Everyday Sexism Every Woman Faces


Lots of things about being female that irk and irritate me, but none piss me off more than everyday sexism.

I have spent all but a few years of my life railing against the limitations, inequalities, dangers and outrages visited upon me simply because I am not male.

Decades of my life. Quite literally.

So it stands to reason that I am very interested in varying takes on the subject that appear in the news and on the social media.

Yesterday, a conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Michelle Rempel, who also happens to be the immigration critic, wrote a piece which appeared in The National Post, detailing her ongoing struggles with the daily hassle of trying to represent her constituents while being female.

I’d like to report that the Canadian Parliament is an enlightened bastion of gender equality, and that Canadian men are not sexist Neanderthals in the workplace, but sadly, I cannot.

Here is some of what Ms. Rempel had to say on the subject:

The everyday sexism I face involves confronting the “bitch” epithet when I don’t automatically comply with someone’s request or capitulate on my position on an issue, confronting assumptions that I have gotten to my station in life by (insert your choice of sexual act) with (insert your choice of man in position of authority), enduring speculation and value judgements about my fertility, and responding to commentary that links my appearance to my competency. It involves my ass being occasionally grabbed as a way to shock me into submission. It involves tokenism. It involves sometimes being written off as not serious when I’ve clearly proven I am.

I’m fortunate, though. I haven’t had to overcome obstacles that many other women face. I have a romantic partner who isn’t emasculated by my success, and enthusiastically encourages me to pursue my aspirations. I’ve worked for and with employers who have done the same. I’m in a position of authority. I haven’t had to raise children as a single woman. I haven’t had to raise children, period. I’m cisgender, straight, and white. My body mass index doesn’t exceed 25. I’m not an immigrant. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship. I’m fortunate enough to have had a steady job throughout most of my working life. I could go on, and on, and on.

It’s a laundry list of not only the dismissive attitude men in the workplace still harbor and act upon, but it also highlights that being very privileged isn’t the shield some might suspect.

At the end of a day, what a man sees when he happens upon women in the world – wherever it might be – is someone who is not his equal. Someone he is free to not only make assumptions about but to give them voice. Someone he can fondle, leer at, proposition, and belittle because he is the man and the man is allowed.

It’s 2016 and the. man. is. allowed.

Let that sink in.

Then ask yourself, why is that?

In my opinion, some of it stems from the fact religions and out-dated cultural beliefs and practices still have too much influence in the world, but it also stems from the reality that women are a diverse group with differing and competing ideas/needs concerning what equality should be.

Regardless, I am firmly on the side of those who believe  the root of the problem is men. Their attitudes. Their unwillingness to let go of a status quo that suits them just fine because it asks/expects so little of them.

A gentlemen on Twitter responded to one of my tweets about Rempel’s article by saying he flet responding with a positive when a man behaves in a sexist manner is more likely to prevent similar behavior in the future than scolding or outrage.

Generally, I would agree. I spent too many years slowly luring teenagers to the trough of knowledge to not recognize the wisdom in such an approach.

It doesn’t mean, however, I am not bone weary fucking tired of it.

When after a conversation a man says to me, “You are a lot smarter than I thought you were.” My reaction is no longer “Thanks.” As it would have been when I was young.

Now, I say nothing.

Because there’s nothing to say to something so incredibly insulting the mind boggles he thought it was okay to say this out loud.

And grabbing my ass is grounds for slapped fingers. Or losing the whole hand.

Not that I have to worry about being groped anymore. My ass is too old to entice anyone but my husband. That or men save this kind of extraordinary personal space invasion for younger women because they instinctively know older women will hurt them.

Like Rempel though, I haven’t experienced sexism in a way that held me back during my education or kept me from employment or advancement after I graduated.

Though I have been physically threatened at different points when I was a young girl and woman, I was never hurt and was never trapped. I would point out that fear leaves its own marks but how we deal with them is an individual thing that can’t be easily quantified.

