Grrrls, Living in This World, Orientation, When I was a little girl

The value of girls

I’ve been writing vignettes about my past, and there are more to come, as I try to reach a deeper understanding of myself and how I got to be the age I am without figuring out sooner that I’m not straight  (in case, gentle reader, you hadn’t caught on to that part, on which there is more to come.) I thought I was pretty much the last girl raised with the post-Victorian genteel Southern attitudes I like to blame for my late epiphany, but I’m discovering that women considerably younger than I am and raised in very different social settings internalized the same ideas about how their value derived from the attention of men.

My friend,Lia, said it would be good to have a discussion about it, in longer phrases than the 140 character limit allowed by Twitter, so here we are.

Living the dream: yours truly as a bride, dancing with her father, 10/8/83.

Some questions to get us started:

  • What was your socio-economic and geographic setting when you were growing up?
  • What were the expectations for you?
  • Who told you what value and success might look like for a woman?
  • Was that success wrapped up in attention from men?
  • Were there definitions of what kind of attention was appropriate?
  • Was there cognitive dissonance? (In other words, did you hear one thing and see another?)
  • Was there an a-ha moment suggesting there was something wrong with the whole social construction?
  • And since I’m reading “The Purity Myth,” did virginity form part of the definition of your value?
  • And how about marriage?
  • Do your past and/or current understandings of sexual orientation (yours and others) form part of the subtext of this conversation?
  • What’s your basis for valuing yourself now?

I look forward to your thoughts and stories and hope you’ll share them here.

102 thoughts on “The value of girls”

  1. That’s a lot of questions.

    I was a tomboy (ahem) from the start and my parents supported me and my love for sports (100%) and not wearing skirts(90% – I had to wear a skirt twice a week in grade school). Through high school and into college I knew I was Called to ordained ministry. I also knew if that was the case then my ‘choice’ must be to form romantic partnerships with men, not women. A sentence that actually passed out of my mouth to someone in college was, “I’m called into ministry so I can’t be gay.”

    Societal/grandparent expectations were that you got married.. but ‘Free to be You and Me’ and Marlo Thomas said to be myself. When I met a guy who was also single and also working in ministry I took for granted that he was The One all of the movies and sitcoms told me was out there for me.

    For the sake of your comment thread I won’t unpack that here.

    The basis for valuing myself now? Am I being who God has called me to be – professionally and personally – and am I teaching my son how to do the same?

    1. I like that last part.
      I was a mom before I knew any of that “Free to Be” stuff. And then it felt like it was too late, for a while, anyway.

  2. In some ways, I got conflicting messages… I was brought up by a mom who had fought to be among the “first” in many professional settings, so we girls were expected to pursue whatever it was we wanted and were able to achieve.
    Being girly wasn’t a priority, which was just fine for this athletic, outdoorsy type. I never got a bit of “coaching” on how to dress, do my hair, put on makeup… any of those things. But it was always understood that when the time came, I would have a boyfriend, date, get married, make babies, etc.
    I remember the spring of 5th grade – everyone was pairing off into “couples” and I honestly wasn’t interested in all that. But I remember feeling pressured by friends to at least write one of those “Do you like me?” notes to a boy. I can only think of a handful of other occasions on which I did something so counter to what I wanted at the core of my being. Oddly enough, at least 3 have to do with boys (or later, men). Hunh. Gotta ponder that a bit.

  3. I came out to myself when I was 27. I came out to one woman when I was 40. I came out to the world when I was 48. 48. 21 years after my first romantic experience with another woman, and 8 years after my first real feeling of being in love with another woman. I don’t know why, really, I continued to date men, and some for extended periods-over a year. But when push came to shove, so to speak, I could never picture myself married to any of them. I wanted kids, so until I was 36 I kept hoping that the man would come along who was more. More than the fun I experienced, more than the intellectual match, more than handsome, or smart, or kind, or brave. What was always missing, despite my sexual engagement with them, was a feeling that I really liked it. I didn’t. I tolerated it at night to get the companionship, the laughter, the affection during the day. It took falling in love with a woman (who turned out to be a really bad idea) for me to realize that this was what I really wanted. So eight years later, when I met the right woman, I came out proudly and swiftly and unabashedly. The world didn’t end. The locusts didn’t descend. The clocks on the wall ticked as they ever had, and my heart sang, and sings today, almost fourteen years later. This is all just to say it’s never too late, but I’m sure you know that already.

    1. Yes, I do seem to have caught on! But you make a good point about things we will do in order to have other things we want, including “fitting in” to the world we perceive.

  4. Boy, you make me wish I had an active blog going. But since I don’t, you get this mammoth comment:

    Did I spend WAY too much of my life valuing myself by how much I appealed to or was approved by men/boys? Yes. Do I still do it, sometimes, habitually? Yes. Am I more conscious and aware of it? Not always while it’s happening, but eventually. A few good books and a few good blogs about the patriarchy have set me straight. Ahem. I just read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. It was a little too “woo-woo” for non-believer me, but there were whole sections where she seemed to be talking directly to me about my thinking and my behavior. I have reflexively checked in with men all my life. I am also kind of a dude, for a woman. Because, as anyone can see, dudes rule.

    I grew up in a lower middle class, post-war “little boxes” L.A. suburb. Mom (secretary) met Dad (shipping dept.) at work. Mom quit working to look after her three kids. My parents, unlike most of my friends’ parents, did not divorce. But they weren’t happy, either.

    Did I have a bride costume for Halloween? Yes, I did.

    As you know, we were just a shade too young to take any real part in the women’s movement. But I benefitted from its’ brief sway over mainstream culture in that I was never told by a parent or a teacher I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. And I believed that. And I didn’t question the “whole social construction” even though I was pissed off that the ERA never stood a chance of passing. And don’t even get me started on abortions and birth control.

    So “cognitive dissonance,” yes. “A-ha” moment? Not really. Why? Because I had learned far too well that women were not really valuable. So I didn’t have many women friends and I conducted my social and romantic life not unlike a dude would.

    Virginity? Hahahahaha! No.

    And this comment would be three times longer if I elaborated on that. I’ll just say that my sexual orientation is still pretty darn straight and that that is not without its philosophical booby-traps.

      1. OK. Well. There are a lot of ways to go with that, but a bunch of them boil down to “sleeping with the enemy.”

        Of course, they’re not our enemies. Like you, I’ve raised a son. Is he one of Them in “Us versus Them?” My heart says “of course not.” My head says, “Mmmmaybe. Probably. Is that somehow my fault?”

        Have you seen that meme going around Facebook and blogs in the last week or so that likens being a straight white male to playing the video game on the “easy” setting? Yeah. Our husbands, boyfriends and sons may not be Knowing Evil Adherents to The Continuing Patriarchy, but they sure have benefited from it.

        I have heard and understand the argument that men are also victims of the current culture because they don’t get to live in the fabulous Utopia that would no doubt result from true gender equality. But I don’t think I believe in it. They’re the winners in this culture. No question. So, as one of the non-winners, I feel anger, loss, sadness. Mostly anger. Because that’s how we dude-like women roll.

        It’s hard to be righteously angry without directing that anger AT someone. And that’s where the juggling of philosophical chainsaws comes in. Being pissed at people you are sexually attracted to. Being sexually attracted to people who may not be personally oppressing you but who are, by virtue of that Y chromosome, one of the oppressors.

        And, you know, just for the painful whiplash-y hilarity of it all, I feel that I MUST note the following:

        I married my boss.

    1. I loved Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. I especially remember the scene from the beginning of the book when she overheard two men talking about her daughter Ann, down on her knees stocking a drugstore shelf. One man said, “Now that’s how I like to see a woman — on her knees.” The men laughed, Ann looked stricken, and Kidd herself was enraged, telling them, “You may like to see her and other women on their knees, but we don’t belong there. We don’t belong there!” That episode began a period of intense searching for her that, in my opinion, deepened her writing.

      Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees (2002) and, with her daughter Ann, Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Memoir (2009), which is next on my stack of books to read. I mentioned all three books in this post on my blog:

      Martha, thank you for your post and questions, since you have opened up a beautiful conversation among so many of us women. I was married before my 19th birthday, probably to legitimize sex, as somebody said in the comments here. I divorced him 14 years and 3 children later, married again, divorced him too, and have remained single since then. I’m 72, and being a teenager in the 1950s was very different from now — or even from when you were a teen. Any girl who got pregnant dropped out of school and seemed to disappear.

      1. If you haven’t read it, Bonnie, I recommend “The Girls Who Went Away” for a look at the societal framework that encouraged and supported that disappearing. It’s heart-wrenching.

      2. Hi, Bonnie: I’ve got Traveling With Pomegranates on the “to read” list, too. Maybe Martha should start a book group. Because, you know, she’s got lots of free time! 😉

        1. KathyR: “Hi, Bonnie: I’ve got Traveling With Pomegranates on the ‘to read’ list, too. Maybe Martha should start a book group. Because, you know, she’s got lots of free time!”

          Or maybe, KathyR, you and I should start a book club, choosing Traveling With Pomegranates as our first book for discussion. If anyone else is interested, I’m willing to set up a blog where we could do that.

      3. Thanks for the recommendation, Martha. My library system has two copies of The Girls Who Went Away, so I reserved a copy, to be sent to the branch near me.

        Would you have any interest in discussing Traveling With Pomegranates, if we can line up some others to join us?

    2. KathyR said, “I was never told by a parent or a teacher I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.”

      I was. I remember reading avidly during elementary school, devouring children’s books with titles on the order of Abe Lincoln: Pioneer Boy and John Paul Jones: Naval Hero. (Hmm, no titles about women come to mind, which tells me something.) Anyway, I became fascinated wtih sailing ships and decided I would grow up to be a sailor. And then I was told that girls couldn’t do that. At that time (maybe around 1949 to 1951), women in the Navy were in a separate division (look up W.A.V.E.S.), were expected to wear skirts, and couldn’t serve on ships. I was furious. It wasn’t fair! I was smarter than most of the boys in school, but they could grow up to be anything — and I couldn’t. The closest I got to sailing was owning a 19-foot Lightning, a day sailer, when I was an adult. I loved that sailboat.

