I’ve been hesitant to post this, but after Mike said “You are reflecting on your participation in history as a woman.” I decided I would share, because yes, that is what I am doing.
November 8 isn’t just Election Day, it’s my birthday. If you are weary of hearing about political candidates, let me indulgently tell you some stories about me, and my family, that hopefully will seem relevant to this historic time. (the politics comes later.😉 )
I came in with the returns, born in Seattle at 3:05 Wednesday morning following Election Day in 1950. It was not a presidential election year, Harry Truman was in office.
family portrait before me, two cute boys!
The daughter mom wanted (dad thought two was enough to support), I was “willed” in by a woman who married her high school sweetheart because he was handsome, hard working and they’d survived their teen years during the depression together. Her father left the family because of shame he felt after trying to “commit” his wife to an asylum. The stress of the depression had made her bitter, anxious about food on the table. An osteopathic doctor, Grandpa was more often paid in-kind rather than cash during the depression. Sometimes the in-kind was food, sometimes not. Unhappy in his marriage, a colleague told him how easy it was for a husband to commit his wife to a mental hospital.
Frank Merrithew & Emma Jo Penney, my maternal grandparents, on their wedding day.
Grandma, who got wind of the plan, crawled out a window with her two children and went to a neighbor’s house on the day the plan was to be carried out. Grandpa left. Though he contributed money when he could, grandma, who worked at Boeing, became a single mother in the middle of the depression. A profound life experience for mom, she wanted her children to have a different life. She never resented her father, an otherwise kind man who buckled under pressure. And she forgave her own husband the times he was unkind. They were a team, through thick and thin.
Mom and me, 1955
I was born in the post-WWII era, when working women were encouraged to be stay-at-home-wives, a campaign aimed to remove women from the work place so soldiers returning from WWII would have jobs. Mom always worked, it was how my prudent parents afforded family summer vacations, a second car, etc. She paid for the “extras” in our lives, especially the expenses of raising her daughter – my clothes, dance lessons, scout camp, etc. were her responsibility.
My dad, home from WWII, met my brother, his oldest son for the first time when he was 1 yr. old
The Korean War began in 1950, a war too soon for war-weary people recovering from WWII, putting war-interrupted lives back together. The day I was born the first jet-to-jet dog fight in history occurred over North Korea. North Korea, considered to be the most authoritarian regime, was (is) ruled by a totalitarian dictator, a sociopath narcissist. The war, the fighting, the dictator, was too familiar to those who lived through WWII and the horrors and stories of Hitler. A war, and a country, mostly ignored, except by those in the military who were sent there to fight.
While going to college in Washington DC, I marched against the Vietnam Nam war and attended the first Earth Day event.
Fast forward a few decades. I went off to college in Washington D.C. during a time of demonstrations and political unrest. Later I moved to Eugene to finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon, where I co-organized a West Coast Woman’s Conference while working at the campus YWCA, and where I taught a controversial course on Women and Religion through the religion and philosophy department. Later, department heads decided the topic wasn’t “relevant”, and the sociology department, where “women’s studies” were just coming into vogue, welcomed the course under the sponsorship of a tenured professor, one of the few feminists on the faculty.
Of nine paternal female cousins, I was one of three to graduate from college, the only one to later go on to graduate school. After achieving my Masters degree in Psychiatric Rehabilitation, I received congratulation cards from my aunt and most of my cousins. These are not women I grew up around or knew well, but somehow my accomplishment was noteworthy to them.
Skipping ahead again. While working as the director of the Quilcene Community Center, after a friend was lost in the woods over night, I started Jefferson County Search and Rescue. When our co-ed group of volunteer rescuers attended a state training conference we were the only search and rescue team with women participants. Slide shows shown at training workshops included random slides of naked women in pornographic poses and instructors used many sexual jokes. The slides, a technique used in military training, search and rescue being based on that model, were apparently meant to keep men awake and interested. It was uncomfortable. Some of the men were embarrassed, realizing the inappropriateness of the search and rescue culture toward women.
Why do these personal and family stories that reflect attitudes toward women in our culture come to mind as I approach my birthday, a day that will be historic no matter what the outcome? Perhaps because the status of women in our society has gone through so many changes in a “mere” 66 years. People younger than myself are one or two generations removed from the memory of a time when it was acceptable to marginalize women and women tolerated such treatment because it was the ‘norm’ in the society they grew up in. Women adapted and learned to forgive to fulfill their own dreams.
My grandmother’s generation was the first to vote, women were ‘given’ the right to vote in 1920, when she was 27, one year before my mother was born. My generation was the first generation of women to talked about our bodies and decided we should make decisions about them. Women in my mother’s generation needed their husbands permission to have a medically necessary hysterectomy. (Sadly, body shame is still part of being female in our society). We were the first generation who went to college in large numbers, went into professions previously not seen as “women’s work”, to realize marriage is only one option, and if chosen, that option could be a partnership of equals. The feminist movement of the 70s partially grew out of the sexism in the anti-war movement of the 60s.
But the work is not over for women or other marginalized groups. As a society we are still struggling with many of the same civil rights battles fought in the 1960s. Being gay has come out of the closet to be celebrated – but there is still homophobia driven violence and discrimination. Though women’s social status has come a long way – rape, violence against women, workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, though no longer condoned, still exists. Do we want to lose the gains or do we want to keep progressing forward to a society where all people are celebrated and the differences between us do not divide us but enrich us?
Here’s my political punchline. The more I learn about Hillary Clinton, not just the rhetoric in media, but through my research, I find she is a woman much like myself. She grew up in the same culture, with many of the values and ideals that grew out of the 60s and 70s. She has great perseverance when lambasted with sexism, discrimination, shame and blame while following her passions. As Secretary of State she was the voice of, and changed the lives of, girls and women throughout the world. Scrutinized like no male candidate has ever been, many journalists have judged but rarely praised her for what she has accomplished as a civil servant. I’ve watched and read candid interviews of her and found her to be sensitive, a decent human being highly qualified to be president. She has screwed up, made bad choices, changed her mind on issues. She has her flaws, like the rest of us. And she may represent a political system that needs changing. But she does not have an agenda of undoing progressive gains of equality in our society.
And if she doesn’t win? A man who fits the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, with dictator tendencies, so unqualified it is astounding, becomes President. Someone who has bullied people for their religion, berated women for their appearances, been accused of rape, discrimination against blacks in his businesses, refused to pay people who have done work for him, proudly does not pay taxes, is seriously uninformed about the world, creates his own reality, and incites violence, becomes President. (Yes, he is a symptom of bigger issues that will not go away after November 8, regardless the election outcome, but that is another discussion.)
When you read this you will likely have voted, if not, please don’t waste your vote. There is no “perfect” candidate, I don’t recall there ever has been, considering one person can’t reflect the ideals and ideologies of millions of unique individuals in our country. I dedicate my vote for Hillary to the women, and men, of all races and religious, who have had the courage to stand against sexism, discrimination, homophobia, racism, bigotry. Their work needs to continue. It won’t happen under a Trump presidency.
Blessings to us all for how this election turns out.
1954 – You can tell who the birthday girl is.