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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #19

Wedding vows, well into this century, still usually required the bride to state that she would “love, honor, and obey her husband, until death do them part.” But the world is changing. It feels as if we are currently living through another period like the Civil Rights Era. During my brief time teaching U.S. history, students were surprised to learn that women did not acquire the right to vote until 1920, after nearly a century of struggle.

When I was in grade school back in the forties, our teachers (who were women) made it clear that women should not work or pursue a career. Their responsibilities were to have children and maintain the home. During my teen years, our family physician was routinely referred to as “the woman doctor.” She was the only female doctor of any kind in my life for probably forty years.

Until the “MeToo” reactions arrived, I didn’t really think much about the conditions under which women lived. I knew they were competent. During my years with the U.S. Customs Service doing management training I discovered an oddity. We did role-playing exercises. Groups of five were set in a situation that required decisions, usually to survive. For example, their plane would crash in Arizona. The heat is extreme, and they are fifty miles, as far as they can tell, from the nearest town. Do they walk? Or stay with the plane?

The groups were composed five on a team, sometimes of import specialists, of inspectors, or of agents. Other times, they were divided by gender. All-women, all-men, and mixed groups. The career groups always lived and died at the same rates. Agents did no better or worse than anyone else. The only area where we saw a difference was in gender. The teams that made the smart calls and survived most frequently were the all-female units. Who died most frequently? No, it was not the all-male groups. It was the mixed units.

Why? The males tended to behave differently when women were present. They were more inclined to take chances, to dismiss caution, to plunge ahead. And the women in the mixed groups? They tended to act differently also. They were more submissive, likely to get in line with the guys even when it was apparent they did not think the chosen course of action was a good idea. Arizona is in the United States. The desert is blistering hot. If you go down in a plane you’re much more likely to be found quickly than if you’re wandering across the desert.

I’m glad to see the ladies taking a stand. It’s time.

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