      When I bought my first black robe as a preacher, the salesperson asked me why I would want to take a job away from a man — her husband was a preacher, she also told me. In my first two appointments (I’m United Methodist), I was the first woman pastor and had to deal with all those negative comments, which is a long story in itself. In my last appointment, where I stayed ten years before my retirement, I was the second woman — the first had stayed there nine years and was the first woman I ever heard preach. It was much easier following her that breaking all the barriers myself, even though I had experience in the business world before going back to school for my MDiv.

      Seminary came after I had taught EEO compliance in a government agency. I dealt with racism and sexism and — once in a management training event (all the participants were, of course, male) — being shouted at by one belligerent manager, “No white woman and black man are gonna tell ME what I can say!” My colleague was a brilliant and very patient black man. I responded to the angry guy, “Just so long as you realize you could be financially responsible for saying or doing the wrong thing.” And he shut up, reluctantly.

      By then, I had already done my part in the second wave of feminism, trying to do things like get people to understand the ERA. One day, when my ex-husband had come to pick up our children for the weekend, he made some smart remark about the ERA, and I asked him if he knew what it actually said. He didn’t, but was running it down anyway. I ran inside to get my small card (which I still have) — about the size of a business card — and read him the 24 words:

      “Equality of rights under the law
      shall not be denied or abridged
      by the United States or by any
      State on account of sex.”

      My former-spouse said, “That’s all?” Yup. When he actually knew what it said, he shut up. It didn’t say anything about uni-sex bathrooms or women being drafted and having to fight alongside men. Sometimes a fact or two can shut up the opposition. Still, the ERA was never passed, for lack of one or two states ratifying it.

      Now where was I? Oh, yeah, girls can’t do those things, can they? We are, after all, the weaker sex. Right?

  5. I grew up in the 1980s, rural/suburban South. My mom had an MBA. Her mom had a PhD. Life was great for GIRLS can do anything until 1) my brothers were born and 2) I actually became a girl who wanted to do something. I grew up directly affected by my mom’s terrible postpartum depression, which I believe had a direct correlation to staying home with four kids despite actually having far more education than my father. When she speaks of her decision to do this, she says she wanted to, but I watch her eyes glaze over and it’s like being 8 all over again. Mom, look at me! Be happy! (To be clear, there are lots of women who truly LOVE staying home and some who don’t have other options.)

    I grew up with an expectation of going to college and the idea that I could be anything, but no one actually thought to steer me toward the clergy (even though I wrote sermons from the age of 6 and worked at church camp, summer after summer). Even with the college expectation, though, the understanding that I WOULD get married and SOONER rather than later loomed large. Any guy I dated was supposed to be rated for marriage-ability on the first date. And, virginity… ? I signed the “True Love Waits” pledge and I received a promise ring, as did my sister. My brothers, not so much. Virginity wasn’t just about purity, but also about preventing pregnancy as my mom gave me a list of birth control options and the ways they can fail. I postponed sex much longer because I didn’t want to be pregnant than based on ideas of purity.

    I received a lot of crap for being smart, wearing glasses, etc. When boys finally paid attention to me, I 1) appreciated positive attention, which I didn’t get at home, 2) felt flattered, and 3) felt like what I thought a girl was supposed to feel like (vaguely dirty, but grateful?). I did have some fun, but I also had several encounters that give me the creeps now. High school junior who felt me up on a mission trip, but never spoke to me after the incident… I feel livid, ashamed, and horrified. All the not your fault speeches in the world don’t undo the confusion and hurt about being seen as a body, but not a mind (hello, early development) or as a mind to be developed for the sake of being a good wife (hello, SBC, parents, neighbors).

    I had great experiences in college, though, that really helped me sort this out. And I did end up getting married when I was 25, to a man 12 years older than me who appreciated(s) my body and my mind. I don’t know what kind of feelings i’d be having if I weren’t married now. A lot of what I was taught would probably be harder to silence.

    For now, I’m pretty straight. I tried to encourage myself toward being attracted or at least open to women (as sexual partners), but that just doesn’t seem to be for me. And, of course, at this stage I’m married to a man and hoping we have a long future ahead of us.

    1. Julia, that was my take on virginity, too. It was mostly about the surest method of avoiding pregnancy. As an adopted child who didn’t know her birth mother’s story then, I was trying to avoid her fate, which I honestly saw more in terms of shame and shock for her family than in terms of giving away a baby. Which is appalling now, but it’s the truth.
      I’m glad you are appreciated now!

  6. Too much to say… The wounds are nearer the surface than I like to think.

    I grew up in Evangelical communities. At home I was told I could do/be anything I wanted, but my brother was the attention seeker. If he was in the room, no one else existed.

    The Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, college group leaders, my peers never knew what to do with me. I didn’t want to do the girl things and I wasn’t allowed to do the boy things. So I did my own thing and flew under the radar and learned that I had no value because no one could see me and because the person I was was not an okay person to be (but God could help me change if I really wanted to change).

    I was a “good girl,” but the girls who were not were the ones who got the attention from the boys and the adults.

    There was no a-ha moment. I always knew there was something wrong with the social construction. I just didn’t know how to fight it.

    My a-ha was when I realized that there was a whole different world out there where people believed in a God who made them who they are and loves them as they are and isn’t asking them to change their very nature. Realizing that about God and finally being in a church where my gifts and story are honored and yes, for better or worse, having a spouse who loves me for who I am (and who was most decidedly NOT raised Evangelical), these are where I get my value now. But sometimes I still have to be convinced.

    I look at my daughter and I get scared. I want to do better by her. Sometimes it feels a little impossible.

    1. I share that worry about how I’ve influenced my daughter. She’s a lot more likely to speak up for herself, but she also places a high value on attention from men, which having divorced parents and seeing both of us date and one of us remarry probably influenced. Making the connection was a privileged activity.

  7. This probably won’t correspond to your questions but here goes. I think the hardest things was not having a clear sense of who my role models were supposed to be. Most of my role models were men, because they “did” things. Not dismissing stay at home motherhood mind you, but I knew that was not for me. At all. But I saw so few working women who were successful that weren’t mean or who weren’t somehow pitied by the upper middle class southern adults I knew. Working women were an anomaly. There was something off about them. But being single until I was 39 (not counting the 3 year marriage I try to ignore) I had to figure out how to be independent and self sufficient while still being, for want of a much better word “feminine.”. If I was successful, was I less of a woman?

    More later, have to give the 4 year old a bath

  8. My stay at home mom kept a perfect home. You could eat off the floors. But she never seemed happy. She was perfectly dressed, obsessed with her weight and always worried about what other people thought. But she was never happy. So it seemed to me that in order to be happy, I had to reject female roles and norms. These days I would not mind a perfect house but- I am not obsessive enough to insure it; not willing not make the sacrifices of other priorities to pull it off; can’t afford a semi regular housecleaner, laundress, gardener, cook.

    So in order to be happy I had to be the opposite of my mother. I had no role models for this

  9. I went to school up north where 25% of the student body was gay. I was more comfortable mostly with my gay friends. But I knew I was straight. But my gay friends accepted me for who I was. After many, many years I am married to a wonderful man who loves me just as I am. For my values and my behavior not for how I look. He is not threatened by my success. He does not expect me to be primarily responsible for housework. I am re defining womanhood with the love of a good man. I am forging an identity where my gender/ sex is about whom I want to be intimate with, not with my looks or my dress or my work or my housekeeping. I realize he is an unusual man. I am lucky to have found him. And though I still sometimes get hit on by lesbians ( this happened a lot in college ) it no longer freaks me out. I know it doesn’t mean I am not feminine, whatever that means. It means that I am a good, vaguely attractive and tolerant person. And female/feminine/woman are concepts broad enough to include whoever I am, even as I invent it in new places where I never had a guide.

    And as I grow more secure in myself, I have more respect for my mom and find it easier to love her. I no longer feel angry that she could not show me what I could become. My expectations have grown more reasonable and though she still hates what I wear at times, that does not define me. Or her.

    1. In the interest of full disclosure, MR and I grew up in the same neighborhood-ish, where the only major difference between the Baptist mamas and the Episcopal mamas was how far down Court Street they had to go to get to church.
      One of the things that was hard for me as a young mom was how little support I had. I remember realizing that my mother, whose obligations outside the home were social rather than professional (except for those related to my dad’s political career), had help five days a week once there were two children in the family. No wonder the house was so clean! Your mom, too?

    1. My mom left behind the Social Security tax workbooks to prove it. And I remember Catherine being there every day. She was the one I relied on for everything. She potty-trained us and ironed my dad’s shirts and baked cakes with me, freeing my mom up to sit at her pretty desk and write notes to people. I felt bad for my mom, she really felt like the only way you could get what you wanted was to go around behind the back of your father or husband, and she was tied to the household stuff even when she did have help because my dad was so absent due to the demands of his work. I think she was horribly lonely.

  10. Wow. No, you definitely weren’t the last (or at least the *only* last) girl raised with “post-Victorian genteel Southern attitudes.” The unspoken message I got was that a woman married (maintaining her virginity until her wedding night), and had children. She wasn’t “settled” until she did so. I was expected to attend college, and have a career, but only to support myself until Prince Charming came along and we had little Princes and Princesses. It never occurred to me then that this wasn’t *my* dream.

    I always knew I was pretty (which I thought was enough – men like pretty, don’t they? Isn’t that my job – to find a man?), but I never had any self-confidence until I knew I was *smart*.
    That came in my late 20’s. I was still waiting on His Highness to show up, when it dawned on me that nobody was going to take care of me, that that was *my* job. Back to college I went, breezing through anything I took, including 4 semesters of calculus, and eventually, engineering school. Although I did marry during my career change, I chose a man that my former “pretty” self thought was appropriate, a man who wanted to take care of me. Four years later, in 1994, my new “smart” self ended the marriage, and moved on. I’ve been single ever since, with fewer and fewer boyfriends as the years pass.