While I have been a single mom, an immigrant and “too large” to qualify for inclusion in what passes for “beautiful”, they were not obstacles for me either in the sense that they are for many.
I have been lucky and lucky, as most of us are wise enough to realize, is simply another way of saying “privileged”.

And she makes several good points about privilege when she writes,

The everyday sexism that I experience is grating. It angers me, and it makes me roll my eyes. Sometimes, when it’s bad enough, it causes me to second guess myself. I address it. I speak out about it. That said, I’ve never lost a job because of it. I’ve never experienced violence because of it. I’ve never had to worry about feeding my family because of it.

So, who am I to tell other women how they should combat everyday sexism? In fact, who are any of us to do the same?

There is no one sizes fits all solution for everyday sexism from a women’s perspective and, in my opinion again, there is no solution at all until men are willing to share privilege with us.

Because equality is really about leveling privilege.

And I don’t see that happening.

We’ve come a long way since the days we were not allowed to vote and were passed from father to husband like chattel. But we still owe the progress that been made more to the largess of men than anything. And unless we speak up, insist and address the daily insults and outrages, little is going to change.

So it’s incumbent upon those of us who are in the position to do something to do it. Like Michelle Rempel does in Ottawa. Like I do when I radicalize my daughters with knowledge, encouragement and being embarrassingly outspoken.

We need to push. We need to call out. We need to remember that women are still not equal and it’s way past time we were.

 

When Hanna Montana Is Possessed By Evil Forces


English: Hannah Montana aka Miley Cyrus on the...

English: Hannah Montana aka Miley Cyrus on the stage of Hannah Montana Tour Français : Hannah Montana alias Miley Cyrus sur la scéne de la tournée de Hannah Montana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several birthdays ago, Dee received one of those Hanna Montana barbie-like dolls. She was probably at the zenith of her Hanna love. She wore Hanna to school and to bed. She watched Hanna. She wondered “what would Hanna do”.

To be clear, she understood that Hanna was a fictional character and could distinguish her from Miley Cyrus, who she has never shown the slightest interest in. Dee just loved the idea of an “ordinary” girl with a secret identity that just happened to be completely outside the realm of what could possibly be considered normal. And she’s a sucker for slap-stick.

But, as is the fate of most dolls in our house, Hanna was rarely – if ever – played with. After her initial new novelty wore off, she was sentenced to life in the box of forgotten dolls.

Until this last Saturday.

Dee’s new BFF, Pai, was invited to sleep-over. Like most of Dee’s friends, past and present, she is enamoured of the dollhouse that Rob (aka Santa Claus) crafted for her several Christmas’s ago. It is a house of beauty, and it’s massive. Dee and her friends are only just able to see over it and it takes up a good deal of bedroom floor real estate.

In addition to the doll mansion, Dee’s amassed quite the impressive collection of Barbies and paraphernalia. The latter in no small part is thanks to Edie and Mick, who bequeathed her their late 80’s/early 90’s accessories of which many would be completely new and novel to Dee’s friends. Naturally, they all want to play Barbies, and it’s about the only time Dee herself will sit and play with her collection for literally hours on end. Dee is a cardboard box, scissors and Scotch tape kind of kid. Barbies don’t make her top ten list of ways to pass time. Unless her friends want to play.

At some point in the late afternoon, Hanna Montana was discovered and one of them noted that she seemed evil and perhaps even – alive with evil.

Thus came plan A. To catch Evil Hanna in the act of animation. And to this end, Steve Jobs came to the rescue.

Both girls are nearly as welded to their iPods as the average teen’s eyeballs and thumbs are ensnared by their smart phones. Hanna was left on the lower bunk caught in the cross-hairs of two lens with video rolling. If she moved, they would know.

But, both iPods mysteriously stopped filming after 12 seconds.

“There is no way that could have happened,” Dee told me later.

And Hanna, again quite mysteriously but certainly with sinister intent, flipped from her back to her tummy.

“She moved,” Pai said solemnly.

“She did,” was Dee’s saucer eyed concurrence.

Plan B was clearly needed, and this involved “caging” a now trussed up with ribbons Hanna in a mesh pop-up hamper. Surveillance was once again employed, and the girls went about their merry way.

