Like many of my sisters and some of my brothers I am pretty disturbed by the way things work out in Washington, DC. We have moved away from a government with checks and balances and I can agree with President Jimmy Carter than the United States is no longer a functioning democracy. He actually has been warning about this for quite some time; the need to have millions and millions of dollars to run a campaign is one sign, the way a whistle blower like Snowden is cast as a villain because he is illuminating secrets that are not to be aired for public consumption, and because women and other groups are not accorded equal protection under the Constitution. You may not think he was a good President but he sure stands tall as a good person, a mensch.
So, I’m thinking back over my life, seeing where I benefited and where I was hurt solely because I am a woman.
I was born in 1954 so the first 10 years of my life were in the era the Trump supporters are longing for—a time when we pretty much stuck to the roles society had set out for us. I learned to cook at an early age, how to sew, but not how to change a tire. I learned how to let the man pick first, how to let the man I chose as my husband be the boss.
But I also wanted to be a cowboy. No this was not a case of gender confusion. I just saw week after week on the tv shows of the time that cowboys had more fun than the “cowgirls”. I wanted to be able to chose what I could do.
I was lucky to come of age at a time when there was some movement to hire more women (albeit at a lower salary I found out later). But here are some snippets of what I remember from my life:
- I married a man who said all the right things “before” and then turned out to be abusive to me and others. He stole from where he worked and made it look like a man working for him had done it. It was the South in the 1970s and the man was Black. He was fired and my husband was proud no one suspected him.
- This man was emotionally abusive to me, to the inane point of blaming me for red lights and rainy days. I took it, trying all different ways to reach through to him. Whatever I tried earned me more abuse. But I had been brought up in the time when divorce was NOT an option, so kept trying. I was sweet, I was firm but friendly, I was silent. I did not argue back. Nothing worked. But the day he crossed the line and hit me, I knew I needed to get out. He was a Green Beret and he could kill me. His response: one more rape. Yes, rape occurs in marriage but only when the man believes he can take it whenever he wants and has no interest in making his partner ….. a partner. By the way, I was raised to expect it every night…..but come on, it CAN be fun and does not have to be painful! And I bet he would have enjoyed it better, too…since it seemed to take forever…….maybe he had not made me cry enough.
- Working for the Tennessee Supreme Court in my first job after graduating college I wanted to go to a week-long training for people doing exactly what I was assigned: changing the information system (how many court cases in each court throughout the state) from a paper system to one that could be computerized. The training was held at San Jose State University in California and the boss, a Southern man in his 60s, believed a young woman (I was 22) should not travel without an escort outside state lines. A friend of a friend in San Jose said she would pick me up from the airport and I spent one evening at their home for dinner. Since he agreed I would be “safe”, he let me go learn.
- There were about 8 of us in our group at the Supreme Court. While most of us in our division were not Southerners, one woman was the epitome of a “Southern woman”. She flaunted it (big hair, tight sweaters and a lot of things that are stereotypical of Southern women of that time) and whenever I want to “channel” how to act Southern, I think of her. I can’t even say her name without a Southern accent. We were all in our mid 20s to mid 30s and when she told us that she went on a weekend with a guy friend and they slept together but did not “sleep” together we all laughed. We were not born yesterday. But she stuck to her story. We still did not believe her.
- Back in Nashville years later, I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting my turn to go in when a unknown man in his 60s approached me and told me I would be beautiful if I would just lose 50 pounds. I managed not to get too huffy and smiled, telling him I had just lost 200 pounds. (My divorce was recent history.) He patted me on the head and told me to keep working on it.
- Again in Nashville but a few years later, I was in the elevator at Vanderbilt Medical Center with my 8-year-old son. We were leaving from the Neuro ICU where his dad was in an induced coma trying to get his brain chemistry regulated…again. (We didn’t know but the next 18 months would be the most stressful of that long illness with cancer.) Sam was carrying a stuffed bear that he had purchased for himself the Christmas before and he clung to that baby as if it could save the world. Some man in his 60s leaned over in that elevator and said “Son, you’re a little old to be carrying a baby doll.” I got in his face and quietly snarled, “His father is in Neuro ICU dying. He can hold on to any damn thing he wants as far as I’m concerned.” The man backed off rapidly, apologizing.
