August 23, 2012
I spent countless hours of my childhood with my best friend Michael, playing baseball in the driveway, throwing passes he could dive for in the front lawn, playing Tracy Austin to his Jimmy Connors in ping pong in the basement. In general, playing every bit as hard as he did.
When I was eight, my friend Dave had a football birthday party. As usual, I was the only girl in a gang full of boys. After cake at his house, we walked over to the school field to play football. Close to the end of the game, I ran down the field for a long pass. I caught the ball, dodged several of the boys from the other team and danced into the end zone, elated by my touchdown. As my buddies and I celebrated, one of the boys from other team walked up and said flatly, “That’s not fair. I’m not allowed to tackle girls.” I felt my face flush with heat, and became immediately indignant, “That touchdown counts. We won!” I can’t honestly remember if we decided that touchdown counted or not. What I do remember is, for the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be a girl. I felt angry that suddenly, without any warning, the differences between us mattered.
Let me be really clear here.
I never wanted to be a boy.
I simply wanted to do all the things that boys got to do without question.
When I began voicing my outrage about the inherent prejudice and unfairness I was suddenly facing to Michael, he became ever so slightly defensive and said petulantly, “I bet you’re a Women’s Libber.” (This was circa 1980.) Though I did not yet know what being a “Women’s Libber” meant, it’s safe for you to assume that I quickly found out and have been a (mostly) friendly albeit feisty feminist/equality seeker/rabble rouser/fist shaker ever since. (Also, Michael grew up to be a huge supporter of equality for all and is a fabulous husband and father to two daughters.)
Fast forward to recess at my grammar school, 1982. A group of my best girls and I stand on the raised concrete slab by the cafeteria kitchen’s back door, near the empty milk crates and sing Joan Jett’s, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” as passionately and loudly as we can. Over and over.
We stomped our feet. We raised our arms triumphantly. We were irreverent and strong and cool. We were a gang of 9 and 10-year-old girls, and we were awesome and liberated and as previously stated, yes, we know what that word means.
Sometimes the boys would stop killing each other long enough to stand with their arms folded against their chest and scowl at us – or laugh. Sometimes they just rolled their eyes and said, “Come onnnnnn. Let’s play kickball.” Sometimes we would stop singing and play kickball, but mostly, we just sang louder. That’s when the gang felt like a mob, like the start of something else.
The truth is, that same group of girls and I got so fired up about the unfairness we faced that we wrote a letter to Real People, NBC’s first reality show that aired from 1979 to 1984. Again, I have no clear recollection of what exactly we wanted to say on the show, but I do remember that it was incredibly important to us at the time. If I had to guess, I would say it was about the power of the alliance we girls had created, the exact antithesis to The Little Rascals’ He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, and most likely inspired by the collective cultural power of Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman.
I regale you with that preamble so that I may say this with absolute clarity.
Please stop talking about my lady parts, so that I may continue to never ever speak of your junk.
P.S. I can still throw a football better than most of you.