I was born with two crooked feet. I had a metal bar between my leg for MONTHS to push them into the right form, as well as some seriously orthopedic shoes to bend them in the correct direction (which you can see in the photo).
The doctor told my mom I’d “outgrow” the deformity. But thankfully, she was as skeptical of doctors then as we are now and insisted they give me treatment.
It was 1971 and my mom had just gotten her first credit card in her name. The Civil Rights Movement was winding down. My dad, mom and older brother lived in a small house in North Seattle.
I was a tiny redheaded runt. But feisty. To this day, my mom and dad have never figured out how I would slide out of my crib WITH THE METAL BAR BETWEEN MY LEGS and those awful orthopedic shoes, army crawl my way to the stairs, shimmy down on my stomach and join my brother to watch cartoons. He’d swear he didn’t help me out of the crib.
Somehow I figured out how to escape on my own, even with my disabled lower body. This describes my adult personality in a nutshell.
I always had to fight for what I wanted. To get where I wanted to go.
I was sick a lot, and very shy. I was surrounded by boys - my little brother and three more boy cousins soon joined me. I was weird looking, with my pale skin and bright shock of red hair. I was Jewish in a super white area. I was super sensitive. I was a crybaby. Still am. I was suspicious, and saw and understood things far beyond my age.
These things don’t bode well for an easy childhood in world that rewards homogeneity, stoicism and following the rules.
I remember sitting in my elementary school class and feeling different - as probably every other child did too - but that I had to figure out how to fit in. I was already working at a deficit with my strange looks and sensitive nature.
There was a code that I was supposed to follow, that much was clear. That we’re all supposed to follow. I was supposed to like certain things. Dress certain ways, get excited about certain boys.
We are all sensitive kids. We all feel weird and different and misunderstood.
Boys are told not to cry, not to emote, not to be so sensitive, toughen up!
Girls are told to be nice, not cause problems, not be too loud, too smart, too anything.
Bland. Blend in, be the kind of girl that boys will like. Ha! I never got that conditioning. I think most of my men friends can attest to that! My whole life I’ve struggled to hold back my fierceness, my intellect, my sensitivity, my perceptiveness.
I was never told to play dumb. I was never told to “always be nice.” I was never told that I should let people touch me. If you’ve met any of the women in my family, none of this would surprise you.
So much of this starts at very early ages. The messaging we send to kids, our students. What is acceptable. What is not.
What’s happening in the #metoo Movement has put a lot of men on edge. I feel for them. I can’t imagine how confusing the world must appear right now.
I hope that we ALL come out of this with a better understanding of where this is rooted. We can’t fix what we don’t understand.
I have a lot of friends who have worked really hard to not fall into gender stereotypes with their own kids. They are also teaching them how to set firm physical boundaries at a young age which is crucial to creating a new world where grown women feel like *they* too can set firm physical boundaries.
Interestingly, that’s what a lot of this boils down to - boundaries - something I’m learning in codependency recovery.
Our culture does not respect the boundaries of women.
We, as women, also struggle to set them.
Men, need to learn how to honor them.
On the other hand, women have to feel comfortable breaking boundaries in corporate America, ask for raises and promotions, and pursue high-level positions in media and film.
We also have to learn how to set them in our personal and professional relationships. I do not take meetings or new dates anywhere but a public place. I choose the location of the meeting. I will not work with or befriend anyone who disrespects me. Now, people will say: hey, it’s really hard to do this when you’re young.
Yes, I know, I was a newbie, white and privileged, but still with no protection in New York City when I first moved there. I’m SURE I’ve lost work opportunities because of my attitude. I’m certain I’ve missed out on relationships because I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut.
But I was trained from a young age. So even though it was really, really hard, it was already part of me. Just as my brothers and cousins had "respect women" drummed into them.
It hasn't been easy walking this road, the one where a man tries to talk over me and I keep talking until he is the one to shut up.
The one where I keep banging on doctors doors, one after another, until I find one who will *listen* to me and respect my decisions and input.
The one where I’ll call out someone for patronizing me - which happens pretty much weekly - and is especially maddening when I’m clearly the sharper person.
That feisty, little redheaded baby that crawled her way into the world and said “I’m not going anywhere” and “YOU MUST LISTEN TO ME AND WHAT I WANT.”
That’s what I hope we can do for the little girls growing up now. From what I’ve seen, I think we’re doing pretty good with this new generation of kids.
My friend sent me a photo yesterday of a biography on Michelle Obama. Her (white) 8 year old son chose that book for his school report at school. He could have chosen any other person, a man, an athlete (which is his jam), politician, or historical figure. But he chose a powerful, amazing, smart black woman for his paper.
That gives me hope. He sees her as the most interesting person in the world right now. The change is already here.
We’ll see who catches up. And who doesn’t.
CHECK IT OUT: If you want to read more on gender stereotypes, check out a recent Common Sense Media study that shows that learning gender roles from movies and TV shows has real consequences on kids' self-esteem, relationships -- and even their future careers. And here is a NPR piece on how some parents are raising their kids without gender stereotypes.
This is part of a writing project where I challenge myself to write 1000 word story for 30 days using old photos and different writing prompts. This particular set of stories will focus on my experiences as a (white) Gen X woman.