Battlepanda: Kickass Alumna of Princeton


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Kickass Alumna of Princeton

Jessica Wilson at the Leiter Reports shares some great anecdotes from her mother that are both interesting from the perspective of how far gender equality has come in just a few decades, and just plain fun to read.

Apropos of Alito's '72 membership in the anti-coed Concerned Alumni of Princeton... mom went to Princeton on a Woodrow Wilson graduate fellowship in '76 to study economics, just seven years after Princeton admitted women into its undergraduate program. Evidently Princeton had long been admitting women into its graduate programs (I've been unable to find out just when this occurred), but in any case in her day the continuing supposition in "Princetonian" contexts was that Princetonians were male.

So, for example, her grad studies done, my mother (living in NYC) would take friends or interviewees to the Princeton Club for dinner or a drink. It was (probably still is) a lush place, which at the time was staffed by a froggery of ancient waiters, who at the end of the meal would shuffle up and ask with decades-old presumption: "Which of you gentlemen have the card?". At which point my mother, with great satisfaction, would say, "I have the card", and whip it out with great flourish (we're big on flourish in my family).

Speaking of cards, younger readers may not know that just a short while ago women couldn't even get credit. After my mother and father divorced in '77, my mother (paid as poorly as journalists are usually paid, and with custody of 3 children, etc.) was short on cash. She had been using an Amex card for years (and had a perfect credit history, had been working, etc.), but the card was primarily in my dad's name; so she called up Amex and requested her own card. Some time later she got a letter saying, "We're sorry, but we are unable to give you credit at this time". No explanation.

Conveniently enough, my mother was working for PBS as a writer for a show called Economically Speaking. So she called Amex back and said "Hi there. I'm a scriptwriter for PBS and we're interested in doing a story on women and credit; conveniently enough you have just refused me credit. We'd like to bring down a camera crew and interview you about your reasons for doing so". (To be sure, the story wasn't actually on the drawing board; but my mother could have made it the case that it was.) The person at the end of the line said: "Let me get right back to you". One minute later they called to say "Your Amex card is in express mail, you should have it by tomorrow". Sensing a successful strategy, mama-san did the same thing with MC and Visa. In each case, she applied for the card, and was flatly turned down (no reason given). In both cases, she called and suggested that they might like to talk about it on-camera, in reference to a story about women and credit; in both cases, she not only got the card, she got it by overnight mail.

The story continues. A couple of years pass. My mom has moved from PBS to US News and World Report, where every month they brought in a speaker for a roundtable discussion with the reporters and editors. One month they bring in the president of Diner's Club. My mom is the only woman at the table. The president looks at her and says: do you have a Diner's Club card? Mom says no. He says, you really should apply for one -- we need more women with cards. So she says OK, fills in an application, and of course gets rejected. At this point she has had an Amex, MC, and Visa, respectable jobs, and perfect credit, for years. She calls up the prez, tells him what happened, and expresses her opinion that this would make a great article for US News. He says: I'm putting you on hold ... Something has gone wrong". Back in a flash: "There was a horrible mishap. Your card is in overnight mail".

(Again, via Len)