Faye M. DeSanto
I never watched the hit TV Show “Mad Men.” My best friend, who rarely watches TV, recommended it to me when it was gaining its first good reviews. I said, “I lived through that time period. I can see no good coming from reminding men about that sexist era.” Little did I know how right I was.
My husband drooled over the short-lived series “Pan Am.” He worked as an air traffic controller and according to him, the stewardesses in their snug uniforms, offering coffee or tea in sweet, comforting tones, plumping pillows and seeing to every request of a passenger was a reminder of the good old days. Good old days for who? Certainly not for me and countless other women like me coming of age in the 1960s and ‘70s. Not for those perky women flying the friendly skies who were subject to monthly weigh-ins. If the pounds exceeded company policy, they were grounded until they lost the extra weight.
When my first marriage ended, I moved back to Brooklyn with my parents, bringing with me two “mouthstobefed,” and got a job at a small company in Greenwich Village. There was just one other employee and my boss knew my situation very well. Still, when it came time to give someone a raise, I was told the raise should go to the man. That is literally what he said. “The raise should go to the man.”
It did not matter that the man had no children and a wife who also worked. He was a man, after all. I started looking for a new job the next day. My second job was at the old and venerable brokerage house, Smith Barney Harris Upham. They did things the old-fashioned way. My office manager told me he hired me because he knew I was a smart “girl.” The human resources manager asked whether my name was Spanish. I told him it was Italian. He said, “For our purposes, it will be Spanish.” I replied impertinently, “Will that give you two brownie points? One for female and one for Hispanic?” It was the age of non-discrimination in hiring.
In an office of 50 brokers, I was the first female. When I moved to the banking industry, I was in the right place at the right time. The banks wanted to put brokerage services in their branches and my bank had signed on with a third-party firm to do just that. No one at the bank had a clue as to what was needed. Glass-Steagall was still the law of the land, so brokers had to be housed in a separate entity. I volunteered my experience and licenses and built a sales force of 60 brokers and 200 insurance agents and taught them about rates of return, tax-free interest and how to cross-sell. When the “Financial Services Division” became profitable after 18 months, I was the logical person to be promoted to senior vice president and head that division. Instead, an outsider, a man, a political crony of the chairman, was brought in to run it. He had no experience in either the brokerage or insurance industries, but I reported to him.
Once he stood behind me in the cafeteria and ran his hand from the back of my neck down my spine, apparently with no worry about propriety. He called me at home at all hours of the day and night, on weekends, holidays and vacations. He was furious that the loyalty of the agents was mine. He made my life miserable.
When I watched the Senate hearings this week about the sexual harassment epidemic in the United States military, I cheered those women senators who stared down the dozens of military men in their pristine dress uniforms covered with all manner of stars and flags and insignias. Mad men all, not a smile among them. The testimony was perfunctory: The chain of command should not be broken, the military could clean up its own house; no outside help wanted or needed. Someone, commenting on the testosterone levels of the new recruits, said, in effect, boys will be boys.
Then Sen. Claire McCaskill leaned forward and said, “Are you friggin’ kidding me?” I have waited a long time to hear those words. The thing is, neither my first boss, the human resources manager nor the military brass meant to be condescending or insulting. They actually did not know they sounded old, out of touch, exclusionary. They still don’t.
My children were raised listening to the songs of Marlo Thomas’s “Free to Be You and Me.” I thought we were. It seems we are not. Yet.
Faye M. DeSanto is a real estate associate broker with Rand Realty; president, Condo 3, Heritage Hills; and an AHIS board member.