From the ages of eight to 12, in the 1940s and early 50s boys never acknowledged girls could throw a rock as far or run faster. As a teenager, aside from obvious physical differences, I also did notice something quite different about ladies in our town of Rouyn, Quebec. So many mothers seemed to be homebodies, not even Cub or Scout leaders.
Never did I see them driving a truck, owning a business, or even driving a child to school. At the time, my mind was not really perplexed, simply wondering. Everything seemed to be carried out by men. It was as if they were expected to be the person in charge, not only in the home but also in the workplace.
In school, girls were directed into home economics and shorthand. As if the only career choice was being a secretary or homemaker. Later in life, I wish those two subjects had been available to me. Socks needed mending and one of my favorite recipes was boiling wieners for my hot-dog supper.
As I leaped through my teens, new distinctions were realized. Girls never seemed to have the family car, for those lucky enough to own one.
And when we were fortunate enough to buy a soda, or a plate of chips, it was always the boy who purchased the treat. At first I thought how chivalrous it was, then discovered most girls had been given no money, as had their brothers. And I hoarded my small fortune of dimes and quarters. When I entered the labor force, it was obvious women did not have key management positions.
Areas of administration, such as school principals and senior civil servant staff were conspicuous with the absence of women managers. I was glad in a way, since the women I encountered in conversations came across as more adept than I.
It was then I made a decision to enhance, wherever possible, future opportunities for these fair ladies, whom I believed had such potential for success. I was confidant enough in my own right to compete with anyone for positions aspired to. And competing with women did not faze me.
One day I came face to face with a lady who turned the tables, and inspired me. She proved, without egotistical boasting, a woman could fill a leadership role, and effectively too. And teach a man a thing, or three, to me.
This person was a divorced mother with three children. And patiently wound her way through the avenues of Family Courts with respect to unpaid Child Support. Then ran the gauntlet of Nova Scotia Social Services trying to get minimal help while working at part-time jobs.
The perpetual drain on finances forced her onto general welfare assistance, then moving to family benefits for 16 months. Independence thrived within her spirit and although her children were still young, she gambled on her abilities.
Moving to Ontario, she accepted a full-time banking position. Through sheer determination, she became a role model for her children to emulate in their own search for success.
In the 1960s, and early 70s she, as well as other women had to cope in the community without services automatically given to men. They endured restrictions such as no credit cards in their name, and often required a $75 deposit to secure a telephone. Nor could they sign as sole mortgage owners of a home. And this dear woman was not being allowed to take a leadership role in her church, all because of that ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ word.
This downgrading of women in our so-called modern society reminded me of the time I was 12 years old in 1954. As the oldest of five children, it was my duty to regularly help my mother search for dad, before his weekly paycheck from the Noranda mine was gone.
Mom being an unaccompanied lady was restricted to the hotel foyer in each hotel, or tavern. And I, an underage male child, was allowed complete freedom of movement through all the beverage rooms.
And I grew up, determined to give women an equal footing in life. The woman I came to know very well, my wife, became a confidant in my work. Her invaluable advice brought to my attention, a dimension missing in my own managerial decisions. She provided me with a more balanced wisdom in understanding others.
Later I accepted the position of home for aged administrator at Twilight Haven in Petrolia. It was a large edifice with 177 residents along with a fifty seniors apartment complex. And I truly discovered the value of female wisdom. Especially since I had the privilege of working with 171 women and three other men. One of which included me.
I also learned about children and their needs, and the recipe for the right mixture of love and discipline. It was a most welcome change to be invited for a home cooked meal. Prior to that my idea of a seven-course evening treat, was a six-pack and a 12-inch pizza. There was so much to learn for a bachelor, who thought he knew everything.
And unassuming in the background came a flow of ideas, for which I received so much credit through the years. Without that lady who soon joined me in holy matrimony, pointing out fruitful directions, my future success in life would have been severely diminished.
Now 37 years of marriage later, our friendship continues to grow stronger. She is my best friend, companion and confidant. You see I could not do without this woman, her fortitude, laughter or the shine within her eyes when she looks at me. I am forever grateful to precious Esther, my wife, the love of my life.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem