“Older women […] are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.”

Via Get Shouty: Danger! Women At Work! A 1943 Guide to Hiring Women, from Transportation Magazine. Scans of the original can be found at snopes [caution, pop-ups and such].

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees

There’s no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from western properties:

1. If you can get them, pick young married women. They have these advantages, according to the reports of western companies: they usually have more of a sense of responsibility than do their unmarried sisters; they’re less likely to be flirtatious; as a rule, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it — maybe a sick husband or one who’s in the army; they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Most transportation companies have found that older women who have never contacted the public, have a hard time adapting themselves, are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It’s always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. While there are exceptions, of course, to this rule, general experience indicates that “husky” girls — those who are just a little on the heavy side — are likely to be more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination — one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. Transit companies that follow this practice report a surprising number of women turned down for nervous disorders.

5. In breaking in women who haven’t previously done outside work, stress at the outset the importance of time — the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employe in garage or office a definite day-long schedule of duties so that she’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be nervous and they’re happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. Companies that are already using large numbers of women stress the fact that you have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and consequently is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful in issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way that men do. Never ridicule a woman — it breaks her spirit and cuts her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator uniforms that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too strongly as a means of keeping women happy, according to western properties.

It’s hard to pick a favourite. Number 3, perhaps about “husky” women being more even-tempered and efficient. I wonder if they were the women who weren’t starving half to death on war rations or fad diets? This was the era of “Reverse Calorie Foods”, the “Grapefruit Diet”, and Lindlahr’s “Catabolic Diet”. I can imagine that might have made some a little snappish and vague. “Female weaknesses”? “Nervous disorders”? “Girls”? “Lack initiative”?

Do I spot a little of the Hoyden spirit in number 2? Older women being inclined to be “cantankerous and fussy”… I suspect they may have been less likely to tolerate the sexual harassment and demeaning put-downs of the ruling penis-wielders.

And yet, despite all this, these shining examples of manhood were perfectly happy to entrust household management, child-rearing, teaching, and nursing to these brainless, skittish subhumans. Amazing, eh?

Categories: gender & feminism, history

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21 replies

  1. Interesting.

    Kath Lively explained in her wonderful historical fiction Writers Guidelines
    that the past was a much different time for the two sexes and certain actions and beliefs a woman of the present would deem offensive might not and would not have been so for one living in a world set sixty years in the past

  2. the past was a much different time for the two sexes and certain actions and beliefs a woman of the present would deem offensive might not and would not have been so for one living in a world set sixty years in the past

    Unless you were on the pointy end of the oppression, of course.
    Because you can’t be seriously be trying to say that women/people of colour/disabled people/etc of the past were perfectly content with the way things were, and had no problem with the way they were treated or with the opportunities closed to them.
    History is written by the powerful.

  3. I pass no judgement on her but Lively said that writers shouldn’t project the attitudes beliefs and trends of today
    into the past when they write historical fiction – she described it as a common error when writing period pieces

  4. I pass no judgement on her but Lively said that writers shouldn’t project the attitudes beliefs and trends of today into the past when they write historical fiction

    What do you think? When writing actual history, not fiction?
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..?Older women [?] are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.?

  5. I suspect that 50 or 60 years ago women who felt uncomfortable or dissatisfied may have been told – or simply assumed – that their feelings were outside the norm. It is easier to quash those discontented feelings and put up with the status quo if you think you are the only who feels that way. So, I’d agree it’s not fair to see their situation through our eyes – most women work outside the home today (at least for part of their lives), after all. But it also means that the women who did work, particularly in male-dominated professions, and who didn’t put up with the sexism and discrimination, were pioneers in a sense that most of us will never experience.
    Peggy’s last blog post..Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

  6. Peter Martin today reports on Canadian Lawyer productivity Who works hardest in your office? : "I’ll make a bet. It’s likely to be either a childless woman or a woman whose children have become teenagers."
    You can all giggle about the productivity of men now.
    Dave Bath’s last blog post..Domain-knowledge balance in parliaments

  7. I like being cantankerous and fussy.
    There’s an interesting motif running through most of the instructions – the point of doing all this is to keep the workforce happy, so that the business won’t suffer.
    I doubt this sort of treatment made women happy.

    In breaking in women who haven’t previously done outside work, stress at the outset the importance of time — the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules.

    Breaking in?!!!
    Most housewives must surely have known that already. The sheer volume of work and time it takes to run a house and family means that there is no let-up, very little spare time that isn’t programmed in, nothing to be gained by deciding that you will just take a few minutes here and there when there are children to be fed, clothes to be washed, houses to be cleaned. So no wonder if they were fussy and cantankerous, being taught to suck eggs.
    Deborah’s last blog post..Guest post: Turn and face the strain

  8. Peggy:
    I agree that it is unfair to look with our eyes.
    Context is all important. Atitudes and views many assume have always been, or should have always been, with us are often surprisingly recent fashions.
    Twenty-three years ago, Britain’s Channel Four thought in all seriousness that it was acceptable to show a TV programme where ten years olds danced in hotpants and make-up. If they did the same today there would be uproar, and it would probably be forced to close on the spot, accused of making programmes for paedophiles.
    If twenty years ago can be another country, then sixty years ago is a different universe.

  9. Feminism wasn’t invented in the seventies. Women were agitating to be treated like humans long, long before that. I think denying that in favour of their oppressors’ viewpoint does all of those women a massive disservice.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Blogplug! ?Oohsome?.

