Thoughts on “Mezzulah, 1946”

Mezzulah with a plane of her own design (Theo Allyn as Mezzulah, Photo credit: John Schisler)I saw "Mezzulah, 1946" at City Theatre recently. It’s a fun play, upbeat and entertaining.

Crux of the plot: It’s 1946, and the men returning from World War II have reclaimed their jobs, displacing the women who filled them in the meantime. All except for a girl named Mezzulah, who is a crack electrician at a Boeing factory and has a deep passion for airplanes in general and a talent for aircraft design. Various members of the town pressure her to give up her job to some worthy, unemployed man, to act more like a girl, but she doesn’t see any reason to comply.

Will she give in, or will she stand up for herself and what she believes?

In some ways, the question feels archaic. These days it’s accepted in this country that women can work as well as men. In watching the play, we see Mezzulah’s uncle, a Boeing manager, argue with and then bully her, telling her to trade her job on the manufacturing floor for a place in the typing pool. And we shake our heads thinking how much more advanced we are these days. Certainly today, a talented girl could hold down a manufacturing job without these ridiculous pressures. We know from the outset that, even if Mezzulah is forced out, history will prove that she was right all long. Why, it’s all history now; the questions wouldn’t even come up.

Not surprisingly, I identify with Mezzulah. For all of my career I’ve worked in a field that’s distinctly male-dominated. I’ve never felt that my gender hindered me — if anything, being a smart and capable female has helped me stand out. But I do have two tales to tell.

Personal tale #1: In 1991, a few months after I joined Oracle Corp., a California-based developer of databases, I ran into a very senior person there, near the 13th floor espresso machine. I can no longer remember his name, but I knew he was a fellow MIT alumnus. At one point in the conversation, he noticed my MIT ring — my Brass Rat, as it’s nicknamed. The Brass Rat is odd-looking, distinctive, hard to confuse with another school’s ring.

And he said, "Where did you get that?" — as if I’d perhaps borrowed it from a boyfriend. Not unpleasant, but genuinely curious.

I said, "It’s mine."

Blank look.

I said, "I went to MIT."

I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember the look of surprise and confusion on his face. And I remember feeling surprised and confused too: Surely he knew that there were girls at MIT, surely he’d met others? I imagine I looked as embarrassed as he did.

Personal tale #2: In 1983, when I was applying to MIT, one requirement was an in-person interview with an alumnus in the Pittsburgh area. I drove with my mother down to Sewickley to meet with my interviewer at his large, posh house. Because we wanted me to seem ultra capable, Mom and I arrived early to seek out the address, then I dropped her at an Eat ‘n’ Park to wait while I went back by myself for the interview, as though I’d driven the 40 miles from Butler all by myself.

The interview went fine — we talked about my high school experiences, why I wanted to attend MIT, nothing unusual. And at the end of the interview I asked this gentleman what he thought: Would I be accepted? He said he expected I would. I was female, and my grades and SAT scores were fine. MIT needed females.

The result of that interview was that I spent much of the next four years wondering whether I was really good enough to go to MIT. Maybe I was as smart as the other girls there, but was I as smart as the guys?

Of course, these things that happened to me happened decades ago, in the eighties and early nineties. People wouldn’t act that way now, would they?

Sure they would. Recently, I heard of a shop floor manager who needs very much to hire a mechanic, but he refuses to hire a particular capable one who wants the job solely because she’s a young woman. His position is wrong, and it’s illegal. And he doesn’t understand why.

So Mezzulah’s struggles with the questions that face her — What is her role in society? Is she good enough to keep her job? Is she worth as much as a man? — are not questions from another time after all. Girls and women are still asking them today.

Read reviews of "Mezzulah, 1946" from the Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review, City Paper. The show continues its run through April 1. Find out more at the City Theatre website.

Photo: Theo Allyn as Mezzulah. Photo credit: John Schisler.

7 replies on “Thoughts on “Mezzulah, 1946””

  1. Hey Cindy,
    I love your stories. The one with the guy at your company, especially. He must have thought all the girls he saw wandering the halls of MIT were either lost or looking for a husband! The play sounds great and though things are blatantly like that anymore, there are still plenty of examples–like yours–to see that things have totally changed. I’m still surprised at how many women are “ordered” by their husbands to either work or stay at home with the kids. My husband drives me crazy, but I can at least be assured I picked the right guy when it comes to the big stuff. Great post.

  2. Perhaps Very Senior Person at your first job got his MIT ring from HIS boyfriend?

    Yes, unfortunately many industries and corporations are still very male (white balding male)-dominated with little appreciation for the fact that their companies would have no products or services to sell if all the talented, hardworking female employees left. Great post!

  3. Erich: Thanks for the link. I note that they don’t have a pic of the ring from 1988 — I should post mine, beat up though it is. (For those who haven’t ready the Wikipedia entry, the design of the ring is subtly different each year.) The MIT/Cambridge skylines on the side weren’t introduced until 1990, and I’ve always felt rather gypped about that.

    Also, dig how cheerful the beaver is in 2004 compared to, for example, 2006 or 2007.

    Kathie: I probably did look lost wandering the halls of the Tute, as well as the halls of Oracle. But still — WTF? At least the story serves as a reminder to those with enlightened mates how lucky they (you!) are.

    Susan: I should definitely have asked VSP where he’d gotten his ring — that’s the kind of excellent comeback that I never think of until later. (In this case, 16 years later.) Also, I should note that I’m quite understanding of the plight of the white balding male — having no idea how clueless he can be. A very sad state.

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