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.
11 responses to “Parts v. Junk”
Hollar. That was a great read j.b. Thanks for…tackling… that one.
Thanks, Jessie. Miss you much.
You have made my evening with this post…I’m still smiling and remembering when my cousin Linda came to my defense…hitting the other boy so hard he went home crying. 🙂
Aw! Glad to have made you smile and remember. Thanks for sharing!
Reblogged this on Vegan Though You're Not… and commented:
I’m late in sharing this on my blog this week but I wanted to do so because I think she wrote something that is open, relateable and above all else respectful to herself and others…Mass media doesn’t give us this too often but Whip Smart seems to get it right all the time…
In 1979 I told a senior attorney in the very important law firm where I was working that I “do not make coffee.” He just stared at me. He had the mistaken impression that because I was a woman and the office “errand girl”, that *of course* I’d make coffee for him and all the other male attorneys in the Broad Street firm. I felt horrible in the moment, but later, somewhat victorious. And he got his secretary to make coffee for him. I did go on to make coffee every morning, but it was because I arrived early and wanted a cup and so made the resulting pot.
Cheryl, thanks for sharing that story. I love how that you made yourself very clear from the beginning! You were pre-Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. Read this great piece too when you have a sec: http://m.motherjones.com/media/2012/08/problem-men-explaining-things-rebecca-solnit
OH, Jenny, thank you for sending that to me. Powerful and wonderful. LOVE her sentence, “But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge.”
I was raised by two fairly advanced thinkers who believed that women were equal in all ways and that there was no such thing as race.
However, when at the age of 14 or 15 (hard to remember precisely my age) I got into a pitched spittle-flying, toe-to-toe verbal battle in the Folly Beach living room of my aunt with a man who had just proclaimed, “they are inferior because of the small size of their brains” –to which I replied with scientific information on the truth–I learned all about men who know better than I do.
My mother dragged me away from that fight just as one would drag a dog locked on another dog away from the fight. I was snarling, spitting and growling. She sat me down and provided me a lesson in social politeness, gentility and when to realize that I can’t change someone’s dogma.
I’m still frequently reminded of her admonitions that is is not polite to talk thus to someone older and more superior…and to mind my manners.
It was one of the first times that I really learned that smart, self-assured women are a threat and that our societal rules try to control us.
I was very aggrivated that my mother, who professed to believe in equality, was so subservient to the rules.
It took me until I was in my mid-30s to regularly begin to undo some of this in my life.
Cheryl, what a story! You describe so vividly what so many women must endure. I love the description of your reaction and imagine that being a polite, SOUTHERN woman adds a whole new dimension to this process!
Jenny, I’ve nominated your for the “Thought Provoking Blog Award” http://cherylsmithem.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/nominated-for-a-thought-provoking-blog-award
Thanks so much, Cheryl! I so appreciate it!