Donna stood on my front door step, looking at me expectantly.
“Come on in,” I said, and — because I couldn’t help myself- I looked for a male partner. That’s my generation. However, because I’m not totally my generation, not seeing one, I assumed- rightfully so- that if Donna was the rep for Stanley Steemer, then she knew what she was doing. If she hadda move furniture, she could do it without my help.
She sure could.
She came in, asked all the right questions, and went about her business without hesitation. I had copious blood stains on my beige living room carpet as a result of doing a THC-induced header into my bookcase the week before, the result of painful shoulder surgery. I hadn’t quite been prepared for how powerful the gummy would be, and my gift for that lack of preparation was a nasty head injury.
Donna was here to clean up the by-products.
Again, briefly, I wondered if she might need my help in moving anything. Again, I realized that if she couldn’t move furniture she wouldn’t be doing this job. I left her to her own devices. My right arm was in a sling. She didn’t need me to get in the way.
She did a terrific job.
Donna’s barely thirty. Two kids. An abusive husband is doing jail time for nearly killing their six-month-old child. This woman’s got stories. As she took my credit card, I learned a lot more about what it’s like to be relatively short, large, and female as a top-ranked Stanley Steemer rep.
“Women sometimes make me move big furniture just to see if I can,” she said, smiling. “They’re surprised and put off not to see a guy at the door, and then they push me around to see if they can make me fail. In fact they’re trying to force my hand just to show me I don’t deserve this job. You show me a piece of furniture, I’ll move it.
“The same thing happens with men. They’re surprised, look around for the ‘real’ rep, then with obvious resistance, let me in to do my job. They’ll follow me around asking if I need help. I don’t. Sometimes they’re a little miffed that I do just fine by myself.”
Donna’s a top rep for Stanley Steemer. Tops in customer compliments, tops in upselling, tops across the board. Not because customers make it easy, but because she’s tough enough to tough out their resistance to her just because she’s female.
“I have already lost about 90 pounds,” Donna says proudly. “I’ve had two kids. Survived a brutally abusive husband. And I took on this job.”
When people either make fun of her or challenge her, she has a perfect comeback:
“I just bought a 2018 car. I have another recent model. I’ve got a nice house. I am making great money and all my payments are on time,” she beams proudly. A great many young single moms can’t even begin to say that, especially in a city where the new median household cost is close to half a million bucks.
In fact, taking this kind of job is a superb strategy for women, albeit not without its downsides. As women continue to break (so-called, please) “new ground” in areas where we’ve traditionally been rather rare (https://www.dol.gov/wb/factsheets/nontra2008.htm), those of us who push those boundaries can encounter everything from sexual harassment/abuse to haranguing by surprised (and rude) customers, as Donna has.
There’s a bug in the computer..no really!
In an article about non-traditional jobs (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/non-traditional-careers-for-women-525715) I was a bit surprised to see some listed, such as pilot (I am one myself) and computer programmer. Women were the very first computer programmers (https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/10/06/345799830/the-forgotten-female-programmers-who-created-modern-tech). The term “computer bug” was coined by female Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who found an actual bug in the computer works. Men hijacked those early beginnings, so much so that now people simply assume that computers are a “man’s thing.” No, they aren’t. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/09/google-memo-man-women-tech-original-computer-programmers) Any more than being a superb pilot is strictly a man’s thing. We just got derailed, pushed aside and intentionally erased out of history along the way, and men took credit for what women originated. That’s not the first time, by any stretch.
That Sweet Music is…Hers.
Fan of classical music? Is that a man’s thing? If you know anything about classical music history, you may know about Clara Schumann, who was a child prodigy at age 11, and premiered her first piano composition at 16. Most everyone knows about Mozart, but who knows about these women? https://www.buzzfeed.com/ninamohan/female-composers-that-deserve-more-.love?utm_term=.kroP6NNOY#.gsOvDMMVn. Many of these uber-talented women- just as good as their male counterparts- are only just recently getting their due, as well as having their works recorded and enjoyed many generations after their creations were penned. The larger question is how many male composers lifted their lovers’ and wives’ work and called it their own? How many artists?
The art world is full of forgotten females. Those of us who appreciate art might well know of Klimt (The Kiss), but what about Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist and mystic who was among the very first abstract artists? http://www.dailyartmagazine.com/10-female-artist-forgotten-art-history/. Artists may be slightly mad and immensely creative, but all too often if they were female in the past, they didn’t even exist or get an honorable mention.
