Tag Archives: Gender

To My Earliest Mentor, Thank You

As I signed on to Facebook tonight, I saw posts regarding the death of Mary Grace Canfield.  For those who didn’t know her Mary Grace had a 4-decade career, nothing to sneeze about in Hollywood during any era.  She made the rounds from soaps to sitcoms and was most famous for playing… well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

I was born in the ’60’s, which was a very “interesting” time in our American history.  The Vietnam War, hippies & civil rights all colliding (and clashing) with the cookie cutter males and females of previous generations.  Some fighting to maintain their roles and the security that came with it and others fighting to break out of the mold and throwing off the shackles of conformity knowing they were destined for other things.

The women’s movement was on every page and creating a virtual volcano in most households as the “lava” poured in.

The world I was born into had certain set rules.  And while there were people trying to change that out in the world, that was not necessarily “my world”.   Not yet.  As I described in my previous post (Gender Roles and Pigeon Holes) I was told early on what limited roles I could play in this world… nurse, not doctor, teacher, not principal, stewardess, not pilot.  You get the idea.

I was not comfortable in this world.  I absolutely hated the dresses that I was forced to wear.  At that time, that’s all girls were allowed to wear in school.  I couldn’t wait to get home and get into my jeans (a.k.a. play clothes) and get outside.

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Then came my first communion.  I got all the hype… how I was going to be able to dress up like a bride.  (Every little girls’ dream right?) Big deal at the church, followed by the even bigger deal at my grandparents’ house.  Um, yeah, till I got grounded for going out back to play with the kids in the alley behind the house.  Okay, so it wasn’t the playing that got me in trouble…

One of the kids had gotten a new Pogo stick and we were all taking turns (and yes, I was still wearing that dress).  Unfortunately for me, the Pogo stick was not well put together and by the time it was my turn something zigged when it should have zagged and the next thing I knew was that I was on the ground and the Pogo stick was in pieces.

Worse yet was the owner of the formerly intact Pogo stick now standing over me threatening to beat me up because I broke his Pogo stick!  Now I will say that I wasn’t too worried, because I could have taken him in a fight (yes, still wearing that dress) and I knew that because I had already done it once before.

I did feel bad because I thought I broke it and it was new and I wanted to ride it again.  So, of course, I was happy to help fix it. Unfortunately, the mainspring of the Pogo stick had rolled under a parked car and none of us had arms long enough to reach. No worries!  I’m skinny enough to scoot under the car and get it!  ADD is a wonderful thing.  (And yep, you guessed it – still wearing the dress.)

So finally someone realizes that I’m missing from my own party and the parental units give the quick once over of the house before rolling their eyes and realizing that I was outside and dreading what they’d find.  My mother was THRILLED beyond measure so find me sitting cross-legged in the alley covered in axle grease repairing a Pogo stick… still wearing the dress.

I think you get the picture.  I was a tomboy and I was stuck in the middle of a dress-wearing, ribbons-in-the-hair, can’t get dirty or chip a nail, frilly girl world and I just couldn’t take it.

I was the kid at my dad’s company picnic when they sent us out to find sticks to make a small fire, I brought back a downed tree.  It wasn’t too big around, but it was pretty long and I was so proud that none of the boys and brought back something that cool.

I was the kid at another company picnic when the regional V.P. decided to play touch football with the “little ones”, I tackled him because that’s how you play football.  (I should mention this was our welcome to the office party after moving to Chicago and the first time meeting everyone.  Mom thought she shouldn’t have unpacked and was sure that Pop was getting fired after that one.)

But on TV there was a ray of hope for me and her name was Ralph.

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From 1965 to 1971 (and many, many more years of syndication) ran a TV show called Green Acres.  If you’re unfamiliar, it was a farcical comedy starring Eddie Albert as a New York attorney wanting to ditch the rat race by leaving his job and moving he and his wife from an upscale Manhattan penthouse to the fictitious backwater town known as Hooterville.

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The wife was played by Eva Gabor, who reminded me entirely too much of my Grandmother the Lithuanian beauty queen (literally – She was Miss Lithuania 1932) who was constantly talking about putting my hair in pin curls.  Eva Gabor was always dressed for a cocktail party, couldn’t cook, couldn’t clean,  and was always trying to darn her husband’s socks (back when people still did that) with a stapler because she couldn’t sew.

Hooterville was this beyond rural town with an eclectic cast of characters and farm life as it turned out wasn’t as pleasant as he’d dreamed… but he was an optimist so they didn’t run screaming with their hair on fire.  The house was a rundown shack that needed work from the time they moved in until about 30 years after the series ended.  So he hired none other than the Monroe Brothers to come to his aid and repair his home.

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Ralph and Alf Monroe – The Monroe Brothers

The Monroe brothers, Ralph and Alf were the carpenters/handymen contracted to work on the house.  Ralph was played by Mary Grace Canfield.  As the joke ran, their dad wanted boys.  She was head over heels infatuated over one of the local yokels who saw her as a guy named Ralph and in one episode they tried to make her more “lady-like” giving her the makeover with the big twirly dress, make up and heels.

