A young girl learns to play drums at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (Photo: Emily August/Flickr)
I was never a girly-girl.
To hear my mother tell it, there were no pants tough enough to escape my wrath — there’d be holes in the knees the first day out. She could buy Danskins or Levis. No matter. I despised sitting still. I had to chase and run and climb. I couldn’t help climbing that tree. I had to.
Oh, that tree. It was a weeping willow. I’d climb to the second perch and it was exactly perfect for reading and hanging out. Exactly perfect. Even now, all these years later, I can close my eyes and be in that tree. I can feel the way the branches came together to make me a nest. I can smell the fresh, leafy scent and the faint aroma from the stream down the hill.
My parents let me be exactly who I was. They didn’t assign gender roles. Sure, I had Barbies, but I also played with the Erector Set and Incredible Edibles. I was not the little girl who played dress up and planned her wedding. I was the little girl who planned her corporate ascent.
I entered fourth grade in 1970. Miss Ossen was my teacher and we had a student teacher that year, also. Miss Holtzman. Did you see the class picture? Miss Holtzman’s shiny and extraordinarily short brown dress is hard to miss, right? Everyone knew that 4th grade was the year that we got to pick instruments and could start learning how to play. I’d been eagerly waiting for this chance!
Miss Ossen passed out the instrument request forms and I remember my heart racing. I couldn’t wait to fill it out, get my parents’ signature and hand it in. The wait was almost over. What I didn’t know was that my world was about to crash in around me.
A couple days after I handed in my paper, I was called to the principal’s office. Miss Sweeney was an older lady (I thought she was ancient, but truly have no idea how old she was). She asked me to sit. And then, she told me that I could not have my instrument of choice. I’d need to pick another. Because girls cannot play drums. It’s just not ladylike and it’s not an option.
I cried. I told her it wasn’t fair and that I didn’t understand. And then, I went home and told my parents. (I was a crier, so insert some hysteria here, please.)
My parents were supportive and backed me totally. But it made no difference. Being realistic, we couldn’t even wear pants to school! Can you even imagine? I lost the fight and ended up playing the clarinet.
I abhor the clarinet.
But that was the moment that I dug my heels in and knew that I was a feminist. That equality was something that women deserved without reservation. And that was the moment that I swore to myself that I’d never take a backseat or a diminished role in life because I was a girl.
And I never have.
Nothing has stopped me. I’ve traveled on my own in this country and internationally. I learned to ride a motorcycle, took flying lessons and bought a house on my own. I’ve carefully curated my inner circle with strong and independent women who stand up for themselves and support other women in innumerable ways. I’ve served on committees and boards to support women’s issues locally and beyond. In my own family, I’ve worked to demonstrate the value of strength and conviction — in men and women. And I’ve clearly taught my teens that if they work hard, they can accomplish anything they want — even if they are boys.