I just finished reading my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, by Fredrik Backman. Although I loved it all, this was my favorite part:
“The others at school say girls can’t be Spider-Man…”
Alf takes two dragging steps down the stairs. Stops. Looks at her.
“Don’t you think a lot of bastards said that to your grandmother?”
Elsa peers at him.
“Did she dress up as Spider-Man?”
“What are you talking about then?”
“She dressed up as a doctor.”
Did they tell her she couldn’t be a doctor? Because she was a girl?”
Alf shifts something in the toolbox and then stuffs in the Santa suit.
“Most likely they told her a whole lot of damned things she wasn’t allowed to do, for a range of different reasons. But she damned well did them all the same. A few years after she was born they were still telling girls they couldn’t vote in the bleeding elections, but now the girls do it all the same. That’s damned well how you stand up to bastards who tell you what you can and can’t do. You bloody do those things all the bloody same.”
It’s a lovely mantra, isn’t it? “You bloody do those things all the bloody same.”
My sisters and I grew up on a farm, where if things needed doing my father couldn’t do alone, we were recruited to help, because there were no boys sitting at our dinner table. We did all the things around the farm that boys would normally have done, some of the jobs better than others, granted, but we did them, nonetheless. There were plenty of things we didn’t want to do, but whatever we wanted to do, we did. Some of them my father tried to discourage, saying girls can’t do that, but, hey, he started it, so that flag didn’t fly anymore, and there was no stopping it once it got started.
“You bloody do those things all the bloody same.” *
Our lives as adults weren’t easy because we believed this at a time other adults didn’t. Like husbands, bosses, and colleagues, both male and female. “Women can’t be (insert whatever position it was—electricians, ministers, soccer players, principals, etc.).”
When we were appointed by others in charge to a position our male colleagues thought was their due, because of tradition, longevity, or simply being male, things got ugly. “I’ve been here longer, I should be department head.” (Never mind the commitment, ability level or training.) Harassment and bullying of all kinds ensued.
On the home front that resentment exploded into bad behavior and violence on more than one occasion.
My single-parent-due-to-divorce sister, who built cabinets to finance her college education, was later told by the manager of a cabinet shop that instead of working she needed to be home with her children. She asked him how he expected she would be able to take care of them if she didn’t have a job. He had no answer but he still didn’t hire her. He missed out on skilled labor.
My other sister manages a cemetery and has had to deal with “women can’t do that” mentality from employees—now former employees, because, yes, she could do that.
In the public domain—well, you only need to look at comments about any female politician to know what happens publically.
My sisters and I weren’t the only women who suffered from being and doing what we wanted, who ignored naysayers and just did it anyway. The poet Sister Helena Brand used to say, “Do what you need to do. You can always repent later.” She was a member of the biggest partriarchy of them all.
My friend Judy wrote a book about her early experiences about doing what she wanted to do, being who she wanted to be. How on a staff of fellow PhD’s, she was often left out of bonding experiences, until she found out about them, and then inserted her presence. The first time was ugly, and then after that, not so much. If there was a mess, she was assigned to be in charge of cleaning it up, and when she actually did that, they were angry she’d succeeded. She kept on, though, and garnered the respect she should have had at the beginning.
I hope her daughters decide to print that book, because our young daughters and granddaughters need to know that anything is possible, no matter how anyone tries to limit you or block your path. Because they will.
The same holds true for young men. There is no one thing you have to do or be. One younger man I admire is a graphic artist, picture book author, and a stay-at-home dad, and he is teaching the community at large—nationally and now internationally–that men can parent creatively and successfully if that is what they want to do.
Here’s the thing: If you don’t do the things you want to do, then you aren’t really living your life.
Ageism is another problem that keeps us from being who we want to be. I remember feeling invisible as I approached 50. The comedienne Amy Schumer produced a hilarious and all-too-true sketch about women’s last f***able moment. If a person of a certain age applies for a job, they often don’t get it. How stupid on the part of the employer is that? Older people have tons of experience, both jobwise and human connection-wise. No worries that you’ll be gone because of your kids being sick.
Men I know who were counting on retirement, some as close as a year away, were suddenly let go. This happened to my female friends as well. You either are now costing your employer too much, or you are going to, so off you go.
I love that my daughter, who is now over the half-century mark, decided four years ago to pursue the career she always wanted, and now is a BSN-RN. In nursing, her age is a plus, not only because of her clinical experience, but because of her life experience. As my classmate Susie says, “I say when you have lived one life, “bloody well” live another and another—try them all out until you’ve lived them all! Do as many as you please!” She started out as a train engineer, and now she has a position at Crown Media. My friend Carol still works in real estate but she’s had many lives before that one.
There will always be naysayers, and the loudest one is often in your own head. None of them have your best interests at heart or even understand what’s in your heart, so ignore them.
My point is this: If someone tells you, “Girls can’t do that! Boys can’t do that!” you let them know you can. Then stay the course and then bloody well do it!
*(You don’t have to say “bloody” because you might not want to swear. But if do, then have at it!)