The inclusive embrace of public libraries as a venue for all voices was on full display this month when, in less than a week's time, two authors who could not have been more different talked about the working lives of women, albeit two centuries apart. On November 13, acclaimed biographer Megan Marshall, (her 2005 biography of the Peabody Sisters was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) read from her most recent work, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. It describes the epic struggle the brilliant 19th-century author and women's rights advocate waged to find her place among professional equals who, in those days, were mostly men.
The despairing question Fuller asked of herself in the 1830s, how to ply her talents despite the severe restrictions her gender imposed, was answered by biographer Marshall's cheerful recounting of what the highly educated Fuller accomplished before her untimely death at forty in 1850: supporting herself and her family financially after her father's death by teaching and writing; editing the prestigious Transcendentalist magazine The Dial; organizing subscription-based consciousness-raising workshops for women called 'Conversations'; publishing the influential book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and being the first female correspondent for The New York Tribune. The paper's editor sent Fuller to Italy where she covered the Italian revolution and the 1849 siege of Rome. After having found the institution of marriage lacking, moreover, Fuller married for love rather than financial security: to an impoverished Italian count, years younger than she, with whom she had a child out of wedlock. Marshall, who in the 1980s used to live around the corner from the South End branch at Rutland Square, while doing research at the Massachusetts Historical Society, called Fuller's life 'cinematic.'
Back to the 21st century where writer and yoga teacher Sara DiVello, who presented for South End Writes a week later, did not have to face the despair Fuller did about where or whether she could find work. Home schooled, from a family without means, DiVello put herself through college by working five days a week. She did well the thirteen years she spent in the male-dominated corporate world, she told a packed library audience, except for one thing: her female bosses. One of them, 'Vomiting Vicky' was eventually replaced by an even worse supervisor, at which point DiVello quit to become a yoga teacher. But the author of the career memoir, Where in the Om Am I?, found that, in the yoga world, bullying, cliques and mean-spirited tactics by her female colleagues thrived, just as they did in the financial services industry she had left behind. In a lament that echoes a March 2013 Wall Street Journal article about 'queen bee bosses,' DeVello told her listeners she believed that "one of the reasons women make 70 cents for each dollar men earn is because women don't support one another," The Worcester Street resident clarified in a subsequent conversation that other factors matter, too, for example, that women don't ask for the same dollar as men, as well as their child-bearing and child-rearing dilemmas.
"Among girls and women there's a sense of false scarcity," DiVello elaborated. They are programmed to want to have the prettiest face, the best boyfriend --preferably the one and only captain of the football team-- and hang on to the few high-powered jobs occupied by women, she added. The evening ended with DiVello demonstrating simple yoga exercises for the audience, many of whom munched on her delicious cookies. "I am Italian," the yoga teacher said, "which means I'm compelled to feed you."