The summer of 1984. I was 10 years old (yes, that was before most of you were born. Don’t rub it in.)
I grew up in an area where gender roles were pretty clear cut. Men worked in the woods and were guides. Women…well, they just didn’t do that stuff.
It isn’t that people didn’t think women could do those things, nor were they discouraged…It is just GENERALLY women chose not to do that sort of thing, and no one really suggested they should.
I was a different kind of girl (compared to my female classmates). I had hay sticking out of my pig tails, ran into the woods fearlessly, and I did everything I could to avoid wearing the dreaded dress (including accidentally sitting in mud puddles and making snakes pee on me.)
The thing I remember most is getting kicked off the Little League team. I was so angry. “They” called my parents and told them I couldn’t play with the boys anymore, that I had to play softball.
I was so freaking mad.
I remember my parents telling me that if I wanted to play ball, I had to play softball – those were the just the rules.
“BUT MOM! DAAAAAD!!! SOFTBALL IS FOR GIRLS!!!”
My mother calmly informed me that I was actually a girl. Dad nodded and agreed with my mother, that yes, indeed I was a girl.
That really ticked me off. They told me the same thing when I wanted to be a Boy Scout.
I didn’t want to be a girl. Unless I could be Wonder Woman.
The girls I knew didn’t do fun stuff like fish and camp and and catch snakes and play baseball. They played with dolls and wore pink and ran away from the snakes I chased them with.
That night, I went to my grandparents house, still fuming. My grandfather took a walk with me down through his giant field, listening to me as I ranted.
He simply told me I could do anything I wanted, that I should never let anyone put limits on what I could do (I am sure my parents loved that one, because I am pretty sure I translated that to “POP SAID I COULD PLAY WITH THE BOYS IF I WANT TO!!!”)
He did quietly suggest that maybe I should just TRY softball, suggesting that chasing girls around with snakes wasn’t the best way to make friends.
On the way back to the house, he told me about a young pilot he saw once in the years before the war (WWII).
I can’t remember if I had heard about her at that point or not, but later I went to the library (this is before internet, home computers, and smart phones) and read everything I could.
She became, and remains, one of my heroes and biggest inspirations. To do what she did in the 1920’s and 1930’s is pretty freaking amazing.
Later that summer something else happened. A little woman from Maine named Joan Benoit won the gold medal in the first women’s marathon of the Olympic Games.
From freaking Maine.
To 10 year old me, that was like someone I knew. Holy crap.
I remember the feeling I had seeing her run around the oval with the flag in her hand – I wanted to be a runner.
Joanie was the one who put the idea in my head to run a marathon some day (we do not have to talk about the fact that she can STILL run two marathons in just over the time it takes me to run one…but I digress).
These two women remain my heroes to this day. They had a dream and people told them that what they wanted wasn’t really possible, and they showed their naysayers that indeed, they could.
Who were your heroes when you were younger? Are they still your heroes today?