- A man where I worked served in a position of leadership in his church. He is one who comes to mind when people ask me why I don’t convert. Basically, after observing this man and many many others who profess they are Christian, I see nothing I want to emulate. He said to me “You know, they think they are Christian but they’re not. We’re Christian because we belong to the XX Christian Church. The rest of them are Baptist or Methodist, not Christians.” But the most telling view of his struggle was the two conversations we had shortly after his second child was born. Dragging into work one day I asked if the baby had had a rough night. No, he said it’s a situation at church. He told me that they needed a new teacher in the Sunday School but the only people who had offered were gay. I walked him through it….”does your church have a curriculum to teach the kids?” “yes” “Does it include getting naked and touching bodies?” “NO!” “So….?” I asked. He stalked away, frustrated I didn’t understand his viewpoint. The next week he walked in again, dragging his butt. Again I asked if the baby was doing ok. “Yes,” he answered, and then told me how he heard something int he night. His wife was asleep, all was quiet, when clear as a bell he heard “Love your brother!” Not once, but twice. I think my moth dropped open. I said “I don’t think many people have had God talk to them that clearly.” And then I asked what he was going to do. His answer “I don’t know” clearly showed me where his priority lied.
I’ve lived in many places in the United States. I grew up in New Jersey in the New York metropolitan area….that is 21 years. Then Tennessee….I spent 7 years in the 1970s and 80s and then another 13 years 1990s-2000s (so about the same there than in New Jersey!). I also lived in Pittsburgh (6 months), Pueblo CO (6 months) and West Virginia (6 years) as well as Connecticut (12 years). Now in Oregon (6 years). I have gained a perspective about regional cultural attitudes that few others have firsthand.
What I can simply say is this: in an area with the diversity I grew up in there definitely was sub-textual fears and concerns between people who had differences in religion, nationality and color, but we all lived together and worked together as best we could. In other places, particularly the South, many of the white people I knew felt that “others” should know their place. Deviating from what was culturally normal brought up conflict.
- Bonnie, a woman my age who worked at the planning and engineering firm in Memphis when I was there, had never learned to swim. I invited her to come home with me so I could teach her in my condo’s pool. Her first question to me “Is it allowed?” She is African-American. This was 1980.
- When I was about 50-years-old I contracted meningitis and almost died. Recuperating afterwards I was approached by a well-meaning man (in his 40s) asking me if I had been afraid of dying. He wanted to “save” me. He would not take “no thank you” as an answer and I had to cut off talking with him. (This was not the only time this kind of action happened.)
So, my personal assessment from my time living in the South is that many people have been uncomfortable for decades over the changes that have been happening. It all shakes up the position of prestige and power if woman gain ground, if people of color really are equal, if the needs of any people with some physical or emotional or mental issues have to be met. It is as if they believe all those people should just simply be invisible.
I will not be invisible. Neither will my awakened sisters and brothers of all colors, religions, national origin, or ability. We are here and we know our Constitutional rights perhaps better than many of the people who only know to spout “2nd Amendment” as their excuse for the latest round of mass shootings.
So, what to do? Keep making noise. Will people who are afraid of losing ground be won over? No. Will their emotionally beaten down wives and daughters? Perhaps. Will their grandchildren? Hopefully.
We are no longer the land of the free , home of the brave. We are a nation of patriotic lip syncers, people who know stuff by rote but can not explain a thing because of their own perception that they know enough and don’t need to read any more. What does the Pledge of Allegiance mean? Do you know what the Bill or Rights includes? Do you understand that the Founding Fathers were pretty wise but recognized that we would have issues so they gave us guidelines: keep religion out of government and government out of religion, for example.
I have long believed many of us would fail the test people who want to become citizens must pass. The actions of my fellow Americans shows me we all have a lot to learn.