During a recent meeting, one of my Real Women co-workers was doing a fine job of demonstrating a product to some customers, so I called her Vanna. We laughed and talked about how we both have watched Vanna White through the years, and we both agreed that some days, we’d like to be in her shoes.
I remember even as a teenager, when Vanna was just joining Wheel of Fortune, I thought I’d like to have her job. All she had to do was dress in fancy gowns, do a lot of clapping, and turn some letters. Seemed like a pretty sweet gig.
We encourage young women today to go into any field of study – to aim high, that they can do anything they want to do. They can be lawyers, doctors, scientists, professional athletes, CEO’s – anything. We strive to be good role models, and thankfully there are strong examples of successful, talented, professional women in real life, in the news, and on TV for girls to emulate.
When I was a young girl, I had plenty of resilient, beautiful and intelligent women in my life. However, women in strong careers and professions were sparse. Those who did work outside the home were usually in classically “female” roles – teachers, nurses, and secretaries. All hard working, talented Real Women and good role models, certainly…but in those days we didn’t have many examples of what else we could do with our professional futures.
TV and movies didn’t help much. There were waitresses (Cheers and Alice), receptionists or assistants (WKRP and Mary Tyler Moore), or loveable moms and housekeepers (Happy Days and The Brady Bunch). Not really what we’d think of as career women (ok, Mary Tyler Moore was pretty close). As a matter of fact, women in traditionally male roles were so eye-opening that in the mid-80’s, there was an entire sitcom based on the role reversal of a female Ad Executive and her – gasp! — male housekeeper (how can we ever forget that loveable yet goofy Tony Danza in Who’s the Boss?). On the big screen, women were cast as fighting their way into male-dominated work places – again, generally playing the part of secretaries (9 to 5 and Working Girl). Even if a role showed a woman doing a “man’s job”, there was a counter-balance – hence why Flashdance’s female welder by trade was actually a struggling dancer in disguise.
Regardless of these “role models”, we women of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s found our ways into career paths that were not generally based on the stereotypes in the media, and with time became not only accepted but respected in all areas of business and industry. It hasn’t always been smooth, but we’ve worked hard to get to where we are.
Ironically enough, after years of working our ways through all the catch phrases: climbing the corporate ladder, breaking through the glass ceiling, interrupting the old boys’ network, I think many of us have grown tired. All that climbing, breaking, interrupting, and proving ourselves has been exhausting…and some of us have maybe decided it just wasn’t worth that much sustained effort. After a certain age, I see more and more women looking to make a change, cutting back on the craziness… maybe going to part-time work, going back to school, giving up the corporate world for volunteer work or home businesses…. In general, simplifying and finding roles that bring less stress, more peace, more enjoyment, and more fulfillment.
And so perhaps, all along, Vanna had it just about right. She still gets to wear beautiful clothes, and over time her job has gotten even easier – rather than turn a letter, all she has to do is push a button. Oh, and still clap a lot (she must have amazingly calloused palms) and occasionally pose next to a grand prize like a car or beach resort. When I did a bit of research, I was surprised to see that Vanna is only eight years older than me. Yet while I have worked for at least five different companies or industries throughout my career, she has had the same job for 32 years. Smiling and clapping literally all the way to the bank. So yes, on some of the busy, tiring, I’ve-had-enough kind of days, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit jealous of her. Who’s laughing now, eh Vanna?