Neil Sedaka sang that “Growing up is hard to do.” In our society governed by expectations and rules and regulations and cultural ‘norms’, that is very true. I can’t speak for the male experience of growing up bracing against what the authority figures in life – those who provide home, food, and love – say is how each one of us is expected to behave by virtue of family and societal expectations. I can speak to the female experience.
I was born in 1950. A boomer baby. I was the last of the family. When I was growing up, I loved to go to work with my dad on Saturdays. I was happiest when I was ‘helping’ him. I was interested in tools. I was curious about how things worked. And I could swear like a sailor. I loved to play with toy cars and play in the mud. I liked playing handball and football [although I couldn’t throw a football at all]. My best friends on the street were boys. I was a tom boy. And I loved it.
I always thought that I should have been born a boy. I was the last member of my family. If I’d been a boy, then the family name would not die with my generation [my siblings are both female]. If I’d been a boy, then I could have taken over the family business [even though it didn’t really interest me as a choice for my life’s work]. It’s not that I have ever felt trans-gendered. I just felt that it was my job to maintain the family name and carry on my father’s business.
I had no use for dolls. I didn’t like what I considered ‘girl’ games – rounders [what’s that?], and hopscotch. I didn’t like playing house. I learned how to do house work but I didn’t like doing it. I never understood what was so fulfilling about doing laundry and the dishes and cleaning the house every Saturday. This was a job? This was a ‘woman’s work’?
As I became a teenager, I had no interest in carting around a purse, wearing nylons, wearing makeup [although I did know how to put in on], plucking my eyebrows [one of my sisters had to hold me down and pluck them so that I would not suffer from having one eyebrow], shaving my legs – all the female things. .
I remember the day that my mother told my father that I had ‘become a woman’. I wanted the floor up open up and swallow me. Ever after, I was expected to become someone else and give up the things I’d enjoyed doing. Somehow, when I began to menstruate, I was supposed to give up all the things I’d liked doing and interest myself and occupy my time solely with those activities and behaviours which, I was told, were the purview of females
And worst of all, I was expected to hide. I was taller than most of the boys in my school classes and stronger and, most of all, smarter. I railed against the desired female as touted by media. I was supposed to be weaker so that any boy would feel stronger and protective. I was supposed to hide my intelligence so that any boy would not be put off by the fact that I was smarter than he might be.
The perfect woman as promoted by Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best, and the Donna Reed Show would never have sought a job outside her home. [I wanted one.] She made sure that the house was clean and dinner was on the table when her hubby got home from his important work. [This didn’t interest me at all.] Her hair was always perfectly coiffed. She wore nylons and neat dresses and pearls all the time. [Why, I wondered, did my mother never look like June Cleaver?] The perfect woman was nurturing and caring and kind. She deferred to her husband for all decisions which affected her and the family. [This I never understood.] All women were expected to be ‘good girls’ – pure until their wedding night, deferential, undemanding, giving, nurturing. After all, a woman’s place was in the home. [That was so limiting. What a waste!]
And then came the sexual revolution of the 60’s – feminism and bra burning and free love. Now women were the equal of any man. We were encouraged to demand the same things that men had. We had a right to do what we wanted not what social expectations said was appropriate for women. And thanks to birth control pills, we had the right to demand sexual equality. Women were told they had a right to orgasms. All hail the ‘G’ spot whatever that is. We were urged to know our own bodies. Perhaps the best depiction of this is in Fried Green Tomatoes when Kathy Bates as the uptight, repressed woman goes to a women’s awareness meeting and is given a mirror so that she can look at her vagina.
We could have it all — equal pay for work of equal value, control over our careers and sexuality and decisions which impacted our lives.
My best friend and I have talked about our confusion as we grew up. First we were repressed and then we were, supposedly, liberated by a different kind of repression. First we had been brought up being told what we were not allowed to do. Then we were faced with being told what we were expected to want to do. In either case, what we wanted to do for ourselves did not matter. We were expected to fit in to someone else’s decree of what and who we should be.
Is it any wonder that so many of the women of my generation lost themselves in the simple process of growing up? We lost ourselves somewhere along the way between trying to be June Cleaver or Gloria Steinem.
The journey to me has taken a long time. But I know I’m on my way. In honouring the talents, skills, abilities and interests which are the core of who I am, I’ve begun to find myself. Not woman or incomplete man. But me, human being where my gender – my biology – has no impact on the choices which I make. I’m not here as Jean Winter, woman. I’m here as Jean Winter who does not capitulate to gender expectations. I’m here as Jean Winter, a quantum biological being who happens to live in a woman’s body.
There is a great freedom in living this each day – without side or apology or frustration. Just living as me, Jean Winter, and choosing from a place of self-knowing. And my life gets juicier each day as I open myself to possibilities and choose with awareness and conscious presence.
My life expands each day as I explore the totality and beyond of awakened choices.