Growing up, most of my friends were more-or-less indifferent to social issues. In the activist 60s, college kids were going to jail for demonstrating against Jim Crow and Vietnam. In the apathetic 80s, we were going to clubs and selling our textbooks for cocktails and cover charges.
Even so, women’s issues have always been of great interest to me. Probably because me and my sister were treated as third-class citizens in our childhood home. Even the dog had greater status than us girls. Then again, he was a boy.
The diminution came not from our father who gave more attention to whatever ball game happened to be on TV than to his children of either gender, but from our mother who made no secret of her distaste for any living creature lacking the Y chromosome.
Long before my mind understood the basics of the women’s movement, my heart and mouth were engaged in the struggle. One evening my brother asked me to pass him the ketchup at supper. Famously, I responded “Women’s lib. Get it yourself.”
When my mother refused my requests to wear an ERA bracelet on my wrist or a yamakah on my head, I acted on the sly, attempting to join my friends in signing up for boys’ soccer and shop class instead of girls’ cheerleading and home ec. Of course, my friends had their parents’ support whereas I had only my mother’s hysterics. These efforts did not end well for me.
The strength of my mother’s hostility for women was astounding. Frequently, and for no apparent reason, she would declare “I hate women!” She made proclamations such as “there are things a woman should not do and being a doctor is one of them.” She degraded the appearance, activities, and accomplishments for all the women of her acquaintance.
My mother’s behavior reached its bizarre apex at the time of my bas mitzvah. When she learned our shul had a tradition where the President of the Sisterhood presented each girl with a set of silver candlesticks, she exploded “You will not share the stage with any woman!” With no concern for my feelings on the matter, she instructed the rabbi to eliminate this portion of the ceremony.
Years later, my brother arranged to have a female rabbi conduct our mother’s funeral service. Despite her crazy attitudes, this seemed disrespectful. Obviously, my mother would not want to share her final act with a woman. Especially when this other woman got all of the speaking parts and my mother did not get a single line.
Like many women of my generation, I am down with “the best person for the job” philosophy. Still, I do admit that sometimes my feelings about gender roles can get rather traditional.
When the toilet or some such is broken, I research the problem on the web. I purchase the parts by the hardware store. I try and try again until the task is done. But as often as not, there are tears. No matter. I act the independent woman. But I know the truth. It’d be so nice to have a man around the house.
But that’s just me and so what if I wouldn’t make a very good plumber? Moving forward, for the first time in history, females in the US military will no longer be banned from positions in combat.
You go, girls! Women’s lib!
© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.