  10. Lauredhel:
    I have to agree with Peggy though that the “but they should have acted to modern standards and beliefs!” subtext that is often applied by both Hollywood and non-historians to history is not a good thing.
    Yes, there was Samuel Clemens. But not everyone could be Samuel Clemens.

  11. Thanks for posting that Lauredhel, I’ve forwarded it to my spinster gang at work so we can have a laugh about the fact that us unmarrieds are less responsible.
    I’m only approaching 40 but we have a few in our group are in their 50’s and older. ALL of the older women have at some point had to work two or more jobs to get by because their pay was so low compared men’s wages. They’ve also all been solely responsible when care was required for an elderly parent. Irresponsible?
    Have you seen this minute paper titled “Women should not be trade commissioners” from 1963. I love the item that states “A spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows,”. What crap, the older spinsters I know are a fucking scream.

  12. I fail at HTML. The minute paper is called “Women should not be trade commissioners”
    [fixed that for you. ~lauredhel]

  13. You seem to be choosing to completely ignore all pre-second-wave feminism (and the basic principle that women are people) in favour of an ignorant, obstinate laissez-faire historical relativism.
    Many women weren’t content with or resigned to their oppressed lot then, so why should we assign to them that contentment and resignation in retrospect?
    I’m not sure why you think that’s appropriate here, but I can tell you right now it’s starting to get a bit irritating. It’s the same sort of shoulder-shrugging crap that is used to justify entrenched “cultural” oppressions and the gender-biased evpsych so beloved of MRAs.

  14. In what way was i “ignoring the basic principle that women are people”?
    If i did i am sorry
    It was Peggy that said that it is unfair to view the past through modern eyes – historical context is important – as is the shades of gray and complexities of reality. Historical people are not one-dimensional Republic Pictures serial villains.

  15. OK, Troper, step up with the courage of your convictions if you’re going to make accusations of injustice. What exactly do you find “unfair” in my post, who is it unfair to, and why?

  16. UT, I get the impression that you think it’s inappropriate to criticise the writers of this guide for their sexism because they were conforming to the accepted, conventional attitudes of the time, but you are ignoring the point other commentators have made that these attitudes were experienced as opressive by the women to whom they were applied at the time. Also that, as accepted as they may have been, these attitudes were irrational based on the evidence available at the time (i.e. looking at the nature of the work women were already doing) and, perhaps chiefly, that it is because people recognised, even then, that these attitudes dererved to be ridiculed that change happened at all.

  17. I imagine in fifty or a hundred years, the people of the time will look back on our times, and say we should treat with respect the idea of gay people being unnatural, pwd being burdens and transgendered people being mentally ill freaks. After all, it’s the majority view of our time. The fact that the movements for these people’s rights and respect haven’t yet gained popular traction means that the vast majority of these people didn’t feel their experience was oppressive.
    amanda w’s last blog post..Hey, that feels pretty damn familiar.

  18. Just to clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that all women of the mid-20th century were resigned to the status quo or to belittle the work of the women who fought hard for women’s rights. It’s because of them that we have progressed to where we are today. But I do think that the basic expectations of women who enter the workforce* have changed. Many of the rights that feminists of the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s were fighting for, I believe are largely taken for granted today, such as equal access to higher education, to be considered for professional positions, and to not be expected to quit upon marriage or pregnancy. From that 1943 hiring guide, it seems like women were treated like exotic aliens, and I think that’s less true now, at least in most occupations. That’s not to say the fight for equality in the workplace is over by any means, but that the battle lines have shifted over the years. I think that necessarily means that the average 18-year-old woman today views the workplace differently than she would have if she were born 60 years ago.
    * To be clear, I’m talking about working in traditionally male-dominated professions. I’m not sure how much it’s changed for women who work in traditionally female occupations, such as housekeepers or nannies or kindergarten teachers.
    Peggy’s last blog post..Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

  19. The question is, how assertive did these women have to be to be called cantankerous, fussy battleaxes? My hunch is that they had simply had enough bullshit and were just standing up for themselves. The men could afford to be “mellow,” as they never had to fight to be treated with respect. And if they weren’t mellow sometimes, that was just manliness, and it didn’t count against them or the other men at work. Men are individuals, after all.

  20. amanda w: Spot on.
    Another very current example of wrangling is the “debate” around the Apology to the Stolen Generations. There are still happily oblivious privilege-soaked dinosaurs around who insist that everyone involved at the time had intentions as pure as the driven snow, and that therefore it’s all ok and Australia has nothing to regret or feel sorry for. Both the premise and the logic are fatally flawed.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..?Revealed: the Butcher of Bega?

  21. Good comparison, lauredhel!
    I personally don’t think there is any one “absolute truth” of historical happenings – and inevitably, all history is going to be viewed as events scan through current social ideologies; and so, what we say about them will shift.
    Troper – whilst you may agree that ”it is unfair to look with our eyes”, you seem to have missed the point; the article quoted is humorous precisely BECAUSE the attitudes it displays are at odds with modern thought.
    And whilst I’d agree with Lively myself, in that when creating historical FICTION in the modern day it is important not to simply project modern mores and behaviours in order to produce a more believable and accurate text, this awareness does not preclude an historical text of any kind, fiction or non-, from being analysed using today’s standards.
    Aphie’s last blog post..BWahahaha!

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