Friday, February 3, 2017

Hidden Figures, Twisted Facts

The movie Hidden Figures brought back memories of the IBM ‘uniform’ of the early 70s: white shirt, skinny tie, black pants. All male.

Except not always.

In 1970, I was hired as a computer programmer in a place with many other women programmers. In the mid-70s, a co-worker and I were puzzled at our invitation to a meeting for “older and non-traditional workers.” We were certainly not older! We were surprised to be considered female in a male-dominated profession.

No surprise, then, that I was enthralled by the movie Hidden Figures. I bought the book.

I know, always a bad idea. Or, in this case, a good one. The movie got the message across, that women and especially black women are rarely acknowledged.

But Hollywood once again twisted the story to make it more . . . more engaging? More outrageous? More macho-heroic?

The three women – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn – initially worked in West Computing but for far less time than the movie portrayed. Katherine was reassigned by Dorothy after two weeks, Mary after a couple of days.

Katherine never ran back and forth for restroom breaks. She simply used the available facility and no one objected. And she was not the only woman in the Flight Research Division. While her seatmate got up and left when she first sat at the desk, they quickly became good friends – unlike the adversarial relationship shown in the movie.

Mary Jackson integrated the evening classes at Hampton High School with permission from the City of Hampton, not with that little speech to the judge. And her reaction to getting inside that coveted building? Surprise that it was not as imagined, just a musty old school building.

I began to doubt the whole movie and was relieved to read that John Glenn did in fact ask to “have the girl check the figures.” The girl he had in mind was Katherine Johnson.

These women were accepted because they were brilliant and devoted to their work. I don’t claim to the same level of brilliance, but my female co-workers and I were also accepted for our skills and dedication.

So, Hollywood, even with the exaggerations, you delivered the message. These women not only broke barriers for black women, they made sure to bring many of their sisters with them.

Hooray – for them, for the story now told, for a message of hope.

1 comment:

  1. Saw the movie and thought of you and your programming career......
    Now, I HAVE to read the book as well!!