    In the intervening years, I have briefly wondered once in a while if I was still single because I might be gay. But no, I truly adore men. Although I work in a very male-dominated field, and could have found a husband long ago, I know that I’m single by choice. If the right man were to come along now, I’d marry him in a heartbeat, but I have such a joyful life that I’m quite happy without him. Somewhere along the journey, I learned to incorporate the “pretty,” the “smart,” and all the other distinct parts of me into an inclusive, complete self. My time and energy are spent focusing on the things that make *me* happy. Interestingly, at age 50, I now seem to be more attractive to the opposite sex than I’ve ever been. Go figure.

    1. Page! How exciting to have you comment!
      I think the key to that attractiveness is the two sentences right before it.
      Somewhere along the journey, I learned to incorporate the “pretty,” the “smart,” and all the other distinct parts of me into an inclusive, complete self. My time and energy are spent focusing on the things that make *me* happy.
      That works no matter what your orientation. I had to be ready to love and be loved before I found some actual love, and that came for me as a faith realization, that all the stuff I preached about God loving us as we are also applied to, well, me. (Not that I don’t still have to remind myself.)

      1. Faith realization – exactly! If I am perfect in God’s eyes, how can I believe that I am flawed? That whole concept is extremely inspiring but even more humbling.

    2. I found that I could not be happy with a man until I could truly be happy without one. Once you can be happy alone, then you enter a relationship because you want, not because you have to.

      1. MR, that is everything. the key to unlocking the things many of us were told.

  11. Btw despite the irony of the photo vis a vis the post, it is still a great picture of you and your dad. It makes me smile. Thanks for the provocative blog. Gave me lots to think about,lots to process and has reminded me how far I have come and how much for which I have to be grateful.

    1. I love it, too. He enjoyed throwing that big party, even though he was dubious about the marriage. And wow, that’s another whole blog post. The way he took it as inevitable that once I got it in my head to get married, it was going to happen, despite his preference that a woman have a career in case she needed to support herself. And some of his favorite women were the ones who broke out of the genteel box, lawyers and judges and, yes, lesbians.

  12. I have a lot of fragmentary memories:
    1. At first, my parents favored a rather free-wheeling and liberal version of Christianity — I think the best description of it that I’ve seen is in Francis Schaefer Jr.’s Crazy For God. This meant that I was allowed and encouraged to read all sorts of classic lit, and encouraged to watch PBS, because if it was on public TV, it must be moral, according to my mother. And this meant I got to be exposed to all sorts of strong women, from Miss Marple, to Tuppence Beresford, to Harriet Vane — and I was really serious about taking them as my role models, early on.

    2. And being a tomboy was okay — though I was sort of middlish — I liked poetry, and fairies, and elves — but I also wanted to learn to fence. And I got annoyed at being compared to Anne of Green Gables, and I was annoyed at Anne for her fascination with puffed sleeves. In hindsight, I can see that I was trying to work through my own concepts of femininity, which were less feminine than Anne, who was clearly what I was supposed to aim at.

    3. Around the time I was 11 or 12 and starting jr. high, my parents had shifted (with the Schaefer family, I suppose), into what I now think of as Dobson-style Christianity, and suddenly there was a lot more emphasis on virginity and purity. There wasn’t a question of the right sort of attention from boys — the right sort of attention was NO attention, until some point, far off in the future.

    4. Not that all this chastity-belting was needed, exactly, because I was somewhere between liking girls, and being asexual. I didn’t get to see enough mainstream pop culture to feel exactly pressured by courtship rituals; and I was annoyed at not getting to go to school dances because not going alienated me even further from my classmates — but also kind of relieved, because they seemed like opportunities for being bullied. I liked girls — and boys — but had no desire to be physical.

    5. I was, however, aware that I had a good figure, and I had a skintight miniskirt and bodysuit that I’d bought, and wore, sneakily, under a long coat, for a couple of days. I think I got some admiring glances, but no other attention. I didn’t actually WANT attention: but I did want to be able to wear clothes like other girls wore.

    6. My parents didn’t know about the miniskirt, but they were terrified that I was going to be defiled/deflowered what have you, just because I was starting to like pop music. I kept on trying to tell them that I wasn’t the least bit interested in doing ANYTHING with ANYONE, but to no avail.

    7. What really started to cheese me off, though, was that I liked comic books, and mysteries, and this was about the time that Dick Tracy and Batman were coming out. I was strictly forbidden to see them. My little brother? Was allowed to see them without any sort of concern. He was also allowed free reign to listen to bands like Green Day and Blind Melon, which seemed much more explicit than my interest in Sting and Erasure.

    8. Two of my best friends in high school were thoroughly enchanted with Grace Livingston Hill romances, and I read them, but thought that they were boring — and at the same time, was socialized by them to expect eventual traditional courtship.

    9. I feel like I shouldn’t go on and on, so I’ll stop for now, and say that I feel pretty lucky that I’ve always been odd enough that I dodged a large part of the pressure to be traditional. And I suspect that subconsciously, a lot of my eccentricities have been about making sure that no one would expect me to be “normal.”

    1. I love your conclusion, JD. And just hearing from you, in general. I believe you make the case against being “Ruined by Reading” (did you read that book?) when you say you were influenced to be strong by the likes of Harriet Vane. 🙂

      1. Despite my utter carelessness with the questions? 🙂 Thank you for being so forgiving, and for providing such a rich and welcoming space for dialogue.

        I haven’t actually read “Ruined by Reading” — and now I’m curious about it. Thank you for the tip!

        It’s funny, though — I can’t claim to have read Sayers (and really understood her words) until, I think, at least 14. Before that, it was Agatha Christie and Murder, She Wrote (which, I suppose, isn’t reading at all, except in the fancypants English major “everything’s a text!” way, which, I suppose I subscribe to.)

        Anyways, the funny thing is that there is plenty of traditional hokum in Agatha Christie (and in MSW), and I managed to mostly ignore it, such that in recent years, when I’ve caught episodes of MSW late at night, I’ve been a bit horrified.

        To be less careless with your questions: I grew up in a middle-class family: we had a house, and 5 acres, in the rural area north of Seattle. We weren’t especially wealthy in other ways — there were a couple of years where we qualified for free/reduced school lunches; and we bought clothes from thrift stores and Penney’s/Sears.

        To answer your penultimate question, though I’m in a heterosexual relationship, I definitely liked (and like) girls at an early age; and I’m beginning to understand that that attraction, though it was … inchoate sexuality? … was strong enough that it made me care more about things outside of tradition.

  13. Okay, here goes:

    What was your socio-economic and geographic setting when you were growing up?

    I am about 8-9 years older than you and I grew up in the South~Carolina roots on both sides of the family. My dad worked for the Post Office and my mom stayed home.

    What were the expectations for you?

    I was supposed to be smart (good grades were EXPECTED) and be a good girl which meant don’t talk back and do as you’re told, mind your manners etc.

    Who told you what value and success might look like for a woman?

    When I as a kid, the list of what girls “couldn’t” do was long (be an acolyte, play most sports, wear pants to school, to name just a very few.) Girls could be mothers and housewives, and maybe teachers, nurses or secretaries. What I remember most is being in high school and being near the top of my class and not receiving ANY encouragement from anyone to to think about what I might become, where I might go to college, what I might study. In fact, I had the highest score in my class on the test we took to qualify for National Merit Scholarships (before PSATs were used for that) (not high enough to get one alas) and in the days before everyone was inundated with college materials, I received unsolicited brochures and invitations to apply. But when I expressed a desire to go to William and Mary or UVa or UNC or Duke, my mother and my father and my older sister all drilled into how very unlikely I would be to get into any of those places–because I was a girl. And I internalized that and didn’t apply. Now there was a lot of other stuff going on in my family at the time, but I so strongly remember the active discouragement even now. I ended up applying only to the state college in town because my parents actually did expect me to go to school–at least until such time as I got married.

    When my high school boyfriend and I got engaged a few months after graduation my father was thrilled — and urged me to go to secretarial school so I would have some job skills “to fall back on.” Ugh. I declined.

    Was that success wrapped up in attention from men?

    Not in an overtly sexual way. Success meant getting married and raising a family.

    Were there definitions of what kind of attention was appropriate?

    Not so much. But I am enough older than you that sexual purity was assumed as the standard. Public displays of affection were pretty much taboo. Holding hands in school or around parents seemed radical. My mother made a big deal of not allowing my boyfriend to go into my bedroom — which was pretty silly given that she didn’t mind us locking ourselves in the basement where there was a couch and TV.

    Was there cognitive dissonance? (In other words, did you hear one thing and see another?)

    I was pretty innocent and naive. My boyfriend and I made out plenty but we didn’t have sex. I didn’t realize that some of my friends actually were having sex until after I’d graduated from high school and then I was a tiny bit shocked.

    Was there an a-ha moment suggesting there was something wrong with the whole social construction?

    Unfortunately not until much later–like around the time I turned 30. And realized that I was smart and capable and didn’t need a man to take care of me and ought to be doing something with my life. And I got divorced and went back to school and since then I’ve overcompensated by earning four degrees.

    And since I’m reading “The Purity Myth,” did virginity form part of the definition of your value? And how about marriage?

    Virginity was expected. But I don’t think it defined my value. Marriage however certainly did. Marriage was clearly the one goal that I bought to want…and I bought that (for many wrong reasons.)

    The other thing about virginity though: I truly believed in waiting until I was married to have sex–I don’t think I believed that there was really any option for me. My boyfriend joined the Navy right after we graduated hs, and when he came home on leave the first time, we got engaged and the desire to have sex was almost overwhelming but we were too naive and I was too scared about getting pregnant. I think one of the reasons we got married as soon as we did was to legitimate having sex — that and for me, for the stability my home life was lacking at the time and the feeling that I really didn’t have any other options — and those are piss poor reasons to get married.