Many people know about Charles Lindbergh. He flew east across the Atlantic. With the wind. How many people know about Beryl Markham, who flew in the other direction, against the wind, to land in Canada? She was the first female bush pilot in Africa as well. Remarkably, she’s not even mentioned in a list of the top ten female aviators. People today know more about her from the modern book Circling the Sun. That lightweight tome is far more about her train wreck of a love affair with the famously limply moral and lecherous ne’er-do-well Denys Finch-Hatton, whom Robert Redford elevated to elegant, enviable status in the 1985 movie Out of Africa. The extraordinary women whose hearts he played with and against each other at his leisure, Markham and the amazing Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa)were vastly more admirable. For an excellent article about Markham, see https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/travel-guide/a3648/animal-attraction-beryl-markham/. It’s a lot more honest than Circling the Sun, which is a mildly enjoyable piece of fluff that doesn’t do Markham the honor she deserves. Mind you, I’m prejudiced; Markham’s my muse.
What about Bessie Coleman, who wanted to fly in WWII for America, but because she was Black, was denied? She instead went to France, got her international pilot’s license and made a career out of flying aerobatic shows (http://www.pilotweb.aero/features/10-outstanding-women-from-aviation-history-1-4006901) Women make superb pilots. We make superb just about anything.
Congress- still mostly male, mostly Christian- is like the Vatican: very slow to act on what is right. To wit: It took until 2016 before Congress, in a horrifically belated act of acknowledgement of their bravery, competence and personal achievement, finally voted to allow women WWII pilots to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/11/477716378/congress-approves-arlington-cemetery-burials-for-female-wwii-pilots).
While the list of nontraditional jobs doesn’t mention the military, it might as well. The continued resistance to, and punishment for, joining the service makes regular headlines. I was an enlisted woman in 1975 when my commanding general wanted me to attend the first female cycle at West Point. Already a military rape survivor, I knew damned well what was in store. NO THANK YOU. When you know what’s in store, if you can, you leave the store. I would make my marks elsewhere.
We’ve Always Served
Deborah Sampson served in an elite military unit during the Revolutionary War, taking rifle shot in battle. After one skirmish, she sewed herself up to avoid being identified as a woman. She was tall for the time at 5'9" and had masculine features as well as small breasts, which she wrapped in linen. After the war, she repeatedly petitioned Congress to receive her rightfully-won military pension, which a deeply-resistant and embarrassed Congress refused until she was utterly destitute. Her friend Paul Revere intervened to save her from a dishonorable death- death by Congress. It would hardly have been the first. Over the years he had to repeat these requests to get her a paltry percentage of what she was actually owed for her remarkable courage, commitment to her country, and her battle wounds (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deborah_Sampson.)
To this I share a very smart fellow female veteran’s take on how women vets are treated, in and out of the service https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/the-inconvenience-of-being-a-woman-veteran/545987/. On top of that, after we serve, we have this to deal with (and so did I thanks to my officer-and-a-gentleman rapist): http://www.newsweek.com/women-vets-have-more-double-suicide-rate-civilian-women-668732
In some ways very little has changed. Donna runs into the same prejudices, the same hijacking, the same denial, the same mockery as have any and all of us who dare to pee on the bushes that have been appropriated largely by men. We have always been there. We’ve always been writing and drawing and painting and piloting and fighting and skirmishing. And exercising, thank you very much.
Hold Onto the Girls
For some this has proven embarrassing. To wit, the accusation that our uteruses would fall out if we ran a marathon. Um, folks, we beg to differ. Kathrine Switzer, whom men tried hard to rip out of her first marathon, ran another fifty years later. And yes, all her lady parts are still intact (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/sports/boston-marathon-kathrine-switzer.html)
Today we’re finding that women make the very best endurance athletes. To that please see: https://www.outsideonline.com/2169856/longer-race-stronger-we-get. As an endurance athlete myself- although I don’t race- I can attest. The harder I work, the longer I go, the longer I CAN go.
Explorers in Skirts and in Drag
I am a member of an online group of women called Outdoor Women’s Alliance. Most are half or a third my age. We have a book club which meets monthly. We enjoy reading books by contemporary women about their epic adventures. However we- and Outside Magazine to their credit- are also about identifying and celebrating the world’s early female adventurers who have put today’s peak-baggers and Instagram addicts to shame (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_explorers_and_travelers). This of course doesn’t even begin to note the women who have lived in extreme conditions without a gob of Goretex or down, hunted, thrived and managed quite well in extraordinary conditions. Because they HAD to. For a fun read, see https://www.atlasobscura.com/categories/female-explorers
Today’s frightened and threatened men (and thank god there are far fewer of them but still) attack women like Jade Hameister, a teenager from Australia who skied to the South Pole and had a superb response to the pea brains who demanded that she “make them a sandwich.” https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/26/world/jade-hameister-epic-sandwich-response-trnd/index.html. Jade is just one example of the epic women I admire most. They don’t buy into the story of “where women belong.” They write their own novels and carve out places for themselves in history. All too often that’s in spite of men and women who try to tear them down.
