Monday, August 20, 2012

The Curse of Womanhood

In love with the earth and sky
There I was in 6th grade Science class, 12 years old, standing in the middle of the room, twirling a sling sycrometer above my head like a cow roper with his lasso. I will never forget those words, sling sycrometer, not because it measures relative humidity, but because as I was swinging it, I felt an unusual, unforgettable twinge in my gut. Knowing something was wrong, I set the instrument down, and carefully walked to the lavatory, only to discover a stain on my underwear.

Oh that, I thought.  I walked home to my mother, who was thoroughly prepared for this day (and I knew it was coming too, but shut it out of my mind).

All I could think of was, well, darn it. What price a woman? I adored hanging out with the boys (I have 3 brothers); their lives of action and adventure and robust activity was a very desirable place to inhabit.  Why, or why was I born a girl?  No more sliding into second base. No more crawling on my belly in the backyard ditch, or rolling down hills in giant, truck-sized inner tubes. No more tackle football (my father instructed). No more dodging slap shots in my brother-dictated, life-long assignment of goalie in every single ice hockey game they allowed me to play in.

They ruled the sports and outdoor play kingdoms, and I was a happy, willing participant.

Life had been so perfect up until then. What was I supposed to do? Sit around and play gin rummy? Clean the house and cook? Is that what women did? Play Barbies and kiss pillows pretending they were boys, as my girlhood peers did? Pretend I was shaving my hairless legs (where's the thrill in that?) Check out books from the library? Even Nancy Drew held no appeal; it still meant staying indoors and sitting on your rump all day.

Then it dawned on me the importance of creating a ritual for girls to help them cross over into the next stage of  development. Wouldn't it be lovely to mark the occasion with an acknowledgment of how special this time of life really is?  There were no hallelujahs or "welcome to womanhood" rituals to help me cross into this brave new world with an element of joy and appreciation. Or just plain acceptance. All I could think about was what was to be lost. I was simply put on notice that "you will start to bleed" and the reason is to create a "nest" in which to bear children someday.

Well, bearing children was a couple decades off into my future...couldn't the curse of womanhood just wait a little longer? Holy cripes, talk about yanking away my freedom in one fell swoop.  I didn't want this womanhood.

I'll never forget the brand name printed on the side of that sling sycrometer: Red Spirit. No kidding.

Turns out I never had daughters. Not that I didn't try. I experienced two glorious births; both sturdy, healthy boys. But knowing the odds were 50/50, I wasn't about to continue trying knowing it was a hit or miss proposition (though my mother urged me on, saying, girls are so...different...to raise). I think she meant difficult; the boys, after all, gave her no trouble. I was the headache and a half.

What I do have is a friend's child I truly love and adore.

carefree Coral
Bless her little 7-year old heart, she has four younger brothers.

And because of the Women's Movement and the passing of Title IX legislation, and because her parents let her play outside all day with her brothers and get super dirty, she won't have to worry about being banned from sports, just because she was born a girl.

She can become a basketball player rather than a cheerleader.

She can become a model or clothing designer when she grows up.  She can dance around in front of amateur judges in pretty, scratchy dresses if she chooses.

She can write plays, study karate, or fly a 747.

She will grow up knowing she is NOT the "weaker" sex. She can become a scientist, or a teacher or an artist...and still be a competent mommy.

She will experience a host of opportunities and have a fair chance at jobs with equal pay for equal work. She will develop skills that interest her, decide when and whom to marry, or not marry at all if she chooses.

Today is a great period in time to be alive...as a woman. In our country, that is (an important distinction).

joyfully falling into life
Still, enjoy your childhood, girls.

Because things are going to change in a strange, curious, and most remarkable way.

Starting somewhere around your 12th birthday...



7 comments:

  1. Great piece of writing and sharing of your experience that is too oft overlooked. YES, there should be some ritual, some celebration all can enjoy and take part, a "red" letter day of some kind. Maybe a special party at the pizza house or some gathering of the men and women of the family to add congrats and maybe a tip, money or advice.. But no, this natural event has always mystified men and hidden away by women. As br'er Tim and I discovered, attending a nursing seminar on "The Curse", yes, women have made it a thoroughly private thing that men are expected to get out of the way of, like phrases, "Your mom is on the roof", or the finality of "period", or of course that awful word, "the curse"... Well, as men, my brother and I both found over the years, and he offered it to the discussion, "Sometimes it's called 'the blessing'!" ha.

    My first realization that women needed support at this time... Ann Koschmann...5th grade or so, was having a bad day in our Lutheran school. "What's wrong, are you on the rag?" I said, completely thoughtlessly, more interested in teasing her out of her blues than trying to be a smart ass. Turns out she WAS on the rag and for the first time. Other girls grouped around her in support, and Mr. Schultz, our teacher, managed to walk in just as I mouthed these words. He grabbed me by the shirt and chest skin (no hair yet), and carried me thus into the mens room. There, while still holding me up with one hand, he gave me the lecture that would stick for life. His anger made me realize my unmeant cruelty, made me cry, made me want to rush and beg Ann's forgiveness. But that would have to wait. He suggested a day or so, "let things calm down". And my promise to never be so insensitive again has been kept.

    Like one of the cruel sisters from the movie "Carrie", I had joined that group of kids that had made another cry, simply by making fun of a biological change of fact.

    Yes, we need to lighten up, celebrate, make note in diaries, "young woman" honors this week go to the girl with the mostest... etc. I suggested the pizza simply because I'm hungry, and not because the sauce wouldn't be noticed on blue jeans in public, ha. How many curses have been my blessing? Can remember 3 very distinctly, and can remember nobody but me was ready to celebrate, ah... I'm still trying to picture the farmer's wife and mother "up on the roof" doing some evil dance to the devil in the moonlight, ah... some traditions are best forgotten, rather maybe on that day, a large purchase from the sportswear store is in order... new Michael Jordan sneakers like the boys...

    Red Spirit, ah... it lives on indeed. Well done, mother. Just passing this on to all your friends' girl babies will suffice as your great contribution! Mike

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    1. I knew an Ann Koschmann when I attended St Paul Lutheran School in Royal Oak. I was terribly in love with her at age 8 or 9. Is this the same Ann?

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    2. Yep, same Ann Koschmann... I attended St. Paul's too, what's your name? I'm Mike Greer. were we classmates? magreerflutes@charter.net. I was in love with her too... we teased each other relentlessly. Her younger sister was Gail, dad Norbert went fishing with us in wilds of upper Ontario, had great fun. I hope I didn't cause her too much pain back then. drop me an e-.. Mike

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  2. What a great post. As a hard and fast tomboy, I was crushed when I "became" a woman. It took me years to figure out that I could actually be both. So here I am, 2 children and on the far side of menopause and still a tomboy. It's been a wild ride!

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    1. Me too...though shalt not give up thy tom-boy-hood!

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    2. Don't necessarily take on the aspects of a boy, You are a Tom-girl! or Tom-Woman! ah.

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  3. Hahaha...Mike, you always, always, always make me laugh! And think. And appreciate your gifts.
    Ah, yes, I hope to be part of the circle of celebration bringing my friend's daughter into the...coven? Maybe not a good word. But we need several generations present to carry her over the threshold into the woman's world of maiden, mother, and crone. I haven't quite yet been able to fully celebrate my passing into crone-hood; maybe next year, when I turn 60?

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