In 1973 I was still teaching and feeling somewhat trapped. I began to write short articles about women, their careers, and lack of equal access to power positions. As a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), I became a fierce women’s advocate. Most teachers worked summers to make a living and I was no exception. I typically taught summer school but that year I wanted to do something different. I decided to write an article on what it would be like to apply for a job traditionally held by a man. My plan was to write about the rejections and if I ever did get the job, and narrate my experience.
Surprised after filling out my first job application at a local gas station, I was hired. The manager was looking for a woman. “We’re installing self-serve pumps and want to have a woman teach other women how to pump their own gas. You’re hired.”
I suited up and went to work. Two other employees, both men seemed angry that I was hired and wouldn’t have much to do with me. I knew they were thinking, this is men’s work and not something a woman should do, pump gas and change tires. I was hesitant to take on the challenge but the idea of writing about this challenging experience fascinated me. I also loved the thought of teaching women how to pump gasoline.
Most women initially rejected the idea of getting out of their car, but I encouraged them to give it a try with the promise they could save five cents a gallon. “What if my hands get dirty?” they asked. “I don’t want the gasoline on my hands.” Excuses flowed but toward the end of summer, over 95% of the ‘regulars’ were jumping out of their vehicles to gas up. I loved it.
One of those angry men, Jeff, started to like me and during one of our conversations confessed that he couldn't read. There was a lot of downtime at the station, so I persuaded him to learn some basic decoding skills. With a small chalkboard and flashcards, we spent an hour each day working on his new love for phonics. After all, I was a teacher. Upon leaving my job at the end of the summer to resume teaching, I was pleased; Jeff could read at a 3rd-grade level. Not bad for a summer job.
Dr. Marilou Ryder Author and Professor of Education
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