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Steinberg: We’ve come such a long way some don’t realize it

BettyAnn Mocek with her mother, Betty Mocek, both of University Village, are pulling for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

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In September 1952, Elizabeth Michalicka, 23, left her job as a secretary for Commonwealth Edison. She had been there for six years and liked her work, but she was getting married to John Mocek, and married women were not welcome.

“You couldn’t work there,” she recalled. ComEd didn’t fire her; they didn’t have to. She was just expected to leave — and did.

Times change. On Tuesday, Mocek, now 87, watched television late into the night, holding hands with her daughter BettyAnn Mocek, as Hillary Clinton announced that she is the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States, the first woman to run for the White House representing a major political party.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said the elder Mocek. “Finally this country has come to their senses a little and seen that maybe a woman could run this country.”

I met the pair because the younger Mocek phoned the newspaper the next day, aghast that Sen. Mark Kirk retracting his endorsement of Donald Trump was splashed across the front page Wednesday while Clinton’s triumph was relegated to the inside pages.

“I was crazed, running to get the paper thinking ‘I can’t wait for the headline,'” said BettyAnn Mocek, 58. “There was this little blurb; I thought, ‘How does Trump still get coverage?’ I understand Kirk dumping Trump is news; but this is history. There continues to be a double standard. I love the Sun-Times, but I think sometimes people don’t see that.”

African-Americans generally recognized that Barack Obama ascending to the presidency meant something significant. But it seems that many younger women, born higher up the slope of gender equality, are blase about Clinton’s candidacy.

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Betty Mocek wears two campaign pins. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times
Betty Mocek wears two campaign pins. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

“There are many young women who never experienced the oppression, the discrimination, the lack of rights. They don’t understand what this means. . . . Where we all came from and why this is important,” said Hedy Ratner, a longtime activist who helped establish the Illinois Women’s Political Caucus.

For Ratner, 74, Clinton’s success is the culmination of a half century of effort.

“I’ve been involved with helping women get elected to political office for 50 years,” she said. “This is the height of our dreams, the pinnacle of our success and the results of the work of hundreds of thousands of women who understood the power that women could have if given the opportunity. What we went through, between women not having credit in their own names, not having opportunity for jobs, not being encouraged to be educated in careers. I didn’t believe it could happen in my lifetime. We have the right candidate nominated, and we will have a woman president. This means so much now.”

“It’s an enormous big deal,” agreed Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, an advocacy organization trying to improve wages and employment access for women in the workplace.

That said, just as Obama’s victory did not end racism in this country, just ushered in its latest phase, so Clinton’s campaign will not eliminate sexism. For a time it will even make matters worse.

“We have not eradicated bias on the basis of gender,” said Ladky. “There’s a lot of unconscious bias and conscience bias. There’s criticism of Hillary that is absolutely sexist, in terms of her appearance, and whether she should have stood by her husband. You don’t hear that about men in public life. . . . It’s disappointing that we have somebody from the other party fanning racism and sexism. That makes it all harder. But this is what happens when you make history and break barriers.”

BettyAnn Mocek, an art professor at Concordia University—Chicago, sees her students as sometimes lacking the long view when it comes to Clinton.

“I remember feeling a tingle . . . when Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president. I remember how important that was for me as a woman,” she said. “So much of youth is losing track of history, which is both fortunate and unfortunate. We have made some strides, and because of that you end up with some students who don’t think there are barriers anymore for women. I’m happy they haven’t experienced many of the inequalities in the ’60s ,’70s, even ’80s. That’s good. But they don’t get the connection.”

Her mother certainly does.

“Mom and I were sitting there, together, practically crying,” said Mocek. “And my mom turned to me and said, ‘Damn, I’m going to live until November to see her win.'”

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