The Moment I Knew I Was A Feminist

It was a cold, rainy day.

In kindergarten.

I was playing with my best friend, David. Playing indoors, because of the weather. And we were on our knees, vrooming our construction trucks around on the floor. Our classroom had a really neat mural on the floor, complete with roads and stop signs and houses and trees. It was early in the school year and we had been waiting for a day just like today so we could play inside during recess.

Now, I adored Mrs. Harvey. My first few weeks at school were better than I could have imagined. Mrs. Harvey was kind. And sweet. And she knew so much. Everything was a game with Mrs. Harvey. She smelled like cookies. Mrs. Harvey was the reason I wanted to be a teacher someday. Mrs. Harvey would be the first, of many, women role models in my life.

But Mrs. Harvey did not like me playing on the floor with the boys.

With the trucks.

Making vroom-vroom noises.

Mrs. Harvey told me that I wasn’t being very “ladylike” and I needed a little time to myself to reflect. It wasn’t time-out, exactly. She sat me at a table and taught me how to make “scribble pictures” with crayon. She told me this is what little girls were supposed to do during inside recess. This or play in the housekeeping area with the dolls and tea sets and little play stoves.

I didn’t like the housekeeping area. Besides, my friend – my best friend – liked to play trucks and build things with blocks. There weren’t any blocks or trucks in the housekeeping area.

That evening, I told my mother what had happened. She told me that some people thought that girls could only play with certain toys and in certain ways. When I was at home, playing in our neighborhood, I was free to play any way I wanted. But at school, I had to listen to Mrs. Harvey’s rules.

In our neighborhood, I was the girl who climbed trees, spit cherry pits the farthest, built sand castles and forts, played with trucks and raced on my bike. I wore garter snakes around my wrists and had an ant farm in my room. I was one of the first chosen for a game of kickball or baseball. My best friends were boys because they knew how to play. The only time I touched a doll was to switch the heads of my sister’s Barbies and larger baby dolls so we could laugh at the absurdity.

In high school, I was lamenting to one of my guy friends about my lack of dates. He said, “You’re not the kind of girl guys date. You’re the kind guys marry.” It was supposed to be a compliment. At the time, it was little consolation.

I’m glad I had a mother that told me it was ok to be who I was. And while Mrs. Harvey squelched me a little on that cold, October day – her sweet, nurturing nature was something I craved and wanted to emulate. She was much older than my mother and a victim of her era. All is forgiven.

But that day, the day I was told little girls don’t play with trucks and make loud noises, was a defining moment for me.

It is a day I look back on fondly. At the time, I was upset. But I had a mother who believed I could play with trucks if I wanted to. I had a father who took me fishing and to baseball games. I was in elementary school during the ’70s, watching the women’s movement take off. There were so many more amazing female role models to come.

I smile when I take a look at what my life is now. I am a mother of three. Who gave up her career to stay home with her children. To raise them full-time. A job I wouldn’t trade for any other. I love to bake and have an orderly home. I’d rather cook something from scratch than pop dinner in the microwave. We even have a picket fence around our yard.

It sounds all so very 1950s.

But it’s who I am.

It’s what I love.

And it’s the feminist movement that allows me to be proud of  this very delicious, amazing, gratifying and yes, enviable place in my life.

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17 Comments

Filed under children, Growing Up, Lessons Learned, Observations

17 responses to “The Moment I Knew I Was A Feminist

  1. And thankfully, the perfectly styled bubble flip and full make-up is no longer a requirement for women who choose to stay home and raise kids. The bourbon on the rocks most definitely is (on occasion, of couse). =>

  2. Here’s a post I wrote for a single dad I know who was looking for “girly things” to do with his daughter: http://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/girly-things/

    Needless to say, I’m a feminist myself!

    Wendy

  3. This is awesome post Jane. I like the image that you traced back to your childhood. I could definitely see Mrs. Harvey putting you at the table so you could do more ladylike things. I loved how you circled back to the end with your white picket fence. Lovely.

  4. This is wonderful. The crispness of your memory. The celebration of your life in its current incarnation. I am smiling because I have a little girl who runs around the house in a firefighter costume and is about to have a dinosaur party to celebrate her birthday. I relish her individuality, her ability to choose and be herself. Thank you for reminding me how lucky we all are to be women today. Vroom vroom 🙂

  5. I like your stories. You are who you want to be — even if you want to emulate Mrs. Harvey — which is the height of feminism. It’s your choice. What more could you ask for! (I too am a stay-at-home-mom — most of the time, anyway — and because it’s — mostly — my choice, I’m really okay with it. But I don’t wear aprons. Although I do bake the occasional cookie… and homemade pizza.) 🙂

  6. Steven Harris

    Gender stereotyping begins at such an early age that by the time many people become teenagers the stereotypes have already taken root. Good for your mum and for you for realising that children are just children, not mini-archetypes.

  7. That is what feminism is – or should be – all about: the choice, the freedom to be and do whatever it is you would like to be and do. Many people forget that -feminists are not necessarily career women (and vice versa), and I have to admit I have made myself guilty of the prejudice too. We all gotta learn :). You go, Jane!

  8. My childhood was very similar (with the exception of the garter snakes). My 2nd grade teacher, Sister Christina, told the class that boys could grow up and be anything they wanted. Girls either got married or became nuns. I panicked at that moment. I knew I wasn’t nun material and I could think of who I would marry. But here I am! Married with children and loving it!

    As a side note, I grew up in the 70’s as well. but I did it with the initials ERA. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if my mother was a feminist.

  9. A wonderful lesson we all should teach our daughters (and everyone else’ daughters too! When Army Wife was young, she played with Barbies and challenged boys on the school bus to arm wrestling contests! She usually won.

  10. Mrs. Harvey–she clearly loved children and was a product of her time; It’s interesting that between your teacher and your mom–you learned you could have both sides of feminism– just not at the same time.

  11. I am the same way. And I got that “date/marry” speech a time or two myself. Now I’d love to be nothing more than a domestic goddess.

  12. I’ve always said that if feminism doesn’t allow us to choose homemaking as easily as it allows us to choose the corporate ladder then it has failed. It’s about choosing what works for us at each phase of our lives. I’m so thankful that we all get to make our own choices these days.

  13. I loved this post! It’s terrific. Over the last year I was exposed to some angry feminist who believed I wasn’t one because I stayed home to take care of my children. I was a waste to them. And I thought our mothes and foremothers worked to give us that choice, and besides were are the next feminist going to come from if we’re not raising them?

  14. Jane, this is an awesome post.
    I was hospitalized when I was three, and after I got settled in my parents brought me a brand new truck. The nurses were *horrified*. I was in heaven.

    Thank heavens for great parents. Like ours. And us. 😉

  15. Abby

    Over here from BMM:

    Incredible. Of all the posts I’ve read (okay, I’m busted — it’s only been three so far) this is my favorite.

    My hero was Joan of Arc when I was little because a woman who stood up for her beliefs regardless of the cost? That’s awesome. My mom didn’t appreciate me trying to play Joan of Arc with the Barbies, though…

  16. Exactly! Being the person you want to be, regardless of what anyone else wants you to be is exactly the best place to be.

  17. And there’s my parents who ask WHO is going to watch the kids every time I go on a business trip. Every single time. And they are not even trying to be funny.

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