    Do your past and/or current understandings of sexual orientation (yours and others) form part of the subtext of this conversation?

    Honestly I don’t think I knew that were any other possibilities until I was well into adulthood. My relationships with men have pretty much sucked, to be blunt, and I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to be in relationship with a woman just because I seem to get along with women better. But that has all been abstract.

    What’s your basis for valuing yourself now?

    I know that I am smart and competent and can take care of myself. And I raised four kids pretty much on my own and they are all wonderful people (imho of course).

    Clearly my subtext was much more about education and career than sexuality. But I have often wondered what I might have done if I had just gone away to college instead of living at home for a year and then getting married. I’m pretty sure that the high school boyfriend and I wouldn’t have ended up together. Who knows beyond that?

    Wow, there is more I could say but this is way too long already.

    1. I got the “wait for marriage” stuff from my mom, right up until I graduated from college, when she murmured (as if you couldn’t say these things out loud), “When it’s the right time with the right man, you’ll know.” Seriously? Made me wonder about her life and things I might not have known. Anyway, maybe that suggests that education (mine) mattered more to her than I thought.

      1. Martha, I wonder about things I didn’t/don’t know about my mother. When I was about half way through grad school I learned that my mother had dropped out of college in the fourth year of a 5 year program that would have earned her a MSW. I knew she’d dropped out to get married but I had no idea about the MSW part and it helped me understand why she had so much trouble with the idea of me going to college AFTER I was married and had kids, and even more trouble with the notion that I might go off to grad school. Clearly the message to her was that you go to college to catch a man–not surprising given her generation and social location.

        I kept thinking about this last night and I think it was a subtext for some of my dreams, and I began to wonder if I haven’t downplayed the sexuality part and maybe those messages were stronger than I’ve thought. Lots to think about and maybe more to say later (after sermon writing!!)

    2. We’re pretty well-schooled in ignoring the sexuality part, we nice young ladies of yore. 🙂

  14. oh, such great comments!

    let’s see. i was raised in los angeles — lower middle class suburb, like kathy r. dad was a private investigator, mom ended up teaching. they knew each other in college, but might have met earlier since both were swimmers. the weird thing is that my dad was best man at my mom’s first wedding (when she was 17), and i guess when that fell apart, he stepped in to save her reputation, or something. they married right before she turned 20, and i followed 9.5 months later.

    let’s just say, my mom had serious issues. while i was expected to go to college, it was even more important that i catch a man. she criticized me constantly for not being popular, for being overweight and not pretty enough; for thinking about ideas like feminism, and fairness, and whether the VN war was a good thing; and just in general for falling short. she was glad to accept praise for my academic and other achievements, but that was not what i heard daily.

    if my mom ever met a male friend of mine, she practically swooned, though — it never occurred to her that i could have a friend who was a guy and not, like, marry them. (or sleep with them.) it turned out that i could, and did. still do!

    for some reason, my mom liked gay guys (even in the 1950’s, and even though she was republican all the way), but was seriously freaked at the idea of lesbians. makes me wonder a little. after my parents’ marriage fell apart, close to 30 years in, she married my dad’s army buddy. she could not bear being without a man, and never looked very far for the next one. (that is a mean comment, but true.)

    i always was straight. i just didn’t want to be a princess; didn’t want to be in a relationship for the sake of saying i had a boyfriend. i got lucky, too. but on my own terms.

    1. i must have felt some of that pressure, though. my first real boyfriend in college was an incredible jerk. it was a great favor that he broke up with me, and went on to further jerkiness without that becoming my baggage. as my college pal points out, he was cute — but cute only goes so far. you know?

      1. i forgot to explain that i am one of four girls. if we deviated from mom’s idea of how we should be (quiet, only approved interests, deferential at all times), she was unforgiving. her behavior around men and boys was a huge contrast — fawning, flirtatious, non-critical.

        so, in that sense it was always clear that we were less worthy because we were girls. i was told that there were things i could not do when i grew up (firefighter, astronaut). we became somewhat estranged when i was in college, the major benefit of which was that i was more free to follow my own path. by that time, i had become what mom called “a g**-d*** feminist,” believing that so many possibilities were available.

        virginity was definitely stressed. my parents got pretty worked up when i told them i was moving in with my boyfriend — i was 24, in law school, and had been on my own financially for several years. (each of them called me and said the other was “just sick” about it.)

    2. That emphasis on weight and prettiness is so classic. And painful. It’s not like we’re all born pretty!

  15. (Sorry this is so long…)

    I was raised in a family that had all the rough stuff where one should be able to recognize she is gay. My mother had a PhD in clinical psychology and probably guided more GLBT folk to their dissertations at Boston University than any other professor there in the 70s, 80s and 90s. She did not, however, provide me language for my identity. When I came out to my sister, one of the most conservative people I know, I was 47 and barely a couple of months into my journey. Her first comment was “Didn’t Mom ever talk to you about that?” Um…no. Mom never did. My sister went on to say that she and my mom had several conversations about my sexual orientation, and that our mom clearly felt that I was gay. Mom never said anything to me while she was alive. This, I believe, is partly why I did not know that I was gay until later in life.

    In addition to this seeming schism within my mom’s behavior (that I did not name until recently), I think that all the trapping of a society paired male-female gave me no language, no models for other ways of being. While my parents were not religious, I accepted Christ my first year at college. This set me on a path of marriage while also being the primary breadwinner (there’s another schism!) We had a son – and he is a true blessing.

    I do believe that realizing I was gay had to wait for many things – my son and the love of my life and I finding each other (after being friends for more than 10 years) predominant in this list. Things could not have timed out any earlier; and so, I certainly have work to do releasing my mom (or anyone else) of responsibility for my lack of self-awareness; but still…realizing one’s sexual orientation at 47 is rather like a train leaving the track while travelling at 60 miles an hour. There are bound to be people hurt in the process. But even my soon-to-be-X realizes that this is the path that needs to be travelled. I have never felt more myself than now. And that is well worth the journey.

    This poem is an out working of the conversation I had with my sister, and the conversation I envision having with my mother. While it may seem devastating to some, the act of outing myself to my mom (though she died in 1994), has been freeing.


    “So, I have something to tell you.”
    “I’m gay, you know.”
    “I know; I have known; I wanted to forget.”
    “It took more than 30 years for me to remember.”
    “I know.”
    ‘Did you not want me to know? Did you want me to try to forget?”
    “That would have been easier.”
    “For who? You? Because it hasn’t been easier for me.”
    “I know”
    “So this is who I am.”
    “I know.”
    “No going back.”
    “I know.”
    “You might have said something before you died.”
    “I couldn’t.”
    “You had made a life for yourself in a heterosexual shell.”
    “Well, no pearl inside.”
    “I know.”
    “If we had a do-over, would you?”
    “I’d tell you I love you any way you are. I’d tell you to figure out what makes you happy and pursue it.”
    “Oh…I see… I think I am doing that now.”
    “I know”

    1. Sue, thank you so much for telling your story and sharing your poem. I read this on my phone earlier today, and it has been on my mind ever since. I can identify with the 100-miles-per-hour image.

  16. Great conversation folks…
    I grew up in Australia, non-church-ish family with very dominant, and yes, bullying step-father. The purity thing was not as much an issue – though, I do remember my beloved Gran urging me as I moved into puberty to remember to ‘keep myself *nice*’ – a phrase I’ve often smiled at. The more pressing issue was the model of manhood I was growing up with – we would walk on eggshells as we never knew when step-father would explode. You complied or it was just not good news. I was constantly being asked almost as soon as I hit puberty ‘when are you going to get married and give us grandchildren – the furthest thing from my thoughts. This, cheek-by-jowl with never measuring up to whatever impossible standard was being set, as I didn’t know what the standard was from day to day. I was ‘stupid’ and only fit for stacking shelves … there was no opportunity at all for me to even contemplate higher studies and reading was seen as a waste of time [I was the classic reading under bedcovers with a torch kid]. In this household, step-father was very much the head, and at the centre: we were trained into a subservience with everything done to meet his needs. I learned to be invisible, with my mantra being ‘anything for a quiet life’.

    Surprised at 12 to be told I was off to confirmation classes, the reason given was ‘otherwise you won’t be able to get married’. Yeah, well that worked… not! I remember, even at that age being very aware that anyone who did anything ‘important’ or who was ‘on show’ in church was a bloke, and that here, too, women were subservient. As I was already living in a male-dominated household [to be precise, it was just the one male, the rest of us were female, including the dog!] the thought of being a part of something else that was obviously so male-dominate turned me off. And yet, the God thing was…interesting….
    I got on well with both guys and girls – but not the kind of girls who obsessed about boys and makeup and weight and had crushes on pretty-boy popstars [oh dear, memories of Leif Garrett…help!]. I was a tom-boy: with the occasional ‘that’s a nice dress’ and out with home I really couldn’t be bothered trying to conform to a gender stereotype that was being modelled as I knew I really did not fit that mould. Hmmm, do any of us really? Moulds are for making jelly [jell-o] not people.

    Very early teens I was already [quietly at home, less quietly at school] reading feminist stuff, pondering the patriarchy, and questioning wider structures of oppression and injustice… and not being in romantic relationships with chaps. It just wasn’t something I even thought about. But the God thing, well, that was something I still found myself thinking about. It took going off to Scottish country dancing classes, where I met a woman deacon in the Uniting Church, to realise that women could actually do something of significance in the church… I dipped a toe in…women ministers doing…*gasp* communion??!! A woman youth worker who talked with me as if I had a brain… powerful female role models who encouraged me. I joined the church. Went off to a very non-denominational conservative bible college where all the boys did theology [they were going to be pastors] and all of the girls – except me and one other – did cultural anthropology [they were going to be missionaries]. It was a culture shock. I also learned that God despised gay people… which was tricky, as every now and then the word ‘lesbian’ would wander into my brain…which I quickly brushed away by doing other things like preparing for worship/ Sunday school/etc. I assiduously avoided the idea of calling into ministry…

    In my late 20’s, I escaped from Australia, coming to the UK … gosh… space to be me… but… who was I really…and why not married? At 30, working for a lay community, I met someone who made my heart skip a beat, and made my palms go all sweaty…and well, gosh, all sorts of interesting physiological reactions that I had never known. The thing was, the person was a she, not a he. *lightbulb* We both felt the same, but chose not to be in a relationship. I moved to London, where, for a year I read and read and thought, and finally came to terms with that part of me that I had been in denial about since my childhood. And worked out that God still loved me… the world wouldn’t stop turning….

