes me feel whole.
It did make me nervous to argue against a system that didn’t seem to realize political reporting was not a something only understood by men.
About five years ago, I ran into a remnant of the past. I was at a party and introduced to a bank president who had just open a Milton branch. His bank advertised in my newspaper but I dealt with a much lower level employee there.
“So do you know Pat Desmond,” the bank president said after we were introduced.
“I am Pat Desmond,” I replied, thinking he hadn’t heard my name correctly.
“No I mean the man, are you related to him,” he asked again.
The guy was spending quite a bit of money with me. I was careful not to embarrass him but I was embarrassed by the conversation. We never became close. I hear he eventually rode a motorcycle cross-country after his bank merged with another.
It’s painful to think people still treat women differently, have different expectations for them. But is a great sadness that so many people in this country fail to understand everyone needs a chance to succeed.