Fast-forward to bed-time and despite the wicked Hanna’s lack of obvious escape attempts, neither girl felt able to sleep in security as long as the malevolent hunk of plastic molded by underpaid Chinese  was in the room.

A defcon level plan C was hatched on the fly and Rob and I, who were showering off the day’s asphalt roofing material, heard the patter and scurry of feet down the basement stairs. Mood killer that it was, I dried off, donned robe and went to assess.

I found the two of them in Dee’s play area and Pai was attempting to tie a cloth belt from an old swimsuit of mine around the play dishwasher while Dee perched on the mini-trampoline, clutching the stuffed bison she picked up in Yellowstone last summer holiday. A thin cloth ribbon tied around her wrist was looped around Pai’s waist.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

They both looked at me as though it should be plainly obvious to all but the most mentally defective.

“We can’t sleep with Hanna in the room,” Dee said. “So we are caging her down here.”

“I see,” I said, “and you are tied together why?”

“Stuffies will protect you from evil,” Dee explained. “So I am holding Bice and Pai is protected as long as she is tied to me.”

Which is what best friends do, selflessly risk corruption by unspeakably evil Mattel products while you have their backs.

“It won’t tie,” Pai piped up.

“Let me help,” I said.

Which is what Moms do, we humor children who have needlessly hyped themselves up to irrational levels of imaginary fear.

After Hanna was secured, I ushered the children back up to Dee’s bedroom and told them I’d check back when I came back up to bed for the night.

By this time, Rob was out of the shower and upstairs and I updated him of the latest in Hanna control to which he rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“At least we have proof that they actually have imaginations,” he sighed as if that were the only lemonade that could be squeezed out of this mushroom cloud of escalating terror.

Before bed, I peeked in Dee’s room again to find both girls in the top bunk, ringed in by every stuffie Dee owned.

And, of course, I had to ask.

“Stuffies can be used as a force field,” Dee said.

“This way,” Pai continued, “if Hanna gets loose, she can’t get to us.”

“Good thinking. But if Hanna gets loose, tomorrow we are going to have Dad chop her up with the hatchet and burn her in the fire pit,” and with that I wished them pleasant non-Hanna dreams and went to bed.

I was reading when Rob slipped into the room, closing the door behind him and grinning like an evil Hanna Montana doll.

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“You should have seen the looks on their faces when I asked them why Hanna Montana was sitting in the hallway.”

“Way to give them nightmares, Baby,” I told him. “I told them if the doll got loose in the night, you’d chop it up tomorrow.”

“What did they say to that?”

“Pai asked if she could chop the head off.”

The next morning found Hanna still secure and the girls decided that more permanent measures for her ultimate containment were in order. Armed with stuffies, they retrieved evil incarnate from the dishwasher and with only YouTube vids as their guide, they constructed a cage out of old pizza boxes and a drink carrier from A&W. An hour and a half, water-colours, and tape later, the Hanna was neutralized for good.

“We taped her arms and legs together and then taped her to the bottom of the cage,” Dee said. “She narrowed her eyes at us, but she can’t get out.”

Last night, Dee slept soundly, even though Hanna-bot was under the bed.

“I have Bice and as long as he is touching me I have a thin force field around me for protection.”

And so, once again, the power of little girls, stuffies and arts/crafts has vanquished the sinister forces of the world. Rest easy.

The Root of Road Rage


 

A speed limit sign entering a school zone, alo...

School zone sign in U.S. In Alberta, the speed is 30km or about 22 mph – Calabasas, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I am starting to believe that people who rage at other motorists are simply embarrassed about their own dickish driving behavior. Those who thumb noses at speed limits, consideration for safety when passing and view treat stop signs like yields and yields as though they were invisible are perfectly aware that they are cunts and resent having it pointed out to them.

 

Few things will provoke a fellow road mate to rabid rage like honking at them when they cut off your vehicle or pull out in front of you. It’s not that the driver didn’t know he/she was committing a transgression. He/she is angry at you for not ignoring it. You are supposed to just “take it”.

