Interviewee: Shirley Bronson
IWY TX 079
Interviewer: Sister Marie Heyda
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Shirley Bronson attended the IWY Conference as a delegate from California. Bronson was also a federal employee. Interview includes discussion of her belief that the civil service needs revamped to discriminate less against women in performance evaluations. She discussed the “sexual politics” of the office environment, the need for the Equal Rights Amendment, and her support for more women politicians. Bronson believed a cultural shift needed to take place to make girls and women more competitive from an early age.
Marie Heyda: Shirley, would you like to tell us something about your views and affirmative action, or what Carter can do to get the equality of women up and on a par with that of men?
Shirley Bronson: I think as far as my views are concerned, and the representation that I should be representing at the moment, I’m a California delegate and I’m also a federal employee. The commissioner, in looking over our credentials and complying with the public law, trying to find representation from all sectors of society – I was chosen, I was elected at our state conference in California as representative of the federal sector.
My particular problem and issue is EEO common base implementation in the federal government, and a cabinet to address the issues of concern to women. We know that the Plan of Action will go to President Carter and to the Congress, but considering that the power structure in the United States is basically controlled by men, we have very little hopes that they really will take some action.
MH: And you think the Civil Service especially needs to be revamped?
SB: Yes I do. The Civil Service is set up on a merit promotion principal, which is very good on paper. It says that they will take a look at all qualifications, experience and criteria and prioritize them on a point system. This point system definitely is set up and structured to keep most women at the administrative level. It is very, very good on paper, and there is some tokenism going on, but as far as the actual implementation it’s just not real.
MH: Do you think the fault lies in the test, or those who administer the test and choose?
SB: I think that the tests were probably good when the Civil Service Commission was first originated and they first started using the test. As far as now I do not think the tests are realistic at all. The tests are particularly harmful to women, because women – with the stereotyping and cultural upbringing that women have – women are not taught to be achievers, they are not taught how to take tests, they are not taught how to work within buddy systems using a network as men do, so there’s –
MH: Well, could they be taught that, do you think? Of course you’d have to start with the babies.
SB: Yes, you’d have to start in grade school at the minimum. Yes, they can be taught that. Of course women have as much capability of learning as men do. But they’re so far behind now I think that’s where all the frustration lies. Particularly in the federal sector, because they do have equal employment opportunity or an affirmative action plan that is supposed to address women, it’s supposed to address minorities and everything, but they set no quotas, they set goals. These goals can be implemented in whatever way they deem fit. Because the regulations are so general in nature, they can be interpreted by almost anyone, and differently. So there’s no common base implementation throughout the executive branch.
MH: You think then the salary scale is definitely out of line, unequal for women? What about what women are subjected to in the civil service? Are they are subjected to quite a bit of, I think what I want to say is sex pressure by men to hold their jobs? Are they respected as workers? Or are they looked down on as sex symbols? I know you hear of that in Washington too much, but is that true?
SB: I don’t really think that they’re looked at sex symbols. Of course every male supervisor wants to have a good decoration for the office; it’s also very nice if they can type. So in that sense I think that’s part of our upbringing – that’s right – that’s part of the society bringing in a cultural status symbol –
MH: I myself wouldn’t object to that if they didn’t put sexual pressures on them, you know, want to take them out and kind of expect them to impress you, if you want a raise, then you go out with me. You don’t find that so much?
SB: I think there is a little bit of that, but I think that’s according to the individuals involved. The thing is that women need more education on sexual politics in the office, particularly. They need more knowledge in these areas of how to handle it. We are taught from the time we are babies that we have to be pretty, we have to be sweet, we have to be nice or no one wants us, and you just don’t know where you’re coming from. You have a hard time deciding who you yourself are. And until women learn that they can be individualistic and say no without feeling guilty, that’s where the problem lies.
MH: You in California have some special problems probably other states don’t have in this area?
SB: No, I don’t think California has any more special problems than any other state. We’re concerned about feminist issues. We are concerned particularly about the Plan of Action being adopted. We would like to see the Plan of Action adopted of course because we think that it covers all women, it covers society as a whole. Because if you liberate women, you liberate men, you liberate society, both core areas benefit from it.
MH: Shirley, would you explain the Plan of Action? Convince me that one isn’t spreading himself too thin in that whole plan with all its categories? Would it be better to concentrate on fewer things at this time?
SB: The Plan does look broad; it has thirty-eight areas, subject matter areas of concern. But as far as the resolutions themselves, they’re contained in these subject areas so it really isn’t that broad.
MH: Does it overlap?
SB: It overlaps, yes. It overlaps in the areas of minority women or older women, rape, crisis centers, childcare, child abuse, the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment pertains to everyone, and in different states everyone, whether male or female, will have equality under the law. It doesn’t discriminate against lesbians, against minority women, against black women of any kind, against men. It just says each person will have equality under the law.
MH: Have you given any thought to the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment really makes this amendment unnecessary? I think some say that, that the women have a right to be included in the Fourteenth Amendment. They aren’t, of course. The court hasn’t found the proof to be met specifically. Some feel that this amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment, is superfluous because you’ve already got the Fourteenth Amendment.
SB: I feel that the Bill of Rights as a whole and our constitution as a whole was directed toward both male and female; was directed toward mankind, not men, not male. We’re getting again back to the power structure that men hold the power in our nation. They say that the women spend the money. That may be true, but the men have the power and that’s where it’s at – the political clout that it takes to get anywhere.
MH: What can be done to even the balance?
SB: I think we need more women in political office. If we can get some of the power, share the power load with the men we can watch, monitor, help society as a whole, both men and women. It’s not that the women want to take the power away from the men. They just want to walk side by side in equality with the men.
MH: And this pro-plan you think would start to enable women to raise children, especially the girls, so that they are able to do that?
SB: I think it would definitely do that, especially Title IX and the education system. If you monitor society as a whole, you will find that our cultural upbringing has brought each child up to think of themselves as little boys do this, little girls do that. Little girls are sweet, little boys are male, they’re competitive. If we can start from the beginning and give each child the right to make their own decisions to reach their full potential, then they as men and women will reach their full potential.
MH: Yes, great.
End of Interview