29 October 2009

Teaching Our Daughters Gender Equality or Just Being Obstinate?

I love Mystery Memberships, don’t you? By that, I mean, I love it when I get e-mails welcoming me to organizations that I don’t recall joining…especially organizations that I wouldn’t join if I were asked to. Has this ever happened to you? Anyone? Bueller? No? Well, I’ll be.

It happened to me just this very morning. There it was, in my inbox, large as life…”Welcome, Phe! And thank you for joining She Serves – the connecting point for women of the VFW.” Um, huh? It’s true, I’m a member of the VFW. And it’s also true that I am a full-fledged member which means that the Veterans of Foreign Wars recognizes my service in a combat zone for a given period of time. But I don’t remember joining a sub-set of this organization exclusively for girls, no boys allowed.

I suspect that I know who might have signed me up for this – and if my suspicions are correct, I know that it was done with the best of intentions (I am, after all, my posts ONLY female member and have been for years), but you know what’s so often said about that road to hell and its paving stones…

So now, I have a dilemma. You see, I have a personal thing against all girls clubs, especially in the military. It stems from a lot of things, even some things that happened long before I ever enlisted. But there it is. It’s My Thing. For starters, I feel that the wearing o’ the uniform negates gender and that uniform wearers should be (and, in my world, are) judged on skill set and ability alone. Lord knows, the uniform wears me like a sack anyway no matter how fit or trim I may be (or not), so it’s not a stretch to say, “Is that a male or a female under all that gear?” Really though, who cares? I am here, with you, now. I’ve met and served alongside an equal number of men and women that have turned out to be useless – and another equal number of both that I wouldn’t trade for all of the tea in China. Er…if I drank Chinese Tea, anyway.

I have found that integrating into the unit and bringing my unique skill set has served me far better than integrating into the unit and bringing my ovaries, breasts and a large helping of grrrl-power ever could. In doing so, I have also learned that the issues that may affect me actually affect all of us – that I am not a Special Snowflake by virtue of simply being myself or a woman. Yet, She Serves promises to provide me with friendships forged out of the metals of issues that are unique to me as a woman, suffered uniquely by other women – and done in the comfort of an environment I’ll find nowhere else. Because I’m a woman.

Let me make this clear: My experience was unique because of the time (immediately post-9/11) and the place and the mission I served. Any issues I may have had have long since been resolved thanks, in large part, to the camaraderie of the men and women I served alongside and the men of my VFW post who, afterwards, welcomed me with open arms and gave me a safe place to be. Should I deploy in the future I have no doubt that experience will prove equally as unique and present me with a new, unique set of issues – or maybe not – brought about by the experience itself, not my womanhood.

As you may be able to tell by now, I have little love of any group of people who claim Special Snowflake status simply by virtue of a few shared squishy bits of anatomy - or anything else for that matter.

But…BUT…I respect what they’re doing. I know that I am a minority among women when I deride such things. I know that many women haven’t had the same positive experiences I have upon return from their operations – for a variety of reasons. For that reason, I hope that this “sisterhood” serves those women well and supports them to the fullest although I wonder what is so different about them and their experiences that they can’t go through with all of their comrades in arms, regardless of gender…those who shared the experiences with them.

Now, I wonder how my attitude towards such things will affect my daughter down the line, once she realizes what being a “she” actually means. I already know that she’s going to have a different view of life than most of her peers. For one thing, unlike her little baby friends, when she falls down and hurts herself, her first instinct is to run past me, crying for “Dada” to tell him, through her tears, that she went, “Plop!” (NOTE: “plop” is her all purpose word for, “oops, I fell, tee hee” – for those inconsequential, non-pain causing falls; “I fell and it hurts!” - for the falls that cause pain; and of course, “Toss me on the pillows again it’ssomuchfun!!!”) I’ve noticed that most of the kids we know around her age tend to steer themselves towards their moms when they want comfort but usually, even if I get to her first, she’ll squirm away from me to go to her father.

There’s one gender role re-defined right off the bat. Dad is the primary care giver and therefore, the primary source of comfort.

Not being well versed myself in the need or desire for strictly female companionship, I wouldn’t even know how to begin explaining this Sisterhood concept to her or why I don’t like it on a personal level. My friends have been an equal mix of male and female over the years, friends because of the character and quality they embody. I’ve never done the “girls night out” thing and even shopping trips end up being mixed gender affairs.

I won’t say that I’ve never felt discriminated against because of my gender, but as someone whose life motto has been, “Walk softly and carry an H&K MP5 (Silenced)”, I’ve found that those who are naysayers of me, by virtue of my reproductive system, tend to be in the minority and, once they see what it is I can actually do, it’s simply not an issue. If it continues to be for them, they end of being of little to no consequence in my life and have yet to hold me back. Gnats that can be brushed aside.

These thoughts of mine are contrary to a great deal of what my fellow females of similar age and station believe and what our daughter is probably going to learn outside the home. I trust (read: hope against hope) that somehow, we’ll do well enough by her in the end to do what my parents managed to do (without apparently trying - gender was never even discussed as being a hindrance or something special) – raise a confident woman who only ever realized that she was supposed to be a Special Snowflake because of her gender when she left the home and was so informed by Outside Influences. I credit the strong maternal and matriarchal influences in my family for that.

In the meantime, I think I’ll just continue to resolve issues that are unique to myself, as a veteran, with all of the veterans who have shared experiences with me, regardless of how they look or whether or not they have a Tab A or a Slot B in their pants. If you were there with me, you know that didn’t matter then. Why should it suddenly matter now?

I suppose the other message I would hope our daughter eventually leaves home with is this: Don’t bloody well sign someone up for something without asking them how they feel about it beforehand. It’ll save someone a lot of trouble later when they try to tactfully explain that, eh heh, see, they don’t really want to be part of this and sorry, it’s just not their thing, er…erm…butgoodluckwithit, OK?

Rest assured, the next time I’m down at the post, someone’s getting the pleasure of having a nice little Sergeantly chat with me on that very subject.

What about you? Do you think that your gender has a prominent and direct impact on your experiences? Are you more comfortable in a same-gender setting? How do you talk about gender issues to your young kids?


wmtreash said...

Hey T-
I love the way you write. I feel like I'm talking to you! Having grown up in a house of women (my mom, two sisters, a female dog and old thoroughbred mare), I just never took gender into account when considering goals, work, success, fun! This does not mean I don't like the opposite gender (au contraire), but it has nothing to do with my life or work status. Here's the thing--other people try to make it more important than it is. I joined a sorority in college because I could hang with my friends in a nicer place but we nearly always had guys around or went where they were. As it happens, I was really interested in having a daughter and am thrilled that I do have one. In fact, as my friends said that sons were better/easier/less able to make you nuts, I oppositionally wished for a girl. "To not want a daughter is to deny oneself." I did feel this was true. I had my beautiful son and wanted that daughter. What's interesting is that she is anti-girly girl. She is you and me, T. She treats everyone the same and has more boy friends than girls. She wouldn't want to belong to anything that excluded anyone. Boys are meant to be enjoyed! (I'm watching that there is not too much enjoyment too early!) Such good conversations we have and will have, you and I and our girls.

Love you,

Post a Comment