05 April 2009

When Girls Just Aint Good Enough

When I was a kid, I had to listen to a lot of crap. Not just from boastful boys, but also from well meaning adults. Things I remember being told as a child include:

Boys are just _________________ (smarter/faster/better) than girls.
I can't believe your father lets you ________________________ (play baseball/go fishing).
A man needs a son to carry on the family name and daughters to care for him in his old age.
Girls should play with dolls. Boys should play with trucks.
Girls would be hurt badly if they were hit by a baseball (as if boys wouldn't be).

I used to be shooed out of garages and off back stoops were boys and men congregated. I was told that my mother had called to ask me to come home when she hadn't. You can imagine how these things went over for the tomboy that I was as a kid. It didn't help that all the kids in my neighborhood were boys (with the exception of Sheila Arrington, who didn't like to play outdoors at all). I recall being singled out by other parents from within a group of neighborhood boys and asked, "Does your mother know you are out here?" I used to reply, "My mother wants me out of the house", and that usually satisfied them. But there was a spirit-crushing moment when all my friends were off to sign up for Little League and I couldn't join them. It was worse when they showed up with their brand new baseball gloves and bright white uniforms and colored socks and team baseball hats. I just had to make do with my hand-me-down baseball glove and no cap at all. I can't tell you how lonely it was to come out after Saturday morning cartoons and have the entire block be void of children to play with. I couldn't do much about not being allowed to register for Little League, so I signed up to play slow-pitch softball. Only softball didn't have uniforms or hats. We didn't have team sponsors to pay for all that. I had to go down to the sporting goods store and have my own shirt made. We had a rag-tag league, and worst of all, we had softball gloves that were useless for playing baseball on the block. In all the years I played softball, I don't think I ever broke that glove in. Something else I just remembered. My softball coach was black. In all my years hanging around baseball games with my brothers, I never recall seeing a black Little League coach. I am pretty sure that never happened. I liked our coach. He was waaaaaaaay better than having one of the mothers coach. He knew something about playing ball.

A chum of mine from grade school located me on Facebook yesterday and we got to reminiscing about the old days at good ol' Charles Russell Elementary. In particular, we remembered the school year that girls were required to stay on a 2500 sf asphalt pad that had nothing but hopscotch games and "balance beams" painted on it, while the boys had the run of the playground including all of the playground equipment (swings, teeter totters, monkey bars, baseball diamond, and basically any area containing dirt). The female teachers who supervised children outdoors following lunch militantly enforced these rules. So not only was there institutional discrimination, but there was also segregation. Girls had no balls or any other playground equipment with which to play. I have no idea why this rule was established suddenly and why it was applied only to girls. But I do recall that after about a month of this, we took matters into our own hands and began to protest. We organized. We got our 12" rulers out of our desks. Attached paper with protest slogans on them, taped up our protest signs and began to chant and march around the perimeter of our imprisonment. We had our own little women's movement. I can't recall now if we were successful. I do recall that we garnered the ire of the teachers and principal. We were told by the teachers to "stop being silly". Our protest signs were confiscated. All the evidence, including our names, were given to the principal. The male principal. Mr. Wheeler. The man was a troll. I remember something else. I remember that as the worst year of my young life.

Is this sinking in now? When I was a kid, denying girls equal opportunity was not just some sports issue solved by Title IX. Denying girls equal opportunity was a way of life. An accepted way of life. An enforced way of life. By everyone. Television showed women thrilled to be in subservient positions. I never understood why those damn girls on Little House on the Prairie always seemed to happy to be reading constantly and playing in a 20' perimeter around the cabin. They only hung on the fence and never went inside to ride ponies or poke cows or examine cow shit. They just hung on the fence and had meaningful conversations with Pa.

That was total bullshit. I hated that show.

Memories are funny things. I expected the sting to lesson with age. It hasn't. I recall a serious justification being made by grown men for excluding girls from Little League baseball surrounded the requirement that all ball players wear a "cup". And vaguely suggestive comments about girls needing bras and what would happen if a ball hit a girl in the chest. Hee hee. Funny, huh? Not.

My parents weren't ground breakers. They weren't stereotype busters. They were average parents who never questioned the rules. Oh, they told me things like "you can be anything you want to be" and didn't seem to mind that I wanted to be things that included the word "first". As in "the first woman president" or "the first woman astronaut" or "the world's first female architect". I think this is why I developed this sense that I was going to be notable or celebrated in some way as an adult. After all, I was going to be "the first". It seemed like everything I wanted to do just to be a well rounded person seemed to include the word "first".

When I went to college the very very first time, I trained to become a draftsman because, you know, girls couldn't actually be architects. And I tried to get out and get a job in the construction field. And no one would hire me. No one. In all that time, I had one interview in which I was informed that I wasn't going to be able to wear dresses to work because I'd have to go out to job sites and there would be mud. I tried for months to get a job and finally had to accept a job as a clerk at a pharmacy. I also had to go back to school. I had wasted 'the first" attempt at a college education.

I encountered similar discrimination in the workplace. If there wasn't overt discrimination against women in supervisory positions, there was the added bonus of the fear of competition wherein female supervisors passed over competent women who might compete with them. Let's face it, I just don't have a personality type that is compatible with second-tier status. I think this is a prime motivation why I am seeking a doctorate. I'm tired of being at the mercy of anyone. Good will and staff development my ass. I am so f'ing done with that. What's next?

Being a girl should be good enough. Someone needs to alert China.

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