 

I drove Dee to school this morning because I’d been guilted into volunteering to help chaperone her field trip to the annual historical festival at the local museum. The trip was short parent volunteers and despite the fact that my loathing of field trips pre-dates even my years teaching middle school, it was important to Dee. So I sucked it up and said, “yes”.

 

Upside was sleeping in. Downside was driving her to school.

 

The elementary school is located on a rather well-used road in the older part of town. The speed limit during school hours is a mere 30km, which is even lower than the U.S.’s 25mph, and during the morning rush, you can see steam hissing out of the ears of every driver crawling past.

 

It invites stupidity as commuters jockey and nudge each other to go just a tad faster and knowing what a clusterfuck it can be with angry workers off to their day job slog, parents trying to drop off students and school buses pulling in, off-loading and pulling out to vex the already late for work – I am in extreme slow and cautious mode.

 

Traffic was slow today even before I hit the school zone and cars pulling from the side streets did so with a whip-it turn and gun it that speaks volumes about how spatially challenged most people are. Therefore, I was watching the side streets carefully and it’s a good thing because a car raced up, barely slowed and then pulled out in front of me.

 

So I honked.

 

Which is where I went wrong because Princess already knew that she’d pulled a fast one and was basically expecting me to be fine with it. She was in a hurry after all.

 

We were barely two blocks from the turn into the school parking lot and Princess, not being able to see Dee in my backseat, likely assumed I was on my way to work. Her reaction to being chastised for being a dick driver was to slow down and slow down and then finally – slam on her brakes.

 

Did I back off? No. I was never in any danger of hitting her. I was under the speed limit to begin with and her wedge manuever caused me to slow even more. But, I am in a truck and she is in a little hatchback-ish thing and I probably looked closer and more menacing than I was.

 

And as if attempting to get me rear-ended wasn’t enough, she flipped me off.

 

So I gave her the finger back.

 

“You what?” Rob asked when I related this to him.

 

“Gave her the finger,” I repeated. “Why not. She was being an asshole, trying to teach me a lesson by causing me to get rear-ended. There are somethings that need to be commented on with profanity.”

 

And then she sped up and signaled to turn into … the school parking lot.

 

I’d have given a lot to see the look on her  face when I signaled to turn there as well.

 

She quickly whipped into the aisle leading to the drop off lane while I went to the back row of the lot to park. I kept an eye out for her and was amused to note that she parked in the drop off and stayed in her car until Dee and I had walked half-way to the building before she started up and darted down the center aisle of the lot. I watched her roll slowly past and even turned around and walked backward as she queued up to exit. I was tempted to wave. No, not with my middle finger. There were children in plain sight who aren’t mine and I am only allowed to corrupt my own child.

 

Lately, I haven’t been shy about using the truck’s horn. I don’t sit patiently behind someone as they fiddle with their smartphones and the light has been green for longer than it takes to blink slowly several times. I am not patient with semi-drivers who think it’s okay to pull out in front of me because they are larger and are “working”, which allows them some sort of road dispensation. I don’t suffer idiots to endanger my life with their precarious passing prowess because – their lack of brains and spatial awareness should only rid the world of them and not me too.

 

There was an interesting conversation on a local radio station a few weeks ago about the so-called “passing lane on the major roads in Edmonton. It’s a widely held, though completely wrong, belief that the far left lane is for the “fast” traffic. And by “fast”, they assume that means license to exceed the posted speed limit by a margin and a half. When the on-air host pointed out that technically the speed limit is exactly the same in all three lanes and that the far left is only for those to use to get around traffic that is moving slower than the limit – he was roundly and soundly dismissed.

 

Which just proves that there are a lot of stupid people being given licenses to drive. Like Princess this morning. And that they don’t appreciate it when their self-serving disregard for others is brought home to them. More often than not anymore, I am disinclined to care.

 

 

The “Mommy Wars”: Militant Attachment Parenting Edition


Time Magazine jumped into the Mommy “War” fray this past week with a “provocative” cover story, which featured a good-looking millennial mom breastfeeding her big-for-his-age almost four-year old as the cover photo.

