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Being female

Posted: May 27, 2014 11:14 a.m.
Updated: May 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

I learned early that being female was not a blessing. My father, a farmer who wanted all boys, had nine girls and only two boys. His first wife had nine children before she died, five little girls in graves. Few children grew to adulthood in those days. When my mother and father married and had two more children, I remember hearing my mother often tell my brother how proud my father had been to have another son, never mentioning pride in relationship to his final girl.

Even today, men seeking marriage or companionship tell the women they have come to take care of them (usually it is the other way around) or what a large house they have (money). I do not want to be taken care of or clean a very large house; in fact, I like independence. The wise woman tried to become as well educated as possible, not easy in the rules of yesteryear.

Once, a new acquaintance, much younger than I, greeted me and said, “I hear you were a teacher.” Then she continued to tell me that the trigonometry teacher at her high school had had a meeting with parents to tell them their daughters would probably have trouble in the class, implying females lacked the acumen to succeed in advance courses. “What do you think of that?” she asked. I assured her I had more history than she and could tell her other stories.

At my high school in Carrollton, Ga., girls were not allowed to take math course unless they added them to the required curriculum. As the ninth girl in my family, I was not going to be denied anything on the basis of being female. I had the grade average and signed up for algebra, I think the course was. Naturally, I was the only girl and occasioned attention. I sat quietly until the teacher entered and, pointing to me, asked, “You, you, what are you doing here?” I replied with the only answer I could muster, “I am taking this course.” He, fuming, stated, “Oh, no, you’re not; I do not teach girls.” I assured him the matter had been cleared through the office. He charged out, possibly finding that my answers were true, and returned a less than pleased man.

I did have to take home economics -- mandatory for a girl. The role for females was to get married, change diapers, do whatever their husbands said, and stay relatively uneducated. At mid term, the math teacher was surprised (appalled) to have to tell the class I had made the highest grade. I am stubborn; whatever I hear I cannot do or whatever has obstacles placed in my way, I achieve through hard work. Can you imagine how impossible advanced learning would have been for someone without more than the rudimentary adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying?

Women of long ago learned through “hands on” experience. My grandmother, for example, was a midwife for her neighbors. She had 12 children of her own, so I am sure her only tutelage came at home. Since nobody had any money in those times, she possibly received no pay unless is was chicken or vegetables. I did not tell my mother what I thought: that my grandmother had pay enough just knowing she was not adding to her own brood! (I did have a cousin who had 14 children, all born at home.)

My mother wanted to be a nurse, but her brothers refused to allow her such an activity. I cannot imagine bending to that type of demands. Since my mother could not have her desires, she wanted me to be in the health care filed -- odd since she had already told me boys did not like smart girls and I was not going to be allowed to go to college because she did not have the funds and would not allow me to take an offered full scholarship. When I refused to entertain such a goal, she gave me one of her few compliments: “You have the mind.” My answer was, “Perhaps that is why I am not going to pursue that goal.” Many people would think teacher school to be even worse.

Today, women can be whatever they wish, but reaching their goals is much more difficult than for males. Men help in childcare, something they certainly did not do in the past. I have always thought that handing out cigars should be done by women, who carried the children to term, gave birth and tended to them. Things are different today, but women’s roles still seem to be the hardest.

Fighting the civil war

Many historians will tell you that the Civil War ended in 1865. Such is not the case. I discovered the truth of this matter in the 1960s, my first year of teaching school. I had a new pupil, whose accent was different than mine or the sixth grade students. The atmosphere was not threatening at first. Suddenly, I could feel the almost palpable animosity grow and could not ascertain why. I just asked the class for clarification.

“What is the matter class?” One of them said, “Didn’t you hear what he just said?” I searched diligently for an answer, and finding none, rejoined, “No, what?” Then really realized the Civil War was just about to erupt on the playground. The students replied, “He said, ‘yes.’” I was puzzled because I have never demanded that my students reply with “ma’am.” To my Southern students who had been reared to say “ma’am,” this reply was totally unacceptable.

My mother always said, being the only daughter of a seventh daughter, I had second sight. I am sure that is not true although I would not have dared tell her so. Be that as it may, I was well aware that the Civil War would have another battle unless I could defuse the situation. I had to make them understand that they did not need to protect my honor. I assured them that “yes” and “no” were perfectly acceptable replies, and they had my permission to use them. I also showed them that “ma’am” could be used in such a way as to be lacking in respect.

No parent came to challenge me or tell me I had undermined the attempts to teach Southern manners. I could feel an acceptance for the new boy. If I had not intervened, I am sure this Civil War would have gone to Southerners because they far outnumbered him and would be fighting on their home turf.

Even today, no northern person should be foolish enough to say to a Southerner, “You lost the war.” We know which war; no one has to clarify. The young man, when he was graduating from high school, stopped by to tell me he realized the importance of that day. As he stated: “My sister had a problem since no one intervened on her behalf.

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