Several years ago a saleswoman in Macy’s tried to wheedle me into renewing my expired store credit card by offering a deep discount on the sheets I was buying. I dug it out of my wallet where it was mouldering between an expired library card and a 20% coupon for senior dining at the Elephant Bar. I happily handed it over prepared to collect my promised 15% off.
She looked at it, puzzled “But this is not your name”, she said.
The card clearly said my husband’s name. “That’s my husband,” who to my knowledge had never been to Macy’s nor bought a set of sheets in his life.
I flashed back another few years in another Macy’s store when a person with a clipboard came up and asked me if I wanted to apply for a credit card. “Absolutely” I replied instantly. “What’s your husband’s name?” she asked. I wish I could tell you that I engaged her in a lengthy conversation about women’s rights and then dashed for the door, but I let her continue filling out my application. This was in an era when women still needed a male co-signer to get credit. In some places you needed a husband or father to even get a library card. Once a representative from a local utility company refused to discuss my bill unless I let them talk to my husband even though my name signed at the payment checks. But it was his name on the account.
I’m telling you this ahead of time because on August 26 we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. That was in 1920, and there’s no one around who can tell us what that must have felt like to be disenfranchised because of your sex. But there are plenty of people around who can tell you what it felt like to be denied credit in your own name in the recent past.
The great thing about Equality Day is that it works in two ways. We can mull over both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It is said that in the 1960’s a spokesman for NASA said that the talk of a woman in space made him sick to his stomach. Well that makes me want to lose my breakfast. There have been 50 women in space since then, including Karen Nyberg who is a mechanical engineer and NASA astronaut. and that has become so routine we don’t often look at their names.
No one expected the 1970’s women’s march for equality to be a big deal. The police had only given the marchers permission to use one lane of Fifth Avenue. But more and more people came and finally the entire street was taken over. People hung out of windows and there was a huge parade. For a long time the drive for suffrage was seen as a depressing slog of middle class clubwomen gathering petitions and throwing themselves in front of horse and carriages.
“We did not eat our little lunches in lobster palaces, but out in the street in front of lobster palaces. We stand for plain living and high thinking, that’s it.” a marcher told the New York Times in 1912. It sounds as if it was a lot of fun. After the march ended, a woman the Times identified as “Miss Annie S. Peck, the mountain climber,” stood on a chair, “waved a Joan of Arc flag, and told her audience that this was the banner that she had planted 21,000 feet above the sea on one of the highest peaks of the Andes.”
The mixture of socialites and factory workers marching for one cause sent a message. Finally in 1971 Richard M. Nixon signed the resolution designating August 26 each year as Women’s Equality Day. It’s hard to believe it had first been introduced in 1878.
We seem to have an abundance of marches of all kinds these days, and parades with flags waving and bands playing are always crowd pleasers calling our attention to the importance of celebration. Though it isn’t at Macy’s, I treasure my credit cards bearing my own name these days. We women are going to have a heck of a time in 1920
(with excerpts from Gail Collins, NYT)
12 thoughts on “WHEN CREDIT IS DUE”
Of course I agree with you, and of course I’m old enough to have experienced some of those little slights that, at the time, we hardly thought of. On the other hand, I sometimes feel as though many of our younger women are dragging us backward. We struggled as we did for the right to make our own decisions, to be independent — to no longer live as victims. Victimhood seems to be an “in” thing, these days. Too bad.
“Plain living and high thinking” — now there’s a combination that I can get with!
I’m trying to remember. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Women’s Equality Day. How can that be? Well, now I’ve heard about it — and a good thing it is.
I have never understood why the very people who should be training their sons to respect women’s equality persist in polishing the silver spoon? What it does is give a double message: it’s OK for daughters and other women to be equal, but wives still need to be the mom. Today’s young women still have a way to go in the marketplace. Women from other cultures coming to this country still favor their sons when it comes to education etc. It will take awhile.
Men have still a lot further to go. I mean, in Australia our Prime Minster has given himself the job as minister for women. He reckons he broke through the glass ceiling.!
That’s funny. Reminds me of the days when the BIA had a white guy at it’s head who said he knew all about Indian affairs because that is what he majored in.
What a great slice-of-life story about your credit card. Love it. The assumption that women’s word counts for little is such recent history, isn’t it? And in some places/areas of life it persists. I laughed at “made me want to lose my breakfast.” You inspire me xx
My husband, who uses his middle name, recently had me change all his cards to his first and legal name. I suppose that prevents any legal confusion should it arise.
When my granddaughter was born I thought it would be cute to apply for her first Nordstrom credit card. Since her name is the same as mine they figured I just made a mistake in the age. I was no longer 6 months old.
The world has certainly changed regarding women-perhaps not enough. I remember many years ago my mother telling me to memorize my husband’s social security number as I would need to know it- not mine-and she was right! Fast forward 45 years (and that husband for 30 of those years) and I still have that darn number memorized!
I laughed when I read this because for many years after my father in law’s death, my mother in law used his social security number. I can’t remember if that ever got her into trouble. I really think what women want most is to be valued for themselves in the marketplace. It is important not to lose our independence.
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Oh so true! I’m sure my ex would be appalled to know that I still have it memorized ha ha! Now if I could only remember where I put the car keys.
My daughter’s new address is the same as my great-auntie’s telephone number, with whom I often lived as a child.
We have, indeed, come a long way since I was disciplined my first year in college for wearing peddle pushers on campus, and my grades were sent to my dad rather than issued to me. thanks for the thoughtful reflections and the great credit card story.
Thanks Aunt Beulah. Women still have a long way to go. It will be nice when women can stop worrying about how they are perceived and just get on with it.
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