I am sure you’ve seen it by now. She’s garbed in the standard yoga uniform of the SAHM with one boob flashing a bit as her son peeks from behind it, his mouth firmly latched.

The outrage! How dare Time sexualize breastfeeding?! And how icky of them to use a hot looking mom as opposed to the dumpy beings we all know that moms are? And the kid? He’s a kid!! Kids don’t breastfeed! They eat. Lunchables and Happy Meals while drinking fructose infused juices and sodas. And finally, breastfeeding is all well and good for INFANTS (provided a woman CAN nurse … because you know, not all of us can. Failure to latch or lactate enough or you know, we have lives) but not preschoolers who can ask for a cup of milk and maybe even pour their own sippy cups. Pretty sure that sucking Mom’s teat (in front of people) isn’t something Jesus wants fully actualized feminists to do.

‘Cause Jesus loves the working woman.

Did you hear my eyes rolling on that last line?

Look, I breastfed Dee until she was a tad over four years old. Ask her. She’ll tell you that it was awesome and that breast milk is the tastiest stuff ever and she misses it … because she’s lactose intolerant and rice milk just doesn’t cut it for her, and I am mean and won’t let her have much cow’s milk. And no, she won’t be traumatized if someday her peers find this out because we have raised her to value what she knows over the often times misguided misinformation of others.

She slept with me too until Rob came along – because he is the world’s most finicky sleeper*. It’s the slippery slope that is “attachment parenting” for most of us who aren’t Hollywood actresses. Breastfeeding is an on demand thing and in pretty short order it occurs to most of us that letting the baby, toddler or kid simply latch on as needed while we sleep is the best way to not die from exhaustion.

As most people who know Dee can attest, she is neither emotionally impaired nor particularly clingy. She sallies forth into the world at her own pace, dictated more by her personality – which she inherited in more or less equal measures from me and her late father – and that no one would accuse her of being particularly effed up in terms of her ability to separate from Rob and I. She speaks up for herself. She doesn’t take crap from peers. She knows who she is and aside from her insistence that she is going to work at The Pottery Guild when she grows up (she is going to be an engineer because we’ve already decided that we can’t waste money on university without some sort of assurance that she will be employable and not destined to live with us for the rest of our lives), she is practical and – based on my observations of many of her friends – far more self-sufficient.

There is nothing particularly right or wrong about breastfeeding beyound the first 6 weeks or months. Once I got the hang of it, I found it much easier than messing about with formula and bottles. But I wasn’t slavish about it. I didn’t get the hang of pumping, so Dee took formula at daycare. Devilish smart wee one that she was, she figured out quite early that because she could nurse all she liked in the evenings and over-night, she didn’t need to take much formula during the day. More than once, a worried caregiver informed me that Dee had taken only 15 ounces of formula that day. She was too clever by half even as a 4 month old.

And I didn’t personally know anyone whose kid or kids didn’t take up residence in their bed. Honestly, I don’t know that forbidding this sort of thing promotes “independence” any more than letting a baby cry itself to exhaustion teaches them to sleep (which begs the question of how “sleep” – a natural human thing is “taught”). My parents forbade us to sleep in their bed. In fact, I vividly remember having to stand in the hallway outside their door and call to them ’til one of them woke up if I needed them in the night because it was literally taking life in hand to even stand next to their bed.

Most of the sanctity of the marriage bed thing stems, in my opinion, from the quaint notion that sex is why the bed exists in the first place and that a couple somehow loses precious bonding time when children “intrude”.  Aside from our days trying to conceive, the late husband and I rarely had sex in bed. And frankly, I am not at all sure how one bonds during one’s sleep. But given the fact that “bonding” for many couples consists of watching Game of Thrones on a flatscreen nearly as big as the bed – I am not really sure where the bed gets its sacred reputation. It’s a bed. Mostly you sleep in it and kids eventually will get tired of being squished and go find beds of their own. I don’t know a single co-sleeping family who is harbouring teens or 20 somethings in their beds.

