There are a few dates in my life that I hold tight within me. Dates that changed me in such a manner that they’re unforgettable. We all have those dates. But do you remember your first important date?
Mine was November 22, 1963. It was late morning and mom sat on the sofa behind a heaping laundry basket of clothes fresh from the dryer. The news broke in and I, all of three, knew something big had happened. Why? Because Mom gasped and her crying caused her to hold me. We sat in silence as Grandpa Cronkite announced President Kennedy had been shot. I watched as a pretty lady tried to climb out of the convertible to catch the top of the President’s head. We knew of course he was dead, but they announced that much late—after my mom had finished a box of tissue. I didn’t understand the importance of that day at the time. I was only three. But in hindsight, that event was my awakening. Not in the big meaning of the word but in the fact that I had awakened from the egocentricity of toddlerhood. I realized others existed and they weren’t always like me or mom or my family. It was my first sense that terrible things could and did happen. Now, that is an important day in anyone’s life. I’m sure everyone has that day. A point in their history where life expands beyond. We likely have several. Probably less than birth, but I can’t remember that, so it means less. The day John F. Kennedy died, in a way, I came alive.
I was three, my sister was two, and my other sister was seven months old and my mom was all of nineteen years old. Dad was at work. We never really saw him much except on Saturday mornings when we’d watch cartoons together. But that night after work he held my mom for a long time. They seemed scared for the world. At that moment, I understood that fear of the world and it would visit me again many times in the future. 1963 was an exciting year. Johnny Depp, Michael Jordan, and Tatum O’Neal were born. The Vietnam War was raging, and the Beetles sang about holding hands and seeing her standing there. Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison made music never heard before. Martin Luther King Jr. made his I have a dream speech, while Russia and the US set up a hotline in case there was a nuclear war. Plus, the Mercury-Atlas 9 splashed after orbiting the Earth on the same day as Griswold Vs Connecticut finally meant my mom could take the birth control pill. Now, there was a contrast between men in space and women who weren’t allowed to control the space within their bodies. Mom was married, old enough and now lived in a state that didn’t outlaw contraception. No more unplanned babies, no more miscarriages, and newfound freedom that changed everything. Even more freedom than the equal pay act of 1963. Since most women were expected to stay home and didn’t get paid anyway, the civil rights marches leading to the 1964 Civil Rights Act which ended segregation in public places and banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin was freeing for women. It was the first two acts that made me, at the age of three, freer than my mother, but still less free than my father.
But the pill. Well, the pill would mean I didn’t have to have my grandmother’s life of 11 kids or my mother’s life of motherhood only and reading nursing books and watching political shows late at night to hide the fact that she, like Mr. King, had dreams. I’m not sure why at three, I was considered so different than the boys in my neighborhood, but I knew for sure, I was.
What also struck me was a pretty Marilyn Monroe had committed suicide and a 30-year-old Sylvia Plath authored a book then committed suicide too. Is this all? The problem that Betty Friedan wrote about in her 1963 bestseller, The Feminine Mystique that feeling of wanting to be more than you were allowed to be, of being one thing outside and another inside. The dichotomy of life for every woman in 1963. Even girls as young as three. Even the working woman had this split as well. Lowered expectations of what she was capable of and handed on a platter were expectations that she must perform flawlessly in heels at home and work. Certainly, this was all in hindsight, but even at three in my mandatory leather shoes, dress, and curls sent to play and not get dirty. While wanting to be like the boys in the sandbox free to build and create. I was free to watch them and compliment them. I even felt then a difference between us. Not an internal difference, but a distinction imposed by society and time. We just happened to be born in 1963. Every generation has its struggle.
In 1966 when the Woman’s Movement started building headed by the new National Organization of Women, I was hopeful that maybe the third act of Equality for Women would be the opening of a door, for now, six-year-old me. So I watched every march even went to one with my mom. ‘I Am Human,’ my cardboard sign spoke in purple marker. The excitement raced among us carrying our tired feet forward on the hot asphalt until the Police turned us away. We were happy making our statement. We were releasing all that pent up frustration and doubt and chaining. That heaviness, the chaining, forced on our souls was lifted and gone in the moment of sisterhood. We released the dark with light and colors of paisley and plaid and promise of a new day coming. We celebrated our sex, our freedom to have a life like men, free from consequence and we shortened those skirts and shook what God gave us. Well, Them. I was only six. But I shook what I had. That day changed me. I was different, in a good way. Because of that day, in 1969 I did my first act to control my own life my world. I made a petition and collected lots of signatures, then took it to my elementary school principal. “Girls should not have to wear dresses in the winter. We want to wear pants. Jeans even,” I spoke to power. He heard me and threw me out of the office. Weeks later, I went back with a longer petition. Later that year it was decided that girls, in the winter months, could wear pants under their dresses. “Victory!” I whispered at the school’s loudspeaker. But in my flashback, all those women with signs and chants were right there with me. The sisterhood was strong in me.
It wasn’t until Hillary’s stunning loss to a pussy grabber when I was 56 that I realized how little we had gained in my lifetime. I woke up that next morning knowing I wasn’t equal, and I would likely die, second class. It was better, but better (though good) wasn’t the goal. All those years and marches and fighting individually in workplaces for what?
So, I did what women do. I set a way to make a difference, to make a change. I warmed up my keyboard and in honor of the writers like Plath and Friedan, and smart beautiful women like Monroe and Steinem, I started drafting stories girls could read to see themselves as brave, and independent, and free. If they weren’t, they could escape there and take off the heaviness of the chains for a while. And like my mom said, the hand that rocks the cradle changes the world. I would agree and add that the one who writes changes the minds of the boys who read about capable girls and the minds of girls who visualize a stronger way to live this one true life we all need. After a lifetime what I’ve learned about being a woman is that dates are important, history shows change, but the mystique of being a woman is that we are necessary and deserve better from society, and when we receive that equality, we will be unforgettable.