    At 40, I finally went to university, got a 1st class degree… scholarships to do both a Masters and a PhD… and am gradually coming to the conclusion that I am perhaps not quite so stupid after all.
    The self-preservation mantra developed within a dominant male household ‘anything for a quiet life’ has long bit the dust: I have opinions and express them!
    I’m also training for ministry…the sexuality bit is tricky but I have discovered that even this is a male-dominated debate: women are rather invisible. The debate continues to be about male power and privilege… and that what it is to be a ‘real’ man in the church is to be heterosexual with proof that you can breed.
    I watch the debates and the bullying language and reflect that they have nothing on my step-father, and that if ‘abomination’ is the worst folk can throw at me, they have lived a rather genteel life.

    A caveat: I have done quite a lot of reflecting on the male role model I grew up with and have asked the hard question ‘is this why I’m gay?’ I don’t believe so. In my head, I always knew he was a very extreme and damaged case and that not all men were like him. I like guys… my best friend is one. I just don’t seem to have that whatever it is that is attracted to them… whereas, women have the capacity to just take my breath away.

    Not sure I’ve answered some of the brief, Martha, but it’s been good to revisit some stuff! In the midst of your processing and reflecting I wish you joy, and will be thinking of you! 🙂

    1. Nik, you answered plenty. I don’t think it’s ever as simple as who our role models were for masculinity and femininity, although they may slow us down on the way to seeing the obvious. My mom was challenging, my dad distracted by his career but adored nonetheless. I may have tried to be a certain way because I related better to my father, but I am who I am. We are. Yes?
      And thank you for your kind wishes!

  17. What a great discussion! Here’s my contribution:
    Raised in the redneck shallow south, lowest possible middle class, which means some time spent in a trailer, some times when we ate whatever food church people left on our doorstep when my dad’s union was on strike. Evangelical, non-denominational religious upbringing, with all the gender baggage that entails.

    My older brother was the light of my parents’ life, and family politics was arranged around his success. Even though he is “only” 6’3″, everybody thought he’d play for the NBA–a very common dream for boys in Indiana. He is my parents’ bio child.

    I’m the adopted middle child and so different from my siblings it is unreal. My younger sister, the “oops baby” of the family, was a gorgeous baby. Gorgeous. So there you have it: successful son, beautiful daughter, with this lump of a girl in between.

    I learned how ugly and useless I was from my brother, who used to tell me almost everyday “Don’t worry; you’re pretty pretty: pretty ugly and pretty apt to stay that way.” Everyone seemed to be in agreement about that.

    But what I really was is smart. I poured my energy into that, but it threatened the family system because my brother was the one tapped to succeed, not me. In fact, when I won a rather prestigious scholarship I was told to not tell my dropped-out-after-one-semester brother. I remember standing in my parents’ living room–my own home–holding the letter and jumping up and down out of joy and excitement–out of 3,000 incoming liberal arts freshman at Purdue I’d gotten a scholarship offered to only the top 12–and my mother telling me “People would like you a lot better if you’d stop bragging. So, shut up about this.” So…if nobody thought I was attractive and they were mad at me for being smart, what was left?

    My early boyfriends were all gay; of course I couldn’t have put that label on their disinterest in moving beyond kissing with me. So staying a virgin in high school–which is very, very important in the religious tradition of my upbringing–was easy. Of course the moment I left for college, and started meeting/getting sexual attention from straight boys, that backfired. I was so flattered that any boy who knew what he was doing would want to do those things with ugly old me me that I did some things I’m not proud of–neither the acts nor the motivation.

    I feel as though I send some portion of every day undoing the messages that I grew up with. I’m always so surprised that people find me of some value. I am stunned to have a spouse who loves me despite the baggage I lug around. I was saddened but not surprised to be so badly abused by the congregation I served in my first call.

    I recently called my mother to tell her that I’d been invited to a writing workshop next month. She didn’t tell me to stop bragging, but she did quickly change the subject to my brother. I think that in this life, that’s the best I’m going to get from my family.

    1. so heartbreaking, jules. i don’t know you at all, but can tell enough that you are and always were of value. we need not buy into the currency valuations of certain relatives.

      but that is easier said than done. you have done a good job of moving along, and so have i — but some of those relentless messages we hear growing up are awfully hard to get rid of altogether.

      1. “but some of those relentless messages we hear growing up are awfully hard to get rid of altogether.”

        And that’s Truth. –bookgirl

    2. I had to read the part about the scholarship three times, one of them aloud, before I could believe it, and I *know* a lot of your story. I’m so sorry.

  18. I’m on my way north to hear my daughter in a concert, will be back later to say more, but for the moment, thanks to all who have joined the conversation this morning. I’m bowled over.

  19. I grew up in KY, born 1972. My parents were religious, but not evangelicals. Dad was a university prof, Mom was a stay-at-home-mom and artist. She was also a closeted lesbian who finally left my dad for a woman after 36 years of marriage. She is very happy now; not so much when I was growing up.

    I remember her telling me that it was ok that she stayed home with the kids because we kids were so smart and wonderful that we were going to change the world. Being our mother was a really important, worthy job — or we were going to make it worthy, when we grew up and were brilliant. I could see the flaw in that argument at six years old: we were all GIRLS. What if we grew up and stayed home with babies, like she had, and did nothing else? What if WE had girls? How many generations was it going to take before someone (some BOY) was finally born who would do something brilliant and vindicate all of us?

    I decided I was never going to have babies. I ended up having one, and I’m not sorry, but that’s part of the reason there’s only one: I made a promise to myself that I would not be like my mother. I would get other stuff done.

    Virginity was HUGE at our house, and definitely a sign of worth. We were expected to be virgins when we married (I asked my mom, years later, whether it might not have made a difference in her own life to have had sex before marriage, and she agreed that probably would have been a good idea). None of us dated in high school, not because we didn’t want to but because we all seemed to have big neon signs over our heads: touch me and my mom will hurt you. Nobody was brave enough to ask us out. In college, the two of us who were straight found boyfriends right away and got rid of our virginities in fairly short order — and never told Mom until after she left Dad. The non-straight sister dated no one, then finally dated a woman in grad school after Mom had finally come out.

    1. Oh, Rachel. You remind me of the daughter of my next-door-neighbors who once stayed home with her mom for “Take your daughter to work” day, then wrote about it for the elementary school paper in a heartbreakingly honest fashion. She did not want to spend her life changing pillowcases for boys. (She had three older brothers.)

  20. I grew up in big-city Texas, born in 1965. All 4 of my grandparents went to college for at least some time which I think is rather amazing, and it was a given that I would graduate college. I honestly cannot remember my mother telling me not to have sex, or anything about it…WHY??? My parents were very into the charismatic renewal in the 70’s and our social life was focused on churches (plural) and things surrounding.

    Despite the lack of commentary, it was crystal clear to me that I had to wait until I was married to have sex. I regret that I waited until I was 23, because I missed that experience with one of the great loves of my life. It wasn’t about fear of pregnancy for me, so much, but the overarching idea that I must be a good girl, and that I must make my parents proud after my older siblings had done so much to wound them. (Codependent much?)

    Like Jules, I had a lot of people calling me ugly in school (no brother at home to help out with that). Fortunately I always had a core group of female friends and later, a mixed group of choir friends, to help me feel like I had a place no matter what. And, like Jules, I have responded to attention from straight boys/men with an “I have to or he won’t like me” belief that sickens me. AND, I have had a string of gay boyfriends and that could be a whole ‘nother story.

    My mother had worked before her first marriage and divorced that abusive man before she married my father. She is an incredibly strong person who escaped a somewhat Tennessee Williams-ish, North Florida family system. She had a master’s degree before I was born and, though she stayed home with my younger sister and me whe we were babies, she practiced speech pathology from the time I was about 3 in varying capacities. She was always home when we got home from school until I was in about 5th grade. I learned from this that I wanted to have babies but only if I could stay home with them in the early years, and, utterly opposite from her experience, only if I had a partner who was willing to do it 50-50 with me. I never found that and therefore do not have bio children.

    I also knew that I would work. It never occurred to me that I would not have a career and work at it.

    I have always been attracted to men, no question. But at this point in my life I believe that if I were single again, I might be attracted to a woman: because I know that it’s who you are with that is the most important. Love is love. (That’s what I think, anyway.)

    I have been crying off and on since starting to read this post and the comments…so powerful. Thanks to you all for listening.

    1. MB, me too. This is powerful stuff.

      And it raises a whole lot more stuff that I’d love to talk about–about sexuality and attraction and relationships among other things.

      Martha, thanks for providing this forum.

      1. Rev Dr Mom… I would love to talk about this kind of stuff more as well… but the problem is the oh so public forum nature of it…
        Martha… is there any way to set up a more private RGBP fb ‘adjunct’ group to keep the conversation going, perhaps? Dunno if that’s in the spirit of RGBP though? Just wondering.

    2. MB, I’m bowled over. Bowled right over.
      Nik, this is my thing and not a RevGals thing. The commenters are from all walks of my life, face to face and Internet.
      And I guess my whole point in this is to get it out there, although I understand the worry of being so public.

  21. I also would like to talk about this more, but cannot do so on my blog. Partly to protect my family of origin. Although A. Lamott says to “write as though your parents are dead”, that is easier to say when they are. And mine are not. As my dear friend MB would say, codependent much?

