When Marci Lingo began her career as a stockbroker in 1978, she trained alongside two other new employees. The three of them were starting at the same level, doing exactly the same work. One day discussion turned to their finances.
"When I said something about my paycheck, they said 'That's all you make?'" Lingo said.
Her two colleagues, a married mother and a married man with no children whose wife also worked, both were earning more than Lingo, a single woman. The idea, she said, was that since she didn't have a family to support, she didn't need as much income as the other two, even though they lived in dual-income households.
"The man who determined our salaries wasn't mean-spirited," Lingo said. "It's just the way it was. It's why we still need women's history month."
Lingo, now a reference librarian at Bakersfield College, is working with other faculty to promote women's history and ongoing women's issues through the school's Women's History and More Month, which kicked off Tuesday with "When Words Wound: Language and the Oppression of Women," a lecture by BC professors Andrea Thorson and Reggie Williams.
The theme for this year's events, "Educating Women," purposely coincides with BC's 100th anniversary. The college has a history of trailblazing women, three of whom Lingo and BC archives director Jerry Ludeke will speak about at "Women in a World of Men: Legendary Leaders at BC" on Monday.
Grace Van Dyke Bird came to the college as a teacher in 1917 and was chosen by her peers to be the dean of the college in 1921. Bird was, essentially, the college's first president, although that title wasn't officially conferred upon her until 1976, more than 25 years after she left the position. She was the first woman to head a public community college in the state, Lingo said.
Margaret Levinson began her career at BC in 1931 as an instructor and worked her way up to dean of instruction in 1961. Like Bird before her, Levinson was a woman working in a male-dominated sphere, Lingo said.
"I think one of the reasons (Levinson) succeeded was because Grace Van Dyke Bird was her boss. It's hard to know if she would have had the same level of success had her boss not been a woman."
Shirley Trembley was a math professor dedicated to her students and deeply involved in school committees and boards, Lingo said. Although women teachers were becoming more common, their representation in math and sciences was almost nil when Trembley started teaching at BC in 1956. She died in 1990.
Today, the two major awards presented to BC faculty are named after women: The Margaret Levinson Faculty Leadership Award and the Shirley Trembley Distinguished Teaching Award.
'Who the hell doesn't want to be a feminist?'
Still, even considering the strides made by these pioneers of education, working women are not there yet, Lingo said. She hopes the monthlong observance and presentations will teach students and the community at large the importance of feminism past and present.
Life for women "has improved, but it wouldn't have without pushy feminists," said Lingo, who noted that feminism gets a bad rap.
Thorson echoed that sentiment during a question-and-answer session after her lecture. She recalled people telling her husband not to marry her because she is a feminist.
"When people don't want to identify as feminist, they usually have no idea what feminism is," Thorson told the crowd. "(Feminism is) wanting equality for all. Who the hell doesn't want to be a feminist? When you understand the true definition -- what kind of person could deny it?"
Since BC doesn't have a women's studies department or a women's center, there aren't many ways for students to learn about women's issues on campus. That's why Women's History and More Month is so important, said Patricia Thompson, professor of anthropology and sociology.
When she arrived at the school in 1986, Thompson taught women's studies, but by 1997 the department was defunct. Frustrated by the lack of events for women's history month that year, Thompson planned a small event, attended by only two faculty members. Over time, though, it "became something more," she said.
Now a monthlong event, Women's History and More Month is organized by a committee headed by history professor Ann Wiederrect and made up of 12 other faculty members, including Lingo and Thompson.
"It's been great to see it grow and become institutionalized," Thompson said. "It makes me happy, because when I retire next year, I know it'll still be here. It's in good hands; it's striving and going strong. "
Reference librarian and committee member Dawn Dobie organized one of the events, a screening of "Girl Rising," a documentary about the impact education has on girls' lives in different countries.
"'Girl Rising' is always bubbling under my thought process," Dobie said, "and how education can change a girl's path in life."
Although the film focuses on far-away countries like Haiti, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Egypt, education makes a difference for women closer to home, too.
Citing a 2010 Kern County Network for Children report, Dobie said the median income is more than $6,000 greater for single men than single women.
"(Kern County) needs to embrace and invest in our women," Dobie said. "Education is important for everyone, but we'd really like for women to invest their energies into completing their education."
The last event, "From El Movimiento to Real Women Have Curves: Chicana Activism and Education through a Feminist Lens," will feature guest speaker Tamara Ho, a women's studies professor at UC Riverside. It will detail the history of the Chicano civil rights movement and move into today's Chicana theater and film.
Whether students attend because they want to or for the chance of extra credit, the end result is the same, Thompson said: making women's history more visible.
"It is increasingly important to have these historical discussions or you can forget" about them, Thompson said. "Society doesn't change that quickly; there's always a force working against us." Don't call Andrea Thorson a "strong woman."
However passionate, assertive, opinionated and confident she is, those qualities aren't exclusive to men, and the distinction implies that women are inherently weak, Thorson told students during her talk, "Language and Women: The Power of Words" on Tuesday.
Joining Thorson at the podium was philosophy professor Reggie Williams, who presented a piece titled "Feminisms and Rape."
The pair kicked off Women's History and More Month to a standing-room-only crowd in the Fireside Room of Bakersfield College.
Before the lecture, one female student was overheard saying, "I didn't expect there to be so many guys here." The room did seem to be filled with an equal number of women and men.
Thorson began her discussion with a short art exercise. Giving everyone a piece of blank paper, she told students to draw a man, a woman, a tree, a pond and a mama duck with her baby duck. Her prediction that the audience members were more likely to draw long hair or a skirt for the female figures was met with laughter and grudging admissions. When she asked what color the ducks would be, many people shouted out that they would be yellow. But wait, she asked: "When was the last time you saw a yellow duck?"
"Despite real-life experience, you revert to the truth that was told to you when you were a child," she said.
It's a similar case for stereotypical images of women: long hair and dresses despite the fact that many women do not wear dresses more than once a week, she said.
Growing up, she said, many boys are told to "be a man" and to not act "like a girl."
"What are we teaching boys about girls?" she asked. "That they're weak."
Thorson mentioned how often when women speak out about current gender issues, they're told to be thankful because progress has made life better for women than it was in the past. Just because things are better "does not mean we have to stop and shut up," she said.
In his talk, Williams argued that many leading feminists define rape in a way that understates its brutality. Their definitions of rape include the word "sex," which implies consent. Rape, defined as "unwanted, non-consensual, refused or forced sex" ignores this distinction, he said.
Williams proposed a new definition of rape that does not include the word "sex."
For some students, the lecture was an opportunity to get extra credit for class. Darian Pryor, a forestry major in Thorson's small group communication class, admitted it was the extra credit that lured her to the lecture, but "I'm so glad I came. I learned so many useful things. Like in my vocabulary, to be thoughtful (when using certain words)."