May 26, 2010

Bonus Post: Extra Terkel

I was trying to find someone happy with their job in Terkel's book, and ran into the interview with writer/producer Barbara Herrick. A 30 year old single woman, she contradicts the offensive statement that the woman can be either pretty or smart. Barbara successfully made her way in the male dominated profession of advertisement. "You have to be absolutely on target, dramatic and fast" to get to be in that upper 1 percent of working women. The contradiction between her sex and financial and professional position is making her life somewhat difficult, as men just don't ever take her seriously and make her constantly, relentlessly prove what she is good for. "At the first three meetings of this one client, if I would ask a direction question" - she says - "they would answer and look at my boss or another man in the room". 
At the same time, Barbara admits that her good looks helped her get where she is. With a smile she imagines how her clients could refer her to their associates: "She's very good, but to look at her you'd never know it. She's a knockout!" Her good looks have often put her in ambiguous situation with men, and while she has learned her way to behave through the aggressive flirts, sometimes the feelings of this "iron lady" still get hurt (her coworker assumed they spend a night together while they were both away on the business trip. "That poor son of a bitch had no notion what he was doing to my ego".)
Only one fault i noticed in this interview, that Barbara never really "feels delighted to present her work and get praise for it - and the credit, and the laughter, and everything" which made me think that she is not really proud of her products, of her babies. This feeling got further supported by her confession: "I am expected to write whatever assignment I am given. It is whorish". How strange that the woman who got to the top of her carear, in a creative field, doing what she likes to do and what she does well feels hardly better than that streetwalker whore, who says that she does what most American women do - sell her favors!
Terkel kinda screwed it for me with his postscript: "Shortly afterwords she was battling an ulcer". Does this stressful job and constant competition really ruin us, and the American dream only works till one is very young? Or is it just Barbara's own passionate self, "compulsive about doing every tiny job very well since high school?

1 comment:

  1. This is really fascinating, Irka - I think those of us who weren't around then (which includes me ;)) have a hard time really understanding just how sexist so many workplaces were before the women's movement of the 60s and 70s. The TV show Mad Men is very interesting in how it portrays this, also in the world of advertising.

    But your post brings up another very interesting question: what does it mean for women to fight for equality in the workplace when so many workplaces are dehumanizing for men and women in many ways, in this case, by being based on selling people things they don't need.