LAST WEEK's HEW briefing on the new Title IX guidelines that prohibit sex discrimination by institutions receiving federal money was an ideal situation for the Boston police to demonstrate just how progressive they are. "Why not assign one of our patrolwomen to the meeting," the officer in charge probably thought. "Hell, there will probably be mostly women at the briefing anyway."
So one of Boston's 23 patrolwomen (out of a total force of 2601) got the nod to cover the Faneuil Hall beat for the meeting, where organizations such as the National Organization for Women and Woman Power Newsletter spent almost two hours skeptically questioning HEW's Gwenn Gregory about the new guidelines. The Boston police officer was right, you could count the number of men in the 300 occupied seats on your hands--and half of them were the camera crews for local television stations. But just in case there was any trouble the officer had assigned a big burly male sargeant to stand outside of the hall. You know, for insurance. Or maybe they were afraid that their woman representative might start asking questions about how the regulations apply to the police department.
Boston isn't the only city that has decided to put women on display. Lancaster, N.H., isn't congested enough to need a traffic light where U.S. Routes 2 and 3 lead out of town. But at the lunch hour, traffic gets a little clogged there, so the local police force usually assigns an officer to direct traffic for a few hours. On Wednesday, there were two officers at the intersection. One officer was waving his hands, stopping cars and nodding to others to turn left. The other stood in the middle of the street about 20 feet up from the intersection. It was hard to figure out quite what she was supposed to be doing, but at least everyone who drives through Lancaster knows they have patrolwomen to supplement their metermaids.
Driving down Main Street, one was forced to wonder just how many times the second officer had to fend off errant hands from passing windows. "Hey cutie," screamed one particularly obnoxious truck driver stopped in the traffic. But the patrolwoman must have been used to this sort of treatment, because as the truck driver went past she neatly sidestepped his searching hand. The other patrolman laughed and, as the patrolwoman turned her back, he flashed an okay sign to the truckdriver.
Construction, like law enforcement and higher education, seems to be another business that has made particularly noticeable affirmative action strides in recent years. This week, with construction crews out in full force on New England's highways, the sex ratio of flagmen to flagwomen appeared nearly equal. Of course, women were conspicuously absent from construction crews. Now it doesn't seem like it matters much what sex the person is who waves a flag to direct cars around road construction. But it sure appears to make a big difference to some people. A group of men in a Pinto were run off a single lane detour road into soft sand this week when they steamed right past a long line of cars being held by a flagwoman at a construction site in New Hampshire. For some reason, they didn't believe the young woman as she tried to tell them that the traffic on the one-mile detour was coming the other way at the moment.
DESPITE regulations that make discrimination on the basis of sex illegal, men as a group still do not readily accept women in many places. Flagwomen, policewomen, and female professors at male-dominated institutions undoubtedly experience much frustration in trying to impress men with their authority. All of us still do a double take if we see a woman driving a bulldozer or performing some other traditionally male-performed task. Unfortunately, rules and regulations won't change that much.
Here at Harvard, men learn to be a little more subtle in their attitudes towards women. Catcalls and whistles are gauche, so administrators and teaching fellows invariably wait until their female assistants or students are out of range before making the "nice legs" remarks.
Most institutions are beginning to follow legal guidelines prohibiting discrimination, but the spirit intended by affirmative action legislation is still lacking. And HEW is at a loss as to just what can be done about overcoming sex discrimination which exists in people's minds rather than on paper. Officials even say that women who will have a hard time building a discrimination case based upon sworn remarks such as "but she can't do it, she's a woman," rather than documented evidence of discrimination.
Until such time as men can readily accept women in other than limited roles, women outside these bounds are going to feel as if they are on display. The first question will continue to be "How did she get here," or "What is she doing here?"