Friday, February 24, 2012

The More Things Change, The More Things Stay The Same

When I was growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I was privileged to be a part of a unique culture. So I was told on numerous occasions.

I spent summer days at the Louisville Country Club, a snooty country club where rich people hung out.
We attended cotillion wearing white gloves.
Our family had many dinners, lunches, and celebrations at The Pendennis Club, another snooty club where there were only African American waiters. (Come to think of it....Most of the waiters at LCC were black too).

Problem was... I hated it. 
Not my friends.
The culture. 
I was told repeatedly how lucky I was.
My solution was to move 3,000 miles out West to get away from the racism and sexism that abounded in the late 60's through 70's in Kentucky.

When my brother and I used to run around the Pendennis Club when we were young kids, I was regularly kicked out of the men's only lounge. It was the only place you could be loud and play as a kid. My brother was allowed to stay and I was removed. Even when I was as young as 6. I was dressed up in frilly dresses with tights and slippery dress shoes, but told to leave. The man would shut the door behind me after asking me to leave. I pretended not to care and acted brave wandering the long white halls alone.

When my mother dropped me off, sometimes alone, at the country club for the day so she could have a much needed break, I was miserable. I was awkward and shy so kids made fun of me, or ignored me. The only thing I liked was the cheese popcorn at the snack bar. I would bob up and down in the freezing cold pool by myself for hours waiting to be picked up. Every once in a while I would sneak into the kiddie pool where the water was warm. That, I was told, was because it was full of baby pee. I didn't care... It was warm and there were mothers around who didn't tease me.

When I was 10, my very conservative grandfather, who was a Republican Superior Court Judge in Frankfort, sat me down for a serious discussion. 
"Don't get pregnant," he said to me sternly. 
"OK", I said.
He repeated it a few times. I continued to shake my head OK.
I didn't know how to get pregnant and I certainly didn't want to at the age of 10. He scared me. This was the same grandfather that would loudly insist that "Women shouldn't drive!" He also said women shouldn't vote or have any rights at all. 
I began to understand why my mother was an angry feminist.

When I was 9 or 10 at a church function, there was a performer who did a tap dance routine. She had a red sequin outfit with a matching top hat on. She looked beautiful. I have no idea what the function was, but my step father told me that tap dancers are whores. "Don't tap dance," he told me. He repeated that all tap dancers are whores. I didn't know what a whore was, but I knew it was a bad thing to call someone. The rest of the afternoon I was afraid to look at the dancer for fear of being punished. She came up to me and said hi in a sweet voice, but I was afraid to look her in the eye. My mom apologized for my rudeness and I got in trouble for being rude. Later I asked my mom if tap dancing was bad. I took ballet every week since I was 4 and I wondered if that was bad too. No, she said.

I don't remember sex ed at our school. I'm sure we had some form of sex ed, but it wasn't as informative as it is now. My kids have learned about every STD, birth control, how to say NO, and not to be afraid to ask questions. I wish I had been taught those things in school. 
The way I learned about birth control was by going to the LA Free Clinic in Los Angeles while in college. I had no mother, no insurance, and had never been to see a gynocologist. I hadn't seen a doctor for at least 5 years.
I was 21. 
What an eye opening experience! They had a class on birth control where they handed out free pamphlets and showed us diagrams of our bodies. I was the youngest person in the room. Most of the other women were in their 30s and older, with their husbands and boyfriends. There was one elderly couple with gray hair. I don't think they needed birth control.
It was my first pap smear experience and thankfully I was healthy. The doctor showed me how to do a breast exam. Since I have a high cancer risk, it was a relief to learn how to stay healthy and learn how often I needed to see a doctor.

This was the beginning of taking care of myself and taking charge of my life as a woman. For some it starts much earlier. Maybe girls have mothers who take them to their first gynocological appointment. 
I didn't. I didn't know what to do. I grew up in a privileged environment. Went to church. Went to the college of my dreams. Pursued my career goals successfully. But, none of those things taught me how to be a healthy, happy woman. I had to take care of my own body and make serious decisions about whether I wanted to be a mother or not. No man, mother, father, or religious figure could possibly make those decisions for me. 

How could they?

All my childhood I was treated like a second class citizen. There were many jokes at the woman's expense by certain members of the family and in our snooty environment. My uncle used to scream at my aunt to "Make Me Breakfast Woman!" It hurt my feelings. I didn't like those members of my family and community. I didn't and will never trust them to take care of me. I knew they were wrong even though I wasn't allowed to talk back and tell them so. 

Hearing Santorum and the various GOP and religious figures rant on and on about how evil women are, pours salt in the wounds. They say incredibly mean and hurtful things. How is anyone running for office allowed to say such awful things about or woman, straight or gay? If they really believe what they are saying, child services should be called to investigate and see if their children are being harmed.
They are the same mean spirited people I grew up with. They have their opinions and those are the law! They place themselves above everyone else and put everyone down around them. They, and only they, are indoctrinated by God to be RIGHT. God spoke to them. The rest of us are idiots and don't know anything. 
They are abusive, dangerous people.

There are a lot of great men in our country, my husband included. I have more male friends than female friends and I love them dearly.
They are embarrassed by the rants and insane bills politicians are passing against women. Everyone has opinions and no one opinion is better than another. It is not OK to tell anyone what to do, and no religion or politician can change that. I'm not going back....


All rights Carol Wyatt