Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Long Way

I had the privilege of knowing two amazing ladies born in the 1800s. My great-great aunt used to talk about how she didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity as a child and then she saw men land on the moon. Can you imagine?

Too young at the time, I never asked her about how life for women must have changed during the years she remembered. I wish I had. Now, with S. entering the tween years, I’ve been thinking how much things have changed just within my—relatively short—memory.

S. asked for fantasy books for Christmas. I decided to scan A Mighty Girl’s website for new ideas. Scrolling through the 126 options in Pre-Teen fantasy—all books featuring strong women characters—I came across an old friend, Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure.

When I was the age that S. is now, I read fantasy books about boys, because that’s what existed. Alanna changed all that for me. Our amazing children’s librarian created one of the best YA collections I’ve seen, ever, and she bought a fantasy book with a kick-butt girl for a main character. This changed the world for me. Nothing about the story was fair—Alanna fought boys on a decidedly un-level playing field—but she worked harder and won.

I can’t point to a specific event in my life that resulted from reading the Alanna books. I do know that whenever someone’s told me (or assumed) I can’t do something because I’m a girl, I’ve done my best to prove them all kinds of wrong.

Of course, things aren’t perfect now, but…over 126 books like Alanna? Awesome.

I can keep going. Before I read Alanna, in the time and place that I went to elementary school, it just never occurred to anyone that girls would do two things I wanted to do more than anything: take karate and play soccer. Four years later, one girl in town played on the boys’ soccer teams. Seven years later, my sister played “magnet ball” on a co-ed team. It changed that much, that fast.

And I have studied martial arts since the age of 27. My son now takes tae kwon do in a perfectly coed class.

Not to mention that my sisters and I all attended our dad’s alma mater, which had been an all-male university until six years before I enrolled. One of my sisters brought the women’s field hockey team there to full varsity status, helping to complete the Title IX transition.

Best of all, today, S. excels in science and math and music. She’s tried martial arts and soccer, but she likes circus. She does monkey bars better than anyone I know. She loves puns and sarcasm and, yes, she loves body noise jokes. Her limits (so far, at least) have been defined by her likes, dislikes, and individual talents.

I know the playing field isn’t level yet, but if she can start by believing all people get the same chance, she’ll know right away when someone tries to limit her. If we can make strong human beings in all shapes, sizes, ages, and sexes the norm for her, she’ll see prejudice as abnormal.

I hope both my children see, feel, and know that all of us begin with the same awesome opportunities to be individuals in all our unique glory. If we can raise a generation with that norm, that status quo, that starting point, how will the world change in the next forty or eighty year or hundred years?

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