    1. Yeah. Me too. There’s so much to say (though other people are saying it for me–How many of us are there?), but my parents read my blog and I don’t want to go there. (I tried to post above without linking it to my blog, but failed.) –Bookgirl

    2. Well, my parents *are* dead, but I still hesitate on some things, in part because of the audience and in part because I have children.
      Wendy, I’m pretty new to WordPress, so I’m not sure how to do an anonymous comment.

      1. (Side note: I figured it out. I had to use an email address that wasn’t linked to my wordpress account. Otherwise it forced me to log back in.)

      1. My parents do not read blogs or know what they are, but I have linked mine to my Facebook enough that my siblings could find it if they need/want to.

    3. Jules, I totally agree. There are many things I’d love to write about including “what I wish I’d known”, but the leaps are too great when my parents are 1) still alive and 2) do read my blog. Someday…

  22. Still pondering. Thanks for the invitation to think about all these important questions, regardless.

  23. What was your socio-economic and geographic setting when you were growing up?

    Grew up in England, in an upper-middle-class family; was sent to a girls-only boarding-school at the age of 10. This was in the early 1960s, so a world away from the difficulties faced by the young of today.

    What were the expectations for you?

    To gain academic qualifications and perhaps to go to university and think about a career.

    Who told you what value and success might look like for a woman?

    No one person in particular; we had some terrific role models among the staff at school.

    Was that success wrapped up in attention from men?

    From our contemporaries, yes; from adults no.

    Were there definitions of what kind of attention was appropriate?

    No; I think it was considered that there would be plenty of time for that sort of thing at university/later in life. Once we were in the Sixth Form (years 12 and 13), we were encouraged to have friends among our peers at the local boys’ school (a very grand school, one of the top schools in England).

    Was there cognitive dissonance? (In other words, did you hear one thing and see another?)

    Not really. My mother hadn’t worked outside the home, but then she had me 9 months to the day after her wedding, so she couldn’t, really!

    Was there an a-ha moment suggesting there was something wrong with the whole social construction?

    No; I think I came to feminism gradually!

    And since I’m reading “The Purity Myth,” did virginity form part of the definition of your value?

    For me personally, yes; not for many of my contemporaries.

    And how about marriage?

    Again, for me personally; I am still shocked to find that some younger women still consider themselves “failures” if they haven’t married – I find I am a far bigger failure in that I can’t afford, as these people can, my own flat or to run my own car!

    Do your past and/or current understandings of sexual orientation (yours and others) form part of the subtext of this conversation?


    What’s your basis for valuing yourself now?

    Don’t think I’m being pi or anything, but quite seriously I value myself for who I am in Christ, and knowing that I am loved and valued by Him…..

  24. As for me, the purity meme ran deep as I grew up. My mom had been a so-called “bad girl” (think Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause.”) and was determined I would not be. By temperament, I actually was a very good kid, eager to please and not wishing to hurt my parents. But Mom wanted me to be asexual. She got that across by telling me I could be anything I wanted to be; I didn’t need a man. In the next breath, though, she would tell me I could never have sex unless I was married. Very confusing. My biggest act of rebellion was to marry when I was 20. Of course, it didn’t last, but I used him to pay for college before I took off (not my finest moment, but it is what it is).

    I tried to write more earlier today but to answer all of the questions fully would take an essay. I’ve thought about most of these questions over the last few years and to put it all together is just exhausting right now. But, whenever I feel that I’m valued only for what I can do for others, I recall that God loves me no matter what. That has been the rock in chaotic times, which have been more often than not these last several years.

  25. What is interesting – I probably should have said it in the comment above, but it was already quite long enough – is that today I was at a party/reunion of Old Girls from my year at school (we are all quite literally old now, most of us having had our 60th birthdays, and those of us who haven’t are within spitting distance); we were talking about quite a lot of this stuff; how school encouraged us to believe we could do anything; how most of us were quite desperately insecure although none of us realised the others were….. one can, at 60, look back on teenage angst with some measure of equanimity.

  26. This is way long. Feel free to delete if it is too much info.

    What was your socio-economic and geographic setting when you were growing up?
    We were middle class living like lower class economic setting. I grew up living in a double wide trailer with no a/c in the deep south, but my father worked in the space industry and his peers lived in “regular” houses. I still don’t understand that choice that was made by my parents. Most of my childhood was spent near Cape Kennedy or near New Orleans.

    What were the expectations for you?
    Make straight A’s. Be smarter than everyone else. Physical appearance and physical fitness were not.a.priority. We were not allowed to shower/bathe every day. We were not allowed to wash our hair more than once a week. We were not allowed to wear makeup. (of course, I did not obey these rules because they brought on horrible teasing at school. My sister was not as willing/able to break the rules and had a horrible horrible teen age period.)
    I was not allowed to be angry. Seriously, I remember being told, “we do not get angry in this house.” Of course that was total bullshit and the undercurrent of unexpressed anger had devastating effects.

    Who told you what value and success might look like for a woman?
    My mother told me repeatedly that a woman could do or be anything. This is where the cognitive dissonance occurred in our home. Mother is/was off the charts intelligent, but flunked out of college (Cornell) because her parents went bankrupt during that period and she had to work 2+ jobs to pay for tuition. Her resentment of this and her sense of total failure crushed any will she had to return to school or work outside the home until she was in her 50’s. This woman who preached the “you can do anything” became a stay at home mother/wife and did a horrible job at both. She clearly did not believe she could do anything.
    Luckily and Gracefully, Scouting was in my life….and I had strong women as role models…women who truly did anything and who just assumed that I could and would also. Girl Scouts saved my life.

    Was that success wrapped up in attention from men?
    Absolutely not. Except from my father. Who was a serial adulterer. And who had fluid and inappropriate boundaries with me. Especially as I developed into a woman. It was confusing and again, thank God for Scouting because it gave me a way to be out of the house as much as possible.
    As far as attention from boys my age….I was smart, had a back brace or body cast through much of high school and boys just did not like me that way. The expression that would be used in this day and age is that I was “friend zoned” by boys my age. Don’t get me wrong, I dated…….but romantic relationships were not the goal. Grades were.

    Were there definitions of what kind of attention was appropriate?
    I was told that sex was for marriage, but always had a sense that it was the talk being talked and not the walk that was being walked in my home. My mother was amazingly open about discussing the mechanics of sex, contraception, etc….but shut down on the emotional aspects. The first time I was sexually aroused, I thought that was what “falling in love” was …..I had been told when you fall in love, you will just know…so when those physical sensations occurred, that is what I thought love was. Man oh Man, did that make for some bad decisions before I figured out the difference.

    Was there cognitive dissonance? (In other words, did you hear one thing and see another?)
    See above.

    Was there an a-ha moment suggesting there was something wrong with the whole social construction?
    Yeah, about 3 years ago. You are not the only late bloomer.

    And since I’m reading “The Purity Myth,” did virginity form part of the definition of your value?
    Yes. I thought I was dirty and damaged after losing my virginity. It took several years and a wonderful wonderful college lover to develop past that.

    And how about marriage?
    Not from my parents, my mother actually discourage me from getting married until I was completely finished with med school….but I wanted very very much to be married. And I am happy that I am and have been for almost 25 years. Having said that, I would never ever get married again. Communicating with someone for years and years is hard. Forgiving is hard. Finding joy after tragedy, kids, life is hard. I don’t want to do this again.

    Do your past and/or current understandings of sexual orientation (yours and others) form part of the subtext of this conversation?
    I have never felt anything but heterosexual. I love many women, but am not wired to be at all sexual with them. Lately, I have been attracting attention from more men. It is disconcerting to be seen as attractive and sexy at age 50. It is disconcerting to be getting that attention from men who would have never ever looked twice at me at any other point in my life…(like drop dead gorgeous men)…..perhaps it is true that eventually the boys do grow up and appreciate the brainy girls.

    What’s your basis for valuing yourself now?
    I am very good at my chosen profession and that is very important. I am seeing the results of steady and prayerful parenting and I am joyful about that. Mostly though, at this point my value of myself is based on being kind, compassionate and willing to continue to grow.

    1. Not too long at all.
      I think it’s good to remember that not all our stories are the same, that there is no “Southern girl now roughly 50” story that covers everyone.
      I’ll say this, the idea that sex was dirty was so deeply implanted that the corollary “but not after you’re married” was hard for me to believe.

  27. martha — your questions and this discussion have been so interesting that i forgot to mention how much i admire you for starting it, and for sharing part of your coming to terms with a deeper understanding of yourself.

    obviously, you have struck a chord with many of us. it is so rare to have a chance to reflect on things that influenced us so deeply as individuals — what was expected, ways we have struggled with that over the years. the questions you posed are so thoughtful. your friends have not all had the same experiences, faced the same challenges, or made the same decisions — but it is nonetheless comforting to hear echoes of our own stories in those of some others. also, you have a really terrific collection of friends — smart, thoughtful, caring, resourceful, tolerant.

    1. Kathy A, you said it so well: “…you have struck a chord with many of us.” This is an amazing discussion we are having, even though — because I was overwhelmed with the things I had to get done this week — I have not (yet) tried to answer all of Martha’s questions. I want us to continue this discussion about “the value of girls” and am willing to set up a blog (I’m on Blogger) that can be accessed and read only by those who have been invited. In other words, nobody has to worry about parents or siblings reading what is discussed. The problem (for me) is how to set it up, since Blogger — as I know it — gives me only the options of POSTS and COMMENTS. I’ll read up on the “new Blogger” being offered, but if someone is more knowledgeable about this stuff, I would welcome your input on what would work best.

    2. Thank you, kathy a. I continue to be astonished by the variety of stories and the courage of the tellers, who come from so many parts of my life.

  28. I read this when it first went up but avoided answering because, well, it’s complicated and it’s long. But it’s nagging at me, so here’s my story.