Why on Earth are You So Surprised?
How we ever got to a point (other than so called “religious values” which demean, denigrate and control women) where we somehow made the assumption that women were the weaker sex, I have no clue. Researchers continued to be gob-smacked that Viking remains of what is clearly a leader and warrior were female (https://www.history.com/news/dna-proves-viking-women-were-powerful-warriors). We all too often either disregard or know absolutely nothing about potent female warriors who made their marks on history (https://www.thoughtco.com/ancient-women-warriors-121482).
Can you imagine how The Trung Sisters (AD 40) who drove the Chinese out of Vietnam, might respond to a male enemy who opens the door upon their arrival and demands to know where the real soldiers are? He wouldn’t have much to say, because by that time his head would be making stains on his beige carpet, not unlike my own. Which his male household servants would than have to clean up, if the Trungs let them live.
Researchers and archeologists who have identified the remains from goddess-worshipping matriarchal societies have long labeled them as “pagan.” Well of course they did (please see When God Was a Woman, by Merlin Stone)No matter that early writing, legal decisions and complex agricultural systems all came out of those “pagan” societies for some 25,000 years before the advent of patriarchal, woman-minimizing religions.
You see my bias. I’m not apologetic.
For those who wonder why today’s Millennials eschew religion, my guess is that the powerful young women who populate my OWA thread on Facebook are fed up with any notion of what they cannot do just because they happen to have breasts. Shortly after Trump was elected, I found myself behind a pickup which had a big sign painted on it: “You women better find your place again: eight steps behind me and with your mouth shut and head down, as the Bible says.” Good thing I wasn’t in a Hummer. I’d have run that redneck over and hummed a fine Clara Schumann tune all the way home.
For my part, as a mid-sixties Baby Boomer, I have lived as an outlier for most of my life and boy, have I paid the price. At a great cost to society, the arts, technology, and most especially the environment we have handed our power over to men, many of whom have not done a particularly good job of it. Problem is that once having gotten control, rewritten history and convincing girls from an early age that they have but one role in life, it’s hard to let those same girls/women/LGBTQ folks having a spot in said sandbox.
To this, I tip my aging, smelly, sweat-stained Oregon Research hat to those moms and dads who are bring up their girl babies to be warriors. Martial arts, boxing, big horses, makes no difference. Erase the boundaries and let the girls get out and punch, kick, play, and find out where their power lies. Any woman, any age who says enough is enough and decides to be outrageous. Educate the women, change the world for the better. It’s just that simple. That’s why despots and dictators all over the world don’t allow women to get educated. There’s damned good research behind what happens when they do.
For a sample of what happens in Africa and the Middle East, see https://www.prb.org/empoweringwomendevelopingsocietyfemaleeducationinthemiddleeastandnorthafrica/. As a journalist, I’ve covered what happens in the Tahuayo Basin of the Peruvian Amazon when women go to school, learn about food and sanitation, and get control of the household funds (that they themselves earn) and prevent their husbands from drinking it away. Teach the girls, save the world. Not much more to it than that.
We have always been fighters, warriors, artists, composers, judges, lawyers, and commanders of men, and when men weren’t around we managed perfectly well. None of this is new. What may be new is reclaiming territory that was occupied. We don’t necessarily want a fight (but we will if need be, beginning with the 400 anti-woman laws on the books that say we don’t have ownership of our own bodies). We do want fair pay, fair credit, a fair shake, and a fair deal. And we also want credit for what we’ve also always done: backed up our partners, help them achieve, and be cheerleaders for our kids and our kin. We don’t need our sisters to take potshots at us like they do with Donna and all the rest of us who choose not to be traditional (read, dictated by religious leaders or terrified politicians) in our choices.
The very best of men (and thank you to all of you gems out there; thank heaven I have one myself) and partners of all sexes is that they provide love and support so that women can self-realize, achieve, and add their gifts to society. That’s when we all win. It’s not a no-sum situation, as some would have us believe.
When women win, so do we all. Because when women are fully realized, then kids grow, communities prosper, men are freed to evolve as they wish, and there is much greater prosperity all around. And, to be fair, we might just be a wee bit more mindful of Mother Earth. Not a bad idea right now.
And kindly, man-in-the-pickup, we aren’t going to try to win eight steps behind, with our mouths shut and our heads down. You might want to pull off the road.