Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A question from Chloe Pink to Lilly Ledbetter

"What advice would you give a seven year old girl on how to toughen up, take care of herself (eventually) in a man's world and prepare for life's unfair curve balls sure to come? How can she still enjoy being a girl and all things girlish, but grow to stand on her own two feet proudly and without excuses or apologies?

That's what Chloe Pink and I wanted to ask Lilly Ledbetter, a real and living American heroine, at her book signing and talk last night at Agnes Scott College.

But when it was my Q&A turn at the mike, time had run out. So, my husband Rob thoughtfully bought me Lilly's book and I opened it the minute we got home in search of the answer.

As her biography, Grace And Grit goes, Lilly, the namesake of The Lilly Ledbetter Act, got her "big break" when she was hired on as one of a few female managers for Goodyear Tire Company in Gadsden, Alabama in 1979. Almost two decades later and nearing retirement, Lilly received an anonymous note. The note had four different salaries written on it -- Lilly's and those of three other men who did the same job as Lilly. Guess who's salary was lowest by far?

Shocked and devastated, having prided herself on giving her all to Goodyear for 19 years, Lilly decided to give them a fight. (Something that good girls don't do, right?) Her case went as high as the Supreme Court and then, to Congress when, in 2008, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed. For more details, click here.

Lilly discussed these facts last night, but I still wondered how she'd become so tenacious and courageous? Did that develop only from her Goodyear days? Or were there other events leading up to her tire company career that directed the heroic trajectory of Lilly's life?

Although Lilly's book is a real page turner, it didn't take longer than Chapter One to find out how early Lilly's life's lessons began. Living in a house with no running water, Lilly started picking cotton before the first grade. In other words, Lilly started paying her dues long before she began working for Goodyear.

Now that I know this, I'd still like to ask Lilly that question.

Even if, unlike Lilly, a young girl grew up in a middle class family and suffered no major hardships out of the ordinary except the normal peer pressure girls face and the occasional teen heartbreak. Even if say, she had a tight knit family and a few good friends...Even if she had a closet full of clothes (unlike Lilly) and plenty of food and her own warm bedroom to sleep in at night (also unlike Lilly)....How can that girl, how can ANY girl learn to be brave and strong and independent like Lilly Ledbetter was and is today. I wish I knew the answer.

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