Have you ever been denied access to something because of your gender? While growing up in the fifties and sixties, students at my school were each given one semester of home economic and one of shop, so regardless of a student’s gender, he or she was required to enroll and pass one semester each of these two classes. Males could then take subsequent classes of shop and females home economics. I did the unthinkable. I enjoyed my shop class, and requested to be allowed to continue my curriculum in this direction. At that time, it was not even taken into consideration. My guidance counselor answered with a definite and resounding “no”. It was unheard of, and then looked at me as if I must have been out of my mind.
I never pushed it. Girls were taught not to argue. It was undesirable behavior in ladies. Girls were supposed to be quiet and attractive. They should present themselves at all times so as to appeal to the opposite sex, so that one day they would be able to lure a proper husband to protect and provide for them. Girls were coy and demure. They tried to downplay their intelligence, as it frightened boys off.
My mother was unique, when my sister and I were growing up, in that she worked in a factory. Of course, she, my sister, and I took care of all of the household chores, shopping, and laundry,cooking and such. Mom taught us to scrub the kitchen and bathroom floor with a scrub brush, and then to wipe it up with a sponge. There were no short cuts in those days. Dad chopped wood for the furnace, but my sister and I carried it in and tended to the fire. We took care of the animals and the garden. We mended clothes and did the ironing. Whoever said women were the weaker sex? I am proud to say that we worked very hard and our home showed the love that we poured into our labors.
Why is it then that we were taught, that we needed to catch a good man to take care of us? The way I remember it, while growing up, is that we were darn good at taking care of things. Didn’t we keep the house clean, the laundry done, do the shopping, cooking, and bill paying? We built items with Dad’s scrap lumber, and kept the fire burning on the cold Michigan winter nights. We made our own clothes, canned our own tomatoes, and made our own jams and jellies. Sure Dad was pretty handy around the house, but we could swing a hammer too. Were we denied a second term of shop class because of men’s insecurity or their ignorance? Did they feel threatened by the idea of a man being able to cook and mend, or a woman using a hammer and a saw?
I don’t recall guys having an issue with hairstyles and mascara. They didn’t worry about manicures or runs in their panty hose. They didn’t have to sit by the phone and wait for that special someone to call them, because it was up to them to make that first move. The ball was always in their hands, and they got to make all the moves. Girls were left with the task of defending themselves from unwanted advances. Guys were taught that “no” means “yes”, and nice girls couldn’t or wouldn’t say yes, so if they wanted it, it was up to them (the guys) to take it. After all didn’t the girl really want it too? She just couldn’t be honest about it. Her reputation was at stake.
Girls were also confused by the mixed messages that they sent out. They were supposed to lure a man, to make him fall in love with them and ask for their hand in marriage. So the girls are busy throwing out all the signals to make the guy desire them, and the guy misconstrues the signals and begins to make sexual advances, she does not know how to stop him. She says no, but no means nothing to the passionate male. If a guy does not make some kind of move, the girl feels ugly, rejected, and undesirable, but if a guy is too forceful, she becomes fearful and feels victimized.
She has been brought up to consider his feelings before her own, but has he been taught to do the same? Many females have not adequately defended themselves out of fear of hurting their date. When does the date become not a date, but an attacker? When is it all right to fight off unwelcome advances? While she weighs these thoughts in her mind, she is losing the battle. This guy, the one she so carefully baited, is dangling between being undesirable, and being “a bird in the hand” (is worth two in the bush).