My siblings and I learned early on that boys and girls had separate roles in life. Boys were to be protectors and providers and girls were to be mothers and homemakers. Mom taught my sisters and me that women might work outside the home before marriage, but not afterwards. Mom told us that when she was a kid, she had always been told that she could be a mommy and something else as well. She said that was the lie of feminism – that girls could be mothers and have careers. We knew better than that.
My mother wanted my sisters and I to learn to be graceful and gracious. Unfortunately, I was an extremely awkward child and was given to talking loudly. Mom had me take ballet classes in order to learn to be graceful and enrolled my sisters and I through a program called Charm Course, where we learned what kinds of clothing clashed, how we should carry ourselves, and the importance of understanding body language. These things didn’t completely cure my of my awkwardness and suddenly make me into a lady, but mom was definitely trying.
My siblings and I loved Vision Forum’s American Boys Adventure catalogue and Beautiful Girlhood catalogue, and scarce a Christmas went by without presents from Vision Forum. From wrist rockets to crochet samplers, we had it all. While I dutifully stitched several samplers, something my mom said every good lady must do, I also enjoyed making turning our backyard into a pirate’s cove and sticks into swords with my brothers. We children were very creative and imaginative in our play, and we lived in the country and had plenty of space to roam. We had many adventures, aided by our Vision Forum wrist rockets and our healthy imaginations. It was out there in the wilds that the distinctions between boys and girls seemed to ease and we were all just children climbing trees and having adventures together.
As time went on, though, I stopped playing with my brothers as much and turned to more feminine pursuits. My parents began to discourage me from roughhousing with my younger brothers, and I knew what that meant. I was no longer a child – I was turning into a young woman. I read a lot, and I also learned to sew, crochet, and knit. My brothers resented me for not playing with them, but I saw it as part of growing up. I tried to please them by sewing them a variety of costumes. Meanwhile, when I got together with my girlfriends we had tea parties, played with dollhouses, and watched our younger siblings.
Tea parties were a big event among my friends. We would plan them well in advance, and then dress for the occasion and cook old fashioned food, such as scones or tarts. We would sit up straight, sip tea, and talk about the latest books we were reading, or what we wanted to name our future children. We also spent a great deal of time making furniture and food for our dollhouses. Dollhouses were something of a fad among my girlfriends, and we never ceased to enjoy setting them up just so.
I loved wearing shirts; they made me feel feminine and special. I took pride in the fact that I wore skirts, only skirts, even in the cold of winter. I also sewed dresses and skirts for myself, and by the time I was in high school, my wardrobe was almost entirely homemade. Some of it was even stitched by hand, as I felt that that somehow made the clothes somehow better, and showed off my talents to the greater advantage.
Above all else, I couldn’t wait to be a wife and a mother. I frequently thought about my wedding day, seeing it as the pinnacle of my existence. A husband and children – that was what I was made for. I could hardly wait for my life to really start. I imagined all of the ways I could meet my future husband, and hoped that it would happen sooner rather than later. In fact, I wished that I lived in pioneer times so that I could marry at fourteen or sixteen and thus maximize my childbearing potential, and even living in the present I hoped I could marry early. How many children would I have, I wondered? More than my mother, I hoped, because I wanted to be the best I could possibly be. I picked out names for my children and planned how I would raise them. I decided that my children would wear only clothes I made for them by hand, and planned to fill a trunk with homemade baby clothes after I married.
Looking back, it wasn’t healthy for me to grow up desiring to only be a wife and mother. There are a myriad of opportunities open to women today, but I never saw them, because my one and only goal was to be a wife and mother. I don’t think it is healthy to tell boys they can be whatever they want, to reach for the sky and never look back, and then pidgeonhole girls into one specific track. I am not against women who chose to be full time wives and mothers, but I am against teaching girls that that is all they should ever be, and thus stifling their dreams and ambitions. I don’t like the glaring double standard.
I am also not completely sure how I feel about the fact that every time I got together with my girlfriends we talked about our hopes for a future husband and children, had tea parties, played with dollhouses, sewed, cooked, or watched our siblings. While we had good times, our choice of activities was severely influenced by the strict gender roles our parents’ embraced. Furthermore, it was not infrequent for another family or two to come over and the moms to go out to lunch together, leaving us older girls in charge of upwards of twenty children. We girls did not mind – we loved the time with our friends and did not resent caring for our siblings – but the reality was that we did not get that much alone time or much time to go off with our girlfriends and do things teenage girls do because we were expected to be constantly on call as mothers’ helpers.
Libby Anne lives with her husband and toddler somewhere in the U.S. She has left patriarchy for feminism and has found freedom. She is a graduate student with big plans for her life. You can read her blog at Love, Joy, Feminism.