Here’s what I think about the hysteria over the Time cover pic.

People project. A lot.

North Americas have  a puritanical streak wider than the Mississippi and twice as long. The media and the Pink Ribbon brigade has so twisted our notions about the female breast that we can’t see them and not think SEX. Breasts in our culture are about accessorizing, flaunting and power and not necessarily in that order. Men see breasts as enticing toys, and women pander to this view a lot more than is necessary.

Breasts are not just fatty tissue housing milk ducts, They are statements. Sexual objects used by everyone from the purveyors of capitalism to the pimps of the patriarchal religious right. More so than even our vaginas, our breasts are used to pit us against each other in pointless areola gazing.

Are you Mom enough? Time asks us. And by doing so is accused of stoking the next battle, but we willingly engage in one mom up-woman-ship all the time on our blogs, Twit streams and Facebook pages. Seldom have I witnessed Moms gathering (or women in general for that matter) where hierarchies aren’t quickly established with women knowing, without even asking, where they rank. Nothing about being female screams FEMALE as loudly as the endless competition we entered into at some point before junior high and continue to engage in to one degree or another until we drop dead (from breast cancer, if you are inclined to buy into the hysteria).

Time fed the distraction troll with this one. One could excuse it if one were inclined. I’m not. Nor am I inclined to cut much slack to the hysterical and squeamish who jumped into the fray while decrying it.

They are just boobs, doing what boobs are uniquely designed to do. I get that Mom on Time’s cover. Breastfeeders are constantly sent the message that we are freakish and should keep that shit in our homes – with shades drawn and maybe in a closet underneath a thick blanket. I’d have stuck it out there for all to see too had I been given her chance. And personally, I get a vicarious feeling of satisfaction knowing that cover is discomforting the judgemental and the timid conformers in every grocery and Target all over America. Take that, Mommy Clubbers!

Seriously, they are boobs and the kid is nursing. He’ll be fine. Get over it already and stop buying into your own manipulation by a media with a political agenda that is clearly not women friendly.

*I am lucky that I am allowed to share the bed with him because my tossing about has driven him to distraction on more than one occasion. And Dee is even worse than I am.

Not Yet Summer


Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow is the first of May. It will mark, or so I have read, the beginning of “occupy” season and the countdown to the end of the school year. The latter being a longer wind-down here than back in the States because – thanks to an interminable number of professional days – school won’t end until Canada Day is nearly upon us.

But, it’s like many things Canada. We have them but for shorter durations and after we’ve waited longer for them.

For me, tomorrow marks the beginning of the death march to freedom from the school year’s tyrannical focus on the child’s schedule. School. Girl Guides. Pottery. Indoor Soccer. Outdoor Soccer. Months where she seems to be on holiday more than she is in school.

Already the days are longer. The sun is up before I am. And I am up pretty damn early. It is only just setting when the child crawls into bed at 9 P.M. By some happy quirk of fate, this year marks an actual early spring, which is not early where I come from in Iowa but normal. Spring should arrive in April or even the tail end of March. Here it shows up in May, usually, and teases until June-ish, which is spring and not summer here.

Outdoor Soccer acts as my countdown calendar. Each game completed brings me closer to the day I don’t have to get up and make lunches, breakfasts and ensure the child catches the bus. Closer to summer.

Summer is an eye blink anymore. In my past, I enjoyed what seemed like endless summer, but here it’s over by mid-August and if we are exceptionally lucky it began in late June though typically it’s July-ish. All told? A month. Ish.

Fall, I will admit is lovely for the most part. Indian-ish.

So, in the season of Not-Yet-Summer, I endure. With more difficulty this year because it’s been hellish wet. Just enough rainy to trigger all manner of my non-allergies and non-asthma which aggravates my real migraines and keeps me trapped in my real indoors. Not enough sun and warmth to warm my imagination or spark my soul for the slog to actual summer.

Perhaps it has been too long since my last vacation?

It has been a while. And it’s been a long winter in spirit if not reality.