Knowing the type of humor that was constant in that show (and because the world was a different place back then) the character was never seen as LGBT or as being in “drag”… either in her overalls or that pink dress they stuffed her in.  She was still Ralph.  To me, she was a mentor.  She was finally someone that I could identify with, no matter how corny the humor or how thick the “schtick”.

I know you weren’t meant to be a political statement or to push the proverbial envelope in gender identity, but to me you were a constant for me letting me know that I wasn’t alone.   No one laughed at her, they laughed with her and accepted her as just Ralph.  And I might add she was always the better carpenter.  She’s who I thought of when I helped out with my Uncle’s construction.

So rest in peace Mary Grace Canfield.  May your family accept my deepest sympathies and sincerest thanks.  You succeeded in a great career, brought a smile to millions and helped this little girl know that it was okay to just be me.

Gender Roles and Pigeon Holes

(This one is long… I hope you grabbed a cup of coffee.)

Being female and growing up in the time that I did, I’ve always been very sensitive to the constriction and restrictions of being female in our society… you’ve got to be lady, girls don’t do that, quit being a tomboy (or Jane Tough as my mother used to tell me), complete with the educational and career restrictions that went with it.

When I was little I was told that if I didn’t meet my mate in high school, I would go to college to.. you guessed it, find a mate.  If that was not accomplished or if I chose to bypass college, I would join the workforce to begin a career as a stenographer, secretary, nurse, teacher, stewardess, waitress, coat check girl, etc, ad nauseum… and of course to meet a mate.

In addition, you were expected to quit your job and take care of the home and focus on having babies as soon as you said “I do”.  If your husband allowed, you could continue to work after marriage, but only until you conceived.

If I sound a bit cynical, you’re right.  These were the pigeon holes assigned to me at birth due to my gender.  When I talked of becoming an architect, a welder or an archeologist, people outside of our home scoffed.  I played with “boy toys”… Tonka trucks, hot wheels and even started playing street hockey in my old neighborhood before moving to the midwest.  My resentment for my “station” in life started very early.

My only “little girl moment” of memory was me relating my fantasy wedding for my future.  I was going to marry a Native American man who had long straight hair like me.  We would get married on horseback and….. wait, stop right there.  At this time we must now introduce the concept of race relations and public views of mixed marriages.   This was around 1969 or 1970.  Interracial marriage had only finally become legal nationwide two or three years prior but that didn’t make it popular or without social ramifications.

Once I became an adult, I worked for a restaurant as a waitress.  I found out that they were hiring for cooks and decided to apply.  I love to cook, however at that time I had no clue what I was getting into in a short order kitchen.  I approached my manager about taking on a new position and was laughed at.  Literally.  He then informed me that “girls” could be waitresses or hostesses only; the kitchen was a man’s world.  In a grossly sarcastic tone I countered his chauvinistic response with the question of “what happened to keeping women barefoot and pregnant?”  He informed me that was at home only and that only men could cook.

In fact my manager went so far as to point out… host/hostess, waiter/waitress, cook/(cookette?), chef/(chefette?)… there’s no female version of those words so obviously “girls” can’t be professional cooks.  In addition, that was the only position in the restaurant that didn’t have a uniform standard for women, only men.  When I brought up the great Julia Child I was told “she must be a lesbian”.  I still cringe at that.

He finally conceded when he was running out of time to hire and train someone and there were limited viable applicants. Since I already knew the menu, ingredients and presentation standards, it would limit the amount of time needed to train me. “Graciously” he also informed me that he “kindly” was paying me an extra dime more per hour than the only other newly hired cook… because I was white.  Yes, disgusting, even then.  This was 1985.

I worked my way up into a management position and never looked back.  I did however realize that I had to work twice as hard to prove that I was half as good.  There were not many women in the field and unfortunately when push came to shove a lot of them validated stereotypes… couldn’t help out on the cooks line because the steam table would make their hair frizz, the heat would make their makeup run or they might chip a nail.  And of course you can’t walk on a mat that is made of rubber rings when you’re wearing heels.

For one Southern based company that I worked for, we received memos addressed to “gentleman”, including one in particular from our district manager informing us of his impending visit and how we should be dressed appropriately – shirts and ties.  I obliged on the day of the visit, wearing a shirt and tie, only to be informed that he would be returning the following week and that I’d “best be wearing girl clothes”.

The following Sunday I came to work in “girl clothes”, a lovely two piece outfit and a pair of flats that had me sliding all over the tile floor.  Not only was he a basket case in regards to the potential workers compensation claim if I were to slip and fall due to the shoes I was wearing, but went completely unhinged when he found that I had to carry everything in my bra.  I had to educate him to the fact that womens dress clothes generally don’t have pockets because you’re expected to carry a purse.  I was the only female manager in the state of Ohio at the time.  It was 1996, not the dark ages.

Luckily again, due to the timing of my birth I’ve gotten to see gender roles in the workplace change tremendously. More female doctors, lawyers, construction workers, and yes, even architects and archaeologists too.  When working with girls in Scouting, I would frequently share the stories of expectations for girls in my childhood.  I let them know where we’ve come from and why it’s important to be anything you want; being a girl shouldn’t hold you back.

