State of Flux

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Asheville Women’s March


Everything is in flux. The weather is unpredictable: one day it’s close to zero, the next day I am sitting in front of the shop in a light sweater soaking up the sun. Today is warmish and drizzling, but “they” are predicting cold weather and snow this weekend. People everywhere are shopping differently, using on-line sources rather than browsing in shops. Antiques are losing their value, and people rave about the same “Mid-century modern” furniture we hated when we were kids in the mid-century. And as far as I am concerned, the biggest change, however, is in the status of women in the US.

Hollywood has  led the way, protesting abuse by men in power by wearing revealing black gowns at the Golden Globes. While the conversation has begun, we still have a log way to go, even in Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk are still walking around, and on the news last night it was reported that Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg were both asked to return to redo scenes from All the Money in the World after the ouster of Kevin Spacey. Williams was paid $80 per day, while Wahlberg made millions for the same work. In the words of Nancy Kerrigan, “Why???”

There are issues between men and women that go deeper than equal pay, however.  and these are in flux too. Sex, for example. When I was growing up, the rules for sex were puritanical. Boys wanted it, and girls were not supposed to. In fact, our job was to act like the sex police. When my boyfriend wanted more, I was required to stop him or be a ho.

Girls fell into two categories, “Nice Girls,” and “Tramps.”  It was easy to tell us apart in 1960 when I entered high school. Nice girls wore pleated skirts, knee socks, Garland cardigan sweaters with the ribbon on the outside, round-collar blouses, and circle pins. The pin on the right side indicated you were a virgin. “Tramps” wore butt-hugging short skirts and tight sweaters. Their hair was long and greasy with a high, teased cockatiel rats nests on top, held in place by gallons of hair spray. Gail Ferrara, a FHS tramp, had the locker beside mine for three years. By the time we graduated, the entire locker was filled with empty Spray Net cans.  She would refresh her hairdo between classes spraying the top knot five times a day in front of the small mirror on the back of her locker door. She would also add more black eye liner and red lipstick, while my life as a “nice girl” was simpler: no hair spray, make-up, or mirror. My long, frizzy hair was captured in a long braid down my back, and I’d go home with a headache nightly because everyone loved to tug on that braid in the halls to say hello.

We “nice girls” were cautioned to keep guys from going “all the way” because we were nice, and because we were expected to go to college after high school, while the “tramps” stayed in Freeport with their skanky boyfriends and snot-nosed children. We nice girls and our horny boyfriends had parties in friends’ basements where we danced to Johnny Mathis and made out, but that was all we did. Even in the Seven Minutes in Heaven game where we would be locked in a closet together we girls held the line!

The late sixties were a time of sexual change. Thank God!  I graduated from college in 1968, the Summer of Love. But those of us who came of age earlier are still sort of confused with issues of sexuality. We feel slutty when we enjoy sex, and I still imagine the look on my mother’s face if she knew.

In addition to prohibitions about sex, we weren’t encouraged to be athletic. It was as if our bodies were sacred, fragile vessels. In my high school the only girls’ intramural sport was basketball, played on half a court (it was too much to ask girls to run the whole court.) In gym we played half-hearted badminton or learned to square dance. We were encouraged to learn to sew and cook in home ec., while the boys learned to build stuff in shop class. As a result, I grew into a prudish, puny princess. In the words of Donald Trump, “Sad.”

I am reading a wonderful book called Cowboys Are My Weakness, by Pam Houston,

sent to me by Melissa, my daughter-in-law. I am amazed by the freedom enjoyed by the main characters of the short stories in this book. These heroines are all “Daredevils, philosophers, and acute observers of the nuances of modern romance.” They gallop bareback across the plains, raft difficult rapids in high water, have wild sex with their boyfriends du jour, and seem tough and resilient. 

One woman accompanies her erstwhile boyfriend on a hunting trip to Alaska. Tracking long-horned rams, they disguise their smells by crawling up a creek bed on their bellies in icy water. “The bed was steep for a couple of hundred yards, and there were two or three waterfalls to negotiate…Then we were in the tundra with almost no protection, and we had to crawl with our elbows and our boot tips, knees, and stomachs in the mud, two or three inches per advance, wet, cold, and dirty.” And she does all this voluntarily.

Reading these stories makes me feel like a visitor from another planet. I am more like Marie Antoinette than I am like these powerful young women. It hasn’t been That long since I was a twenty-something, but it might as well have been another century. Women today are elbowing our way forward, two or three inches per advance, but we are making progress.