    I was born in 1958 and grew up in small-town Illinois, the only daughter in a working class family of five children. I was the golden-haired girl Mom waited 17 years for—and was expected to be her best friend, the substitute for the sisters who disliked her, a superstar in school and in a profession, yet stay at home to keep her company until I married. That was the first brick in the wall of cognitive dissonance that nearly trapped me.

    My mother was a smart woman who dropped out because her father died during the Great Depression. I was told from the age of three that I was smart and had to go to college. But we couldn’t afford it so I had to be perfect in school to earn scholarships. In high school, I felt such a heavy burden. Who had time for parties and dating? I also felt a tremendous pressure to learn the wifely skills of cooking, sewing, knitting. I think that was from indirect rather than direct messages, but it still became the second brick in the wall of cognitive dissonance.

    Our Baptist Sunday school not only taught us that lust = fornication, but they went further and told girls that if they caused boys to feel lust, they were as guilty as if they’d had sex. I ask you. How is it possible to be a reasonably pretty teenage girl and not cause some boy somewhere to feel lust? That was the third brick in the wall. (Oh, and by the way, I honestly didn’t realize I was pretty until I was 28. My family was so focused on my brains, and that was the very quality that intimidated the boys at school, so I got no positive feedback from peers. And the Baptist guilt made it seem dangerous to be sexy, so I dressed like I was 40. Literally. I grew up in the 1970s and did not wear jeans until college.)

    Added to that, my older brother abused me—not in a sexual way but with severe sexual side effects. He used to tickle me until I would start to black out from being unable to breathe. It felt like he was trying to kill me, and no one defended me. Instead, the family narrative was that I was too sensitive for hating to be tickled.

    So yes, the purity myth loomed over my life but really, the reason I kept my virginity probably had more to do with the abuse. It taught me that I did not own my body from my neck to my knees and that any male who was stronger than I was could do whatever he wanted to me. I think I must have sent out very strong “stay away” vibes because even when I did have boyfriends, they always set the physical limits to protect me. The abuse was so traumatic that I actually blocked out the identity of which of my brothers was responsible—until I had a flashback in the middle of being with my husband one day.

    I was a 31-year-old virgin when I married, and the adjustment was difficult. I did not want to be stroked anywhere in the danger zone, which makes foreplay problematic. My husband was the most patient, loving man in the world and over the course of years, he coaxed me into being able to enjoy our physical relationship.

    As for professional success, it took me a while to whole-heartedly pursue that, but not because of being a woman. My mother was smart and always worked and did well at her jobs. My issue was guilt at surpassing my family’s socioeconomic status.

    There is one more issue related sharply, oh so sharply, to my value as a woman that is not on your list. The one thing I wanted more than anything from the time I was tiny was not marriage, but motherhood, and that is the one thing it turned out I couldn’t have. I still struggle with feeling that I’m missing part of my value as a woman. But I think that feeling of lacking something is inherent to being a woman in this society. Men seem to be able to say, “Ok, I have this and not that, and that’s ok because there are different ways to live.” Women, not so much.

    1. ruth, that is so awful about the abuse. i am very sensitive to tickling — cannot bear it, and it would have been horrifying to go through that with no ability to escape and no protection.

      i also have a thing about unwanted touching, and unwanted intrusions on personal space. i was not sexually abused, but i may be unusually sensitive because of things relating to what i was told growing up. there was cognitive dissonance between not being attractive enough, and also feeling burdened with the idea that if someone else misbehaved and gave unwanted attention, it would be my fault. (i think there is a good likelihood my mother was sexually abused by an agent my grandmother retained to promote her idea that my mom be a child movie star. mom never spoke of this directly, but the circumstantial evidence is creepy.)

      you bring up an interesting point about motherhood — what was expected, what we wanted. i always thought of myself as a mother. my role from age 3, when my next sister was born, was to take care of my younger sibs (be a mini-mother). i remember pulling a chair up to the crib when i was 8, to change diapers for my baby sister. in college, i ran a dorm (equivalent to a dorm mother in earlier years). the desire to nurture the clan has definitely spilled into my work life; i once proposed that my job title include “office mom,” only half-jokingly — the bosses were appalled, even though i had been promoted in part because i worked hard on supporting people in their work and on office morale.

      i don’t know how things would have gone if we had not had our 2 children. i do know that the job is so big, and i had such a strong interest in my work life as well, that i was unwilling to have more. my husband misses little kids so badly that he tried to talk me into adoption a few years ago. not going there, no matter how much i adore kids. and our adult kids are not yet ready to be parents; we are carefully avoiding any pressure on that front.

    2. Oh, Ruth. That Sunday School story is horrifying.
      The story I was told about value and success for a woman was weighted heavily toward marriage, over motherhood, which probably tells you a few things about my mom, the way she coped with infertility, and how thrilled (not) she was about adopting when my dad said he thought they ought to do it. My point of view on children, as a young girl, was that having some would be a great way to use some family names and consolidate my position within the tribe. Fear of pregnancy was so huge that I couldn’t embrace the idea of children until I was safely married.
      Thank you for sharing that part of your story, especially.

      1. Yeah, I learned a lot of crap in Sunday school. I realized last night that there was another whole piece I left out–my church seriously, actively taught the male headship model of marriage, and they almost brainwashed me, except that my college roommate was astute enough to say, “Ruth, think about this. That’s not how you function.”
        Thanks for starting this topic, Martha.

    3. Ruth, I had the same sort of tickling abuse from older siblings. It’s taken me years to be able to tune into my body enough to get massages. (and a lot of work with a very patient masseuse!)

      1. MaryBeth, it took me a long time to be able to talk about it as abuse with apologizing–“It was just tickling but . . .” I suspect it’s more prevalent than a lot of people know. I’m really sorry you went through that too. I’ve read your references to massage and body work over the years, but didn’t know it was related to tickling.

  29. I grew up in the southwest in what I understood to be middle class. I understand now that it was lower middle class. We never went without anything we needed and we had many things we merely wanted. But there were material things that seemed like pleasant pipe dreams and I never expected to have the ability to get them unless I married a rich man. I don’t remember it occurring to me that I could make that much money myself. Perhaps I could make enough to support myself and not have to depend on others but not make an abundance, not enough for lots of luxuries.

    I had a brother born with severe birth defects who died a couple of months before I was born. I was everything he was not: healthy, chubby, smart, attractive, and female. I was fulfillment of my family’s dreams. Sort of. I started off doing well in school and so was expected to always do well in school. I was curious and creative and wanted to try everything. My parents and grandparents would frustrated when I grew tired of something and was ready to move on to something else. They expected me to pick something and stick with it. I excelled in Girl Scouts because one of the points was to try as many things as possible. I loved that and I did stick with it all the way through high school. I learned both organizational and leadership skills in Scouts and I had strong female role models.

    My father died when I was in the third grade and my grandfather stepped in as a strong role model. My grandmother was also a strong, very traditional female role model. My mother, not so much. I saw her as weak and needy. She began leaning on me soon after my. Father died. My grandfather may have seen me as the son he never had and was very encouraging in my interests.

    I got a lot of what I thought value and success might look like from TV and movies, Girl Scouts, family, and church. Each with a different set of messages. Some of them conflicting. In high school the women’s movement opened up my eyes to a lot of things that were not equal. At the same time I loved cooking and sewing and doing things from scratch.

    I don’t remember anyone ever talking in terms. Of “if” I got married. It was always when I got married and had children of my own. I couldn’t wait. I wanted lots of kids, at least 6, I would bake for them and sew for them and teach them. It wasn’t that my mother never did these things, but she didn’t excel at them and I did. By the time ideas in high school I was making all my own clothes and was a much better and more adventurous cook than my mother. She hated cooking and was glad I liked to. But at the same time I was determined to b able to support myself and not be a the mercy of having to be paid for by any man. Men died. Men left.

    I never h ad attention from men, or wasn’t often aware of it. I went from a chubby baby to a fat teenager. Even when I lost a very large amount of weight in high school the boys saw me as a friend. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I knew I was smarter than many but I tried not to show it. Years later I found out that I was not as successful at hiding my intelligence as I thought. So I guess I did at least listen to the women who were telling me not to play dumb to get a boy. I rarely felt attractive and when complimented on looks I didn’t believe people. I still don’t believe people, but I did (at forty) finally accept that I was really smart. Sometimes I am rewarded for that and sometimes it seems like a hindrance.

    I absolutely believed I should remain a virgin until I got married. This didn’t seem like giving up much. I wasn’t much interested in sex until college. I didn’t have much opportunity, no boys were I interested in me, before that. Then when I was ready to start playing the boys still weren’t interested in me. I didn’t lose my virginity. I gave I gave it to the first one who made a real effort. It had become a burden to me and I did not regret its absence. Finally! By then all kinds of birth control were readily available and your mother (or anyone else for that matter) never had to know.

    There was plenty of cognitive dissonance in my life. I desperately wanted the attention of men but I kept the weight on to discourage them.

    I have never been married. None of the guys I was interested in wanted to marry me. One asked and I wasn’t interested in marrying him. I was in my 30s when I had an aha moment about the kind of guy I really wanted. He was totally different from the men I had been attracted to previously. He was also married, so that didn’t go beyond friendship but it was an aha.

    I miss the companionship possible in marriage, but also know that marriage is. No guarantee of companionship. Or commitment. Men leave (and so do women). And they die. I really miss not having children. It’s probably good I didn’t have 6 or more the way I planned, but I have none and sometimes it still feels like I am incomplete. Barren. I could have had one n my own, but I saw what a strain being a single parent was on my mother and didn’t want that. I never made enough money to feel financially secure enough to do it on my own. I’m not sure there is enough money to make me feel financially secure. Since my father died I have been afraid of being poor and in debt. I am very fiscally conservative but also very generous. Now my 88 year old mother lives with me and it is like having a preschool child who forgets more and more instead of learning more and more.

    I have wondered more than once if I was gay, just because I have been so unsuccessful with men. But I have never felt turned on except with a man. I have never felt like I wanted to kiss a girl. Who knows how much of that is my own taboos and how much is the way I’m wired? I understand sexuality not to be an either or but more of a fluid thing. Maybe it depends on how open you are. I don’t know.

