Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Women I Have known Dept.

Pretty Faces Talking Death, 2005

My friend Lucy has started a new blog for women. It’s called Unkempt Women. You can draw your own conclusions regarding its fit with you from the name.

You must understand that I’ve never actually met Lucy in person. So the story goes, she’s a British ex-pat living in Portugal with her university professor husband and two darling daughters.

But I can’t confirm this. There’s even one person I know who thinks she might be the fictitious alter ego of Wally Torta, of whose shenanigans I’ve written here before. Wally has several alter egos and since Wally Lamb did such a good job of writing from a female perspective in She’s Come Undone, who’s to say Wally Torta couldn’t do the same?

It’s true. You could check it out. Lucy and Wally have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

But that’s not the point. Whoever he or she is, “Lucy” is a talented artist, writer, acerbic critic of British tourists in Portugal, observer of life and possessor of a wonderfully askew sense of humor. You can see more of that here.

Her new blog got me to thinking about the changed roles of women across my lifetime. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. My mother nearly always had a job outside the home, which made her something of a rarity. Women were only beginning to sift into the management ranks when I entered the workforce in earnest in the mid-1970s.

I know that transition from the kitchen to the office wasn’t easy. But looking back there were some strange and difficult wrinkles. The worst was probably that whole blouse-with-a-tie thing. If you had one or worked with women who wore them, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But not far behind it was the stage when women thought they had to be more like men to get ahead.

We had a client once at the ad agency who was like this. Her family owned a large consumer goods corporation. Her father had originally been our contact at the company, but as he gave her more responsibility she became our contact.

This woman—I’ll call her Celeste—was one of those women who believed she had to be tough like a man to get ahead. (She seemed to have failed to realize that birthright alone was doing that.) Celeste was coarse, abrupt and rude. She drank and cursed like a sailor. She was duplicitous in her business dealings. I suppose she might have had a nicer side. We just never saw it.

Celeste’s behavior was so noticeable because we were a generally decent bunch at the ad agency. Yes, we went out. We entertained clients. We acted silly some times and had our requisite number of jerks on staff. But we certainly didn’t treat other people the way Celeste treated us.

When our agency founder first heard about Celeste’s behavior, he didn’t believe us. He was in his late 60s. In his world women didn’t do that kind of thing. (Think the Bertram Cooper character in Mad Men.) It took having dinner with Celeste for him to be convinced. After that, he suggested, as only someone of his genteel Southern upbringing would have put it, that:

“She needs to have a talk with her mother.”


  1. I would be proud to claim Lucy as an alter ego, if I thought I could get away with it.

  2. I know a lot of women who were/are like this. And boy, do I remember those blouses with the bows at the neck. Funny thing is: I was honest to God just thinking about that: I'm at the airport watching the TV monitor, and I was smiling at all the cleavage now on the news anchors and weather women--I was thinking about how, in the past, they'd have had those blouses with bows up to the neck.

  3. I would be proud to claim Wally as an alter ego, if I thought I could get away with it.