The stay-cation in March was not long enough. Our first real chance at a holiday is even longer away than summer thanks to a lot of conditions over which no control can be asserted.

But your life is just one long uninterrupted holiday, you say.

My life is a long serious of obligations and responsibilities, not all of which I find odious, but not all of which I would choose to do for just anyone. And because the setting is still a work in progress and some of the characters require more tending than others and particular characters have been a bit soul-sucking and even exasperating and I am forced to work in the evenings – when I work – I find myself more wearied today than I have been and waiting impatiently for summer.

Little White Shorts Are Not Empowering


The Cal women's volleyball team during a match...

The Cal women's volleyball team during a match against USC in Berkeley. The Golden Bears won 3 sets to 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in junior high, I spent my grade seven year stubbornly resisting all recruiting efforts to entice me to play school team sports. My interest and ability was not a secret. Until grade six, recess was my favorite class solely because of sports. I played whatever ball was going. Baseball. Basketball. Kickball. And like every other girl, I played with the boys. Co-ed teams were the norm from grade two on. It’s how we played in the neighborhoods. We thought little enough of it.

But the parish pastor spent an unhealthy amount of time brooding on it and the year I was in sixth grade, he informed the school’s principal, Sr. Walmar, that once students entered Unit 3 (grades five and six), we were to play athletic games with our respective genders only.

And being a good little nun, Sr. Walmar complied.

First, it was basketball. Not only were we girls not to play with the boys, but when we tried to play on our own, we were informed we must play it “girl’s rules” now. Six on six basketball is an abomination of the highest order in my eyes. I thought so then and I continue to view it that way. Though many in my home state of Iowa lament its inevitable demise, I still say – good riddance.

The day that one of the math teachers came out to teach us the rules sticks vividly in my memory. After going along with her instructions for about ten minutes, I announced that I was going to find something else to do for the rest of the recess period, and I walked away with several of my friends in tow. Not to be thwarted, Sr. Marlu made the learning of six on six part of our PE curriculum, and I went along but I never played the game unless my grade was at stake.

Eventually, baseball and kickball were not only downgraded from co-ed status but in an effort to get we girls to take up the nice feminine sport of volleyball, we were forbidden to play kickball on the volleyball courts (even though there wasn’t a single girl between grades five and eight who would play the game, which was partly because we’d recently been banned from wearing shorts under our school skirts and partly b/c the courts were located on the asphalt parking lot).

Grade seven rolled around and I snubbed everything. Not volleyball. Nor basketball. No softball and forget about track. I was not about to knuckle under. I would play as I pleased or not at all.

But when grade eight came, a few of my friends who had joined the school teams the year before brought a bit of peer pressure to bear. I was a good athlete. They’d spent the last year mostly losing. What kind of friend was I anyway?

Our parish was not well off. Our school reflected this in a myriad of ways. The boys teams had uniforms but the girls had team t-shirts only, not real uniforms like the other Catholic schools girls’ teams did. That changed at the beginning of our basketball season. Somehow, the pastor had been prevailed upon to outfit us. It was actually a bit exciting when our coach, a young guy who was student teaching in our building, handed them out to us one night after practice. We trooped into the locker room of the elementary school gym that we used, because our school didn’t have a gym, to try them on. They were polyester and very tight. The shirts were unattractive but serviceable. The pants, however, would have been better suited to a Hooters, if such a thing had existed back then.

Tight and very short, any movement sent what little leg covering there was inching up into every crevice imaginable. A great deal of time that season was devoted to pulling the shorts down. And if this wasn’t insult enough, they were white and so thin that great care in underwear selection was a must on game days.

Even the prettiest, slenderest girls were horrified by those hot pants pretending to be basketball shorts, and keep in mind that this was the late 70’s when short gym shorts were the norm.

We all quickly changed out of the shorts and went out to tell our coach that the shorts were too small.

His response?

Go back in there and try them on and let me decide if they are too small.

