Monday, 6 March 2017

Monday Moanings - March 6, 2017

As International Women's Day approaches, I offer not moans today but some reflections.

The other day, an impromptu decision to go see a movie with my love truncated my afternoon of writing. It was a good decision not only because date afternoons (we're over 60 so date nights have time shifted), are always a welcome treat, but also because the movie we chose to see was an eye-opener and a reminder to me about how far the world has come in fifty-some years.

Hidden Figures is the story of a team of the African-American women who were the original computers employed by NASA. The movie is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly. Computers were people before they were machines. More than this, the people behind the scenes of the space program, crunching the numbers and getting it right, were women, black women. Unseen, unsung, and undervalued. I didn't know any of this until I saw the movie.

I was born in 1953 into a white family living in an upper middle-class neighbourhood in a suburb of Toronto. I knew nothing of racial discrimination except what I saw on TV news and even then it was a violent thing that occurred in another country.

There wasn't a single black student in any of my schools until late high school, when I recall twin girls arrived. If memory serves (and it may not!) they were treated as celebrities. Everybody wanted to know about the girls, talk to them. But now, as an adult, I wonder if perhaps I was blind and deaf to other things that may have been done or said to the twins. If so, then I can only offer a humble apology.

Being a girl, and a smart one, I did know something of the sting of discrimination in school, though I wouldn't have known to give it that label. It didn't help matters any that I was also on the chunky side; not hugely overweight, but not slim either. There were sneers and jeers, whispers and name-calling for all of those things I was. Fatso, Browner, and because being left out hurts, Crybaby (kind of explains the whole body image thing I struggle with to this day).

I was never one of the cool kids with lots of friends, never truly a groupie, often watching from the sidelines. While most girls played hopscotch, jumpsie and skipping rope at recess, I could be found with a pocketful of alleys (marbles) or a few chestnuts on strings (conkers) waiting for the boys to let me play.

I knew how to handle a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench but there weren't any school subjects that used those tools until I got to middle school. Of course, "Shop" as it called then, was not offered to girls. While the guys were making cool stuff out of wood, I was struggling with needle and thread in "Home Economics."

Best toy box ever - my Dad's tool box!

That that was the 1960's and early '70's and thankfully things have changed. Even fifteen years ago my daughter was able to take a carpentry course in high school. I confess to having been all but overcome with envy when she brought home a lovely side table that she had crafted out of pine. Oh, how I would have loved to put my hands to such work in school. Given the chance, I think I would have been a carpenter, or at least developed a huge carpentry habit.

1978 - My love and I begin building our house

The key phrase is "given the chance." There are so many more chances for women now than were available to me when I was growing up. There are opportunities to use all the abilities we bring to the table regardless of whether we conform to some gender expectation or not. But as much as life is about being given a chance, it is also about taking a chance; knocking on a closed door, pressing a toe against an unlatched door, and striding through an open one. That's the other bit of insight I gained from the movie Hidden Figures. The women took chances.

I wish I could say that we've been able to bring all our sisters along with us into new opportunities. I can't. Gender can still be an issue. Ethnic origin is a barrier for far too many, and now religion has re-emerged as a roadblock for sister and brother alike.

Give a chance. 
Take a chance.
Be Bold for Change.

©2017 April Hoeller

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