I couldn’t think of a title for this blog without getting into a political battle on the topic. Because of the politics of the moment, my mind was flashing with images of Gloria Steinem, remembering the time I saw her when I was in college.

When I was born in 1945, the war had ended and my parents were settling in for their new life. They met towards the end of the war and my father was a war hero of 33 and my mother was a working woman of 24. My father was the oldest of his family and they owned their own company. My mother and her brothers were raised by her widowed mother during the depression and she left home to work as soon as she got out of high school with a little business school background. I was the oldest child, the daughter who was never going to have to do anything other than grow up to be smart and married, a good wife and mother.

Thinking back, I watched my maternal grandmother run her home and another house as a boarding house, never having much money, but happier than most people I have ever known. I didn’t realize how poor she was growing up on the farm in southern Oklahoma until recently, actually. As a child, I didn’t understand what I now know about her life and how hard it must have been. She was grateful for what she had. My paternal grandmother also grew up poor, on a farm in Kentucky. She married well and also was grateful for what she had, never doing anything that I would consider extravagant even though she could afford whatever she wanted..

The point is that I never had to do without a thing growing up, but I inherited the legacy and the DNA of these women who did. I’m not sure either of my grandmothers finished high school, my mother went a little further, and I graduated with a degree and then some. We’re progressing. I was a smart, but quiet, little girl, anxious to please everyone, not making much of a fuss. I absorbed a lot more than I thought, collecting images of maids, teachers, secretaries, waitresses, store clerks, nurses and a few other working women in my limited world. When I went to college, there weren’t really that many expectations. I knew so many extremely intelligent girls in high school and we all went off to some of the best universities with hopes of…what? Our parents made sure we had these opportunities, but what were we supposed to do with them?

The women of my generation grew up with the women’s movement of the 60s and beyond. As I said, Gloria Steinem came to speak at Oklahoma State University while I was there in the late 1960s. That’s hard to believe really since Oklahoma was extremely conservative and OSU wasn’t exactly the place where extreme feminists were getting their biggest stronghold. But changes were happening. Slowly. I loved Gloria Steinem then and I still do. She was articulate, thought provoking, and inspiring. I don’t know what I was inspired to do exactly, but her words and being in the theatre with others plugged thoughts into my brain that stuck.

We, the college girls of the 60s, were getting more vocal. I remember signing petitions to change the backwards treatment of women at a time when unmarried women under 23 had to live on campus. That’s 23 years old. Curfews were strict in those days and most of our professors were male. I married a few weeks after I turned 21 and my first job after graduating was to work for the summer as a grocery store clerk. I already had a job for fall teaching as a graduate student, but this was a new experience. I worked with wonderful women under the thumb of a tyrannical manager who treated us all equally badly. Everyone should work with the public in such a position some time in their lives. It was a mind changer for me. Up until then, my jobs had been working at my father’s office or tutoring or working as a student dorm counselor. The final straw at the grocery store was when I announced I would be leaving to teach at the university and the manager started treating me differently. I was livid because I hadn’t changed, but his opinion of me had, and my eyes were opened to the real world women were dealing with daily.

My working days ended for awhile as I started having children and was lucky enough to stay home to raise them. My friends found that we were well educated, great wives, becoming wonderful parents, but we needed to stretch our brains. The expected thing in our world was to become volunteers and give back. Again, this was eye-opening, brain changing, world shaking for us as we began spending our non-wife, non-parent times with like minded women who were out to change the world. I can’t say enough about volunteers and what they bring to the world, our lives. I was privileged to have the opportunities I had.

No matter what we were doing, we were making changes. At first, we couldn’t have our own credit cards, our homes were purchased in the husband’s name (unless you were smart enough to make it a joint ownership, which most of us did). There were so many little things changing all around us, little steps of progress fueled by these educated women who weren’t going to be ignored.

For the rest of my days, I have volunteered on so many projects I won’t bore you. The range of experiences has brought me in touch with children, seniors, victims of domestic violence, women who have been uneducated and thrown into the workforce due to divorce, widowhood or other circumstance, students who are trying to find their way, advocates for change in every aspect of life, politicians, teachers, community leaders, businessmen, everyday people from everywhere, rural and city. My view of the world is so much more global than all those years ago when I was a student and then young wife and mother.

I’m 70 now and have traveled, been a volunteer, worked for others, been a manager, and a business owner. When I was a young woman, I served on a board of directors for an organization where I was the youngest person, one of the only women, and the first pregnant woman to serve, causing much concern from the older, very traditional, very white businessmen who ran the board as a good old boys network. I respected them, but I made sure they listened to me, too. I have since served as president of boards where I worked with men from all walks of life. I have worked for companies where women were rising, but still fighting for titles and pay. I’ve worked for women executives who were excellent and some who were awful. I tried to work for my family company, only to be told by my father that no matter how proud of me he was, or how smart he thought I was, I couldn’t work there. Because I was his daughter. He liked to run the company like it was 1945 and having your daughter work meant you weren’t doing something right. In his behalf, he did help me start my own business. He was confused by the changes around him, to say the least.

Those are my stories in brief. My mother shared her stories of not being hired as a teenager because she was too pretty and might distract the boss’s son or the traditional being chased around the desk by a chauvinistic boss. I have friends who had all the classic experiences you know from the “old days.” We’ve seen it all. And, now there are more choices, more opportunities for women, for everyone!

There are successes galore. Those women I grew up with, went to school and raised kids with, have ended up as presidents of volunteer boards, owners and CEOs of companies, doctors, judges, lawyers, politicians, philanthropists, athletes, advocates, authors, artists, and some still knew their calling was as a wife and mother. Some did it all, alone or with a partner/husband. All are inspirations to generations coming along behind us. I look back at those days when I was in college and I marvel at how far we’ve come, especially those of us who chose to do it in a more quiet manner, working our way up through the traditional lifestyle we were born into. We worked within the system and moved the system. But…we haven’t moved it all the way.

My three daughters and my daughter-in-law have lived with opportunities open to them in sports, education, business, science, politics, and everywhere in life that came from the growth of my generation. My granddaughters live in a world with opportunities galore. We have more women politicians, military leaders, educators, community leaders than ever before. We’ve come a long way, Girl Friend! But the pay gap is still there, and some people still believe women have their place, a place somewhere below men’s place.

All you girls and women out there, don’t stop! I don’t know when we’ll all be equal, but if you think we are now, then open your eyes. Huge, enormous growth, but not there yet. Look around you. Really look. Read. Learn. Talk to those who have gone before you and learn what was good and what was bad about the “good old days.” Honor the past by working for the future. Our job, no matter what our generation has available to it, is to make life better for the next ones. I’m still working for my children and grandchildren.

Lest you think I’m a rabid feminist, you have to know how much I love men, and am grateful for all the opportunities that have opened up for them to be better husbands and fathers and better people in general because of the changes we’ve seen for women. I’ve been surrounded by the best of men and I don’t take that for granted, just as I don’t forget the wonderful women I’ve known. It takes a lot of women – and men – to make change happen. I’m not advocating for any one person, I’m advocating for all of us.

Don’t stop changing the world, please. There are so many challenges still out there for people everywhere and you need to keep applying all that you learn to make the world better all the time.

Step by step.

Person by person.

Vote by vote.