We were seventh and eighth graders. It was 1977. We put the shorts back on and paraded around while this 22-year-old education major assessed our assessment. He tried to keep his expression neutral, but he was pretty new to the whole “teaching” thing and he was clearly embarrassed.  He told us he would fix it. He was too young to really know how the education hierarchy worked and too indoctrinated in our shared religion to understand that he had no hope of fixing anything.

He went to the pastor and explained but was told that the shorts couldn’t be returned, and we would wear them or not play.

I was all in favor of not playing. In grade eight I was nearly as tall as I am now and weighed only slightly less than I do now. I was never a little girl and at the time, the phrase “all arms and legs” was me to a tee. I offered to get a pair of regular white gym shorts and wear them but was told again that I would wear the uniform or not play. If I hadn’t committed to my friends to stick that wretched season out before it even began, I’d have walked with no problems. But I’d promised, so I sandwiched up and wore the damned hot pants even though I knew exactly what I looked like in them and just what the boys who saw us were going to do and say. I may have only been 13 but I’d been female long enough at that point to know what one did and didn’t wear, when and why.

Our school developed quite the reputation that season. Word of our “panties” spread. It wasn’t unusual for a lot of boys from the opposing school to hang around for the girls basketball games when we were the visiting team.

Yes, there was catcalling. All with leering  and plenty of wishing the wooden gym floors would open up in a suitably biblical fashion and swallow us whole (but not before lightning bolts smote every leering grin in the room).

But only once did our coach experience any of t it for himself.

It was after the game at Nativity, and we trekked dejectedly (we’d lost again aside from me and a few of my friends, no one on our team could play to save their lives) and the Nativity boys lined the stairwell leading down to the locker rooms – leering and full of themselves with witty commentary on our scanty panties.

They didn’t see Coach and when they did, they scattered.

At the next practice he said, “I’ve talked to Father and for the rest of the season, you can wear your own shorts, so long as they are white.”

And that was that.

In the end, it was not our feelings that swayed either our Coach or the parish pastor, but the opinions of other men, albeit rather young ones. Which is the point of the story. Men decide and women abide.

Just as an aside to the story, my father attended the Nativity game. It was the only one he’d been able to get to all season, so he’d never seen the shorts. After, he’d been grim-faced enough that had Coach not gone to talk with the pastor, I am pretty sure my dad would have because even though the coach had been too young and too much of a butt-kisser to act, what my Dad saw that night was what everyone had seen all season, and what my male peers knew without being told. We were dressed like street-walkers. Those tiny shorts did not highlight our athletic limbs as much as they showcased our budding sexuality. And every male who saw us, regardless of age, knew it.

Not long ago, Dee asked for a sweater that would sit off her shoulder. Eventually all fashion is new again and apparently the Flashdance look of the 80’s has rolled back around. She wanted the sweater to wear over a thin strapped t-shirt. She is nine. I thought little of it. She is very tiny and often mistaken for a younger child still. No big deal.

“She’ll look like a tart,” her father told me when I mentioned it to him.

Did I mention that she is nine? But yet that’s what her own father thinks of her in that outfit.

Men see us differently than we choose to pretend we look to the world.

The mothers at the last dance studio Dee attended would vehemently defend the risque jazz outfits that frankly wouldn’t have looked out of place in a skin joint. They saw “art”, but my guess is that more than one father and grandfather at those performances saw “stripper” in the making.

A mother I know recently wrote about the too tight, too short pants that her pre-teen daughter is supposed to wear to play volleyball. Not wanting to be “that mom”, she’s chosen the path of deep breathing and hoping that she is just overreacting a bit. After all, females from 10 to the Olympics wear those skin tight butt huggers to play the game – never mind that not a single other female sport from basketball to soccer is similarly clad or that boys/men who play volleyball are allowed to wear long shorts. Her daughter loves volleyball, and it’s a “no short shorts/no play” thing. And maybe in the long run, it’s no big deal.

If I could relive grade eight, I would have never donned those white shorts. I’d have quit on the spot and walked home that cold dark November evening. It’s been 35 years and I still remember what it felt like to walk in front of a gym full of people and know what was being whispered about us in those shorts.

Hindsight.