I had my daughter in 1990 and have instilled in her the need to understand where women as a group have come from, and why its important to ensure that equality remains.  Knowing the size of the women in my family and the size she was destined to be, I told her how her curves were attractive, pointed out that bones hanging out was a sign of someone in need of a good meal. As a mother I couldn’t control the influences of the outside world 100%, but I could counter it.

Due to my personal experiences, I have focused and sometimes fixated on written and spoken words as well as media and its impact on women emotionally.  I had the privilege to see Christina Haubegger speak at the 2002 National Girl Scout Convention.

She is an amazing woman and an incredibly engaging speaker who happens to be the founder of Latina Magazine.  Christina Haubegger told us how she was compelled to create the magazine because the media images that she saw growing up made her and her friends feel ugly.  When you’re only seeing rail thin, caucasian women plastered on every cover, you learn quickly that curves are taboo and the beauty of color is only marginally seen… and those few that are featured still look a lot like caucasian women.  Light skinned, straightened hair, etc.

This all being said, I am ashamed to say that not once have I ever considered gender inflicted pigeonholes placed on men… that is, until I saw this video.

Being female, much less with no sons, I solely focused on the advantages that were given to men in our society.  Occasionally I noticed comments with potential emotional effects that it could have on boys, again I hate the girl toy/boy toy issue for example, but I never really looked at it on the much larger scale with the lasting effects and impacts that it has on boys and men in the long term.

In the course of my internal discussion sparked by seeing that movie trailer, I’ve retrospectively looked at this issue in relation to my husband, ex-boyfriends, friends’ husbands, nephews, friends’ kids… and I can now see how these comments shape and impact them.

We complain that our male partners are not in touch with their feelings, can’t communicate feelings, or are distant.  Yet we tell sons to “man up” and use words like sissy, cry baby or worse.  If the man is an emotional being and sensitive?  Well of course he must be gay.  See a pattern here?

I did some, albeit limited, research as my interest grew in this subject.  As I looked at teen suicide rates by gender, I started to cry.  Boys/men ages 10-24 commit suicide 4 times more than girls/women of the same age group!  That’s absolutely horrifying to me!  Where’s the outreach?  Where’s the mentoring and support?

We finally publically recognize that girls have self-esteem and self-worth issues and yet at no time are girls faced with the challenge of “proving” that they’re a woman.  Boys are asked to prove their manhood all the time.  Why is that?  Why is manhood treated like a prize fighters belt that can be taken away at a moments notice if they don’t constantly compete to keep it?

If boys (and eventually men) can’t channel their feelings and learn to properly handle their emotions, where does that leave them?  And us? And their children?  We’ve got to break the cycle of perpetuating the stereotype of the stoic dominant male that feels nothing and needs no one.  Guess what?  We do need them.  We need them as partners, as fathers, as friends and as healthy, happy human beings.

We let the girls play with dolls and “practice” to be a good Mom, yet we call boys names that equate to “less than” if they play with dolls.  We want husbands to to be hands on with parenting… feeding, changing diapers, etc.  but how do we groom and inspire a nurturing father if we’re teaching our boys that learning to handle babies makes them “less than”?

Where is the “I want to be a good Dad” doll? At a time where single parent homes are at their highest ever, shouldn’t we be encouraging and teaching both genders to break the cycle, stick around and be actively involved?  Instead we bombard the tv with images of women who go on talk shows like game show contestants trying to match the DNA, and perpetuate the vision that men have to run because women are just trying to trap them.   Is this really what we want to teach our children?

Gender roles have changed in this country and thankfully continue to do so, but more discussion is desperately needed.  We need to level the playing field and truly do it across the board.  When we complain about how Barbie creates body image issues for young girls, and beg for the need for GI Jane, we must also recognize that Batman, Spider Man and Superman show boys to act one way in public and another in private.  They teach that if they want to be the hero that everyone looks up to, they have to wear the mask.

Those same magazine covers that show us the size 0 supermodels also show us photoshopped, chiselled men, narrow waisted with perfect 6 pack abs.  Of course the icing on the proverbial cake when it comes to male body image rests in the size of a body part that only God and nature can determine.  Talk about setting unattainable goals for a lifetime no-win situation!

Personally I think that guys like Seth Rogan, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn should be on covers… a lot.  They are the picture of the average guy.  I mean really, who’s look alike are you more likely to meet on the street, David Beckham or (the late) Kurt Cobain (wearing his favorite Mr Rogers sweaters)?  Adam Levine or Drew Carey?

I want to see our children accept and love themselves for who and how they are.  All of them, male or female.  I want them to be happy and to always have someone to share their feelings with.  I want them to become great adults, great parents (if they choose) and great partners.  Most of all I want them to be good to themselves.  To see themselves as a positive, worthy of love, friendship and admiration and not a negative filled with self-loathing and doubts who always sees themselves as not good enough and not worthy of love and respect.

I hope this creates the opportunity for dialog within yourself and with those you know and love.  I look forward to comments and feedback.  With enough discussion, maybe we can create more change for our children and our grandchildren.  Let’s work on this together, please.  As always..

{{hugs}}

Maggie