    What is my basis for valuing myself now? As hard as I try to listen to the positive message from others and from myself, I feel like a fraud that could be found out at any time. And sometimes I feel supremely confident. Sometimes I resent the success I perceive others who do not have my skill, talent, intelligence achieve. Sometimes I think I just haven’t tried hard enough. Sometimes I think I’m using the wrong criteria to evaluate.

    I have a job with benefits. I own a house (well the bank and I do, but I’ve never been late on a mortgage payment) and this is more house than I ever dreamed of owning. I have a another year to pay on my car. And I have no other debt. I have several extremely close friends. I have tons of moderately close friends. I have tried and enjoyed all kinds of things. I have traveled. I enjoy life most of the time. That is success.

    1. Candi, thanks for telling your story. I would love to hear more about the conflicting values and especially about what you learned in Girl Scouts.
      Re: taboos, I hear you. Not sure I can say more right now.

  30. Posting this one for an Internet friend:

    I’ve asked Martha to post this anonymously for me, because I think the topic is too important to lie, or even omit the truth, and because I don’t feel like it’s fair to my family to post this much information about them. In addition, I am job hunting and this leaves me feeling raw and exposed. Because of my professional life, I’m not out as a rape survivor.

    I was born in 1968, the second child. My parents divorced when I was six years old, because my father was abusive to my mother. Apparently, money had been tight before that, but with a single mother working to support us, and a father who sporadically paid child support, we were lower-middle class. We moved a lot, if there was a job that was a little up the food chain, we moved to it. I went to four schools in the 3rd grade.

    My mother sued an employer in the early 70s, for gender discrimination. She won, but lost big—it was hard to find work.

    I was expected to be perfect. At least that’s what it felt like. Not good grades, but perfect grades. Not a clean room, but a spotless room. Compliance was important, and defiance was not acceptable. I was an extrovert living in a world of introverts, so there was always a subtext that I didn’t understand. And the expectation was that I had this subtext, too, and it was assumed that the subtext was one of defiance. I see now that it wasn’t defiance so much as not being detail oriented.

    My mother survived sexual abuse by her stepfather. Because of that, my liberty was circumscribed. I couldn’t stay after school to play sports. I couldn’t go out to play with my friends. I couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities. Church was the one place I could go safely, though. At about 13, I started being at the church ever time the doors were open, simply because my mom thought that it was safe. I had a long list of chores to do each afternoon, after I called my mother to check in from school. If I was late, I got grounded or spanked.

    But my brother, who is 2 years older, had none of those constraints. He was required to work hard at his grades, but they didn’t have to be perfect. He was encouraged to do sports, go to dances, hang out with his friends. He didn’t have chores.

    From a very young age, success was about me being able to financially support myself. Preferably at the highest scholastic level possible. The quote was, “Never have to rely on a man.”

    And yet, attention from men was good. My mother was single, sexually active, remarried, single again (and sexually active) and then married for the third time. She, as we say in the South, “married well” the third time, which meant that she didn’t have to work any more, and he took care of her financially, and she took care of the home. It’s certainly a contractual agreement that my mother thinks I should be seeking to replicate.

    So there is cognitive dissonance: “Never rely on a man.” And yet, there my mother was, seeking (and eventually finding) a man to rely on.

    Sex was not taboo in my family. It was something that adult women wanted, needed and did. When I left for college, my mother said, “If you meet some guy and you just feel like you’re going to die without jumping into bed with him, come home. We’ll go to the doctor and get on birth control.” I remember thinking, even as young as 10 and 11, that my adult life (I dreamed of being a doctor in a teaching hospital a la St. Elsewhere) would be working and having lots of boyfriends. Sex was a given.

    The taboos were instead poverty, alcohol, and, for some reason, being lesbian. I do wonder, sometimes, if perhaps my mother had lesbian leanings. I remember her getting really freaked out by a neighbor who came out to her, in probably 1978 or 1979. That had to have been fear more than anything else.

    Which made another dissonance. There was an underlying message from about age 12 that I wasn’t feminine enough. My mother would say that I laughed like a football player, that I thudded through the house like a guy, and into my college years, that my friends were all dyke-ish. I feel sure that I wouldn’t have been disowned for being a lesbian, but I never was one. But it was confusing when she said this before I became sexually active.

    Life has been a series of a-ha moments. It took me until my thirties to realize that my mother was trying to protect me from sexual abuse by being so strict. The irony, of course, is that she couldn’t protect me from it. I avoided sexual abuse as a child, but I am a rape survivor.

    I postponed sex (I hate the concept of virginity!) until I graduated from college because I didn’t trust my own ability to modulate my behavior. I drank a lot (see note above that alcohol was evil in my family) in college and didn’t want a long list of sexual partners in those years. So I met a guy graduation night and slept with him 2 weeks later. Turns out he was rather abusive, which meant I got out of there really quick.

    I know little girls dream of their weddings. I didn’t do that much. And the times I’ve come close to marrying have been to the guys with the most glaring issues. I used to think that my strength (that non-feminine part of me, according to my mother) made me attractive to weak men, but I think now that I’ve chosen very weak men. It seems that weak men are more willing to do what I say (did I mention that I’m bossy?). An equal partner never seemed possible.

    I did (and do? although it’s waning) value myself on how attractive I am to men. According to folks around me, I’m a natural flirt. I don’t really see it. I do see value in making everyone feel like someone is paying attention. I’m not sure I understand the difference between flirting and paying attention.

    I think it’s waning because of age… And because what I want from my life is changing.

    I would like to be married. To a bona fide partner. Someone who can hold a mirror up to me and say, “Is this how you would like the world to see you?” And someone who can emotionally support me, too. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder for the next boyfriend, like I’ve done for so many years.

    I want to be valued as the whole package: pretty, smart, funny, capable, a good leader, emotionally connected (I may have some work there!). And I do want someone in my life who can appreciate those things. And more than appreciate them, respect them. I really do think that in all the dissonance I got, I got a real view of real life. The answers aren’t easy, the package isn’t all black and white, and life is not about the ends of the continua, but rather finding the middle ground.

    1. So grateful to hear your story, my friend. It’s fascinating how the pendulum swings as we try to protect others from what we suffered ourselves.

  31. Wow, what a discussion.
    Born in 1960 I grew up in a working class familyin Eastern Australia. My dad worked in the steelworks, and Mum stayed home until we were in high school, then worked in a clothing factory. I am the elder of 2 children, my brother just over year younger than I. Church was not part of my family experience.

    Expectations were: to be good, that meant obedient. Doing well as school didn’t count at home, and I wasn’t good at things like knitting and sewing. I can remember my Brother telling me girls weren’t any good at Maths, yet I was doing the top level of Maths in High School, and went on to study Maths/ Science and Engineering at University – didn’t complete either degree, partly because I wanted to have children, and my husband was looking for promotion which meant moving.

    Success for a woman: ? was not a thought. Women were women. And Success was not something valued in my family, having lots of friends was valued. When I talked about going to university, the comment from my father was about taking drugs and marching against the Vietnam war – I did neither of those things, to me University was place to go to study so I could work in maths and Science.

    Men: it was assumed I would get married and have a family, everything else a girl/woman did was filling in time until then. When I started studying Science I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry, I wanted to save the starving masses with food and technology, and I couldn’t see how you could work and have a family at the same time.

    Like some others, my father was the dominant person in the household, and being good, staying out of trouble, was important. Interestingly, his mother was a matriarch, she hadn’t been in paid work since she married, but she was the instigator of many family get-togethers, and made sure there was enough food etc, and everyone adored her. A strong woman, did the housewife thing really well.

    Attention: not having a church background, though going to Sunday School with friends at times, the ‘morality’ stuff was not strong. And I was born six months after my parents were married. I think my parents were more concerned that I did not have lots of boyfriends and was not sexually active. By the time I had boyfriends, I was part of a church group, so morality was part of that.

    School: at high school, a public girls school, we were told we could be anything we wanted to be, this was different to the messages I was getting at home. Also I tended to be in the middle of the class, which I now realise was me not wanting to stand out.

    a-ha moments: plenty. a point where I realised that God loves me, not a perfect version of me; realising how different I am to my family of origin – my counsellor gave me the helpful image of the ugly duckling;

    value: now I value myself as a precious part of God’s creation. I acknowledge that I am intelligent, creative, with leadership skills and have made and am making a difference in the congregation I am in ministry with.

    Marriage: at 22 I married a wonderful man, we celebrate 30 years of marriage later this year. We have worked through infertility, lost pregnancies, moved with his job, then moved for me to study and now be in Ministry. He is supportive, encouraging, caring and does housework.

    1. That’s a bouquet of conflicting messages, isn’t it? I’m glad you have a helpful partner in your spouse.

  32. Have just gotten here – will read and ponder all tonight. Amazing stories. Thank you, Martha, for everything.

    1. Martha, I posted your questions on my blog on Wednesday, after the RevGal’s blog did. I’ve gotten a couple of responses from readers, if you want to go read them:

      I have also set up a book discussion on my Book Buddies blog for Traveling with Pomegranates:

      The first paragraph and a synopsis of Traveling with Pomegranates are on my book blog:

  33. I’m very late to this party, was on vacation last week, but want to say thank you to all you lovely women who have shared their stories. I think I will write more about this on my blog later, but here for now I want to share part of my story. When I went to seminary I had been single for a long time, and I prayed that I would find a partner with whom to share my life. Until this time I had only had relationships with men, and I was rather surprised when during summer Greek I fell in love with a woman. Perhaps I am still in denial or simply stubborn, but I dislike the notion of an either-or orientation. In college I learned about the Kinsey scale, and even then I thought, I’m somewhere in the middle. So on some level I recognized that I could be attracted to women, even though I was only pursuing relationships with men. I didn’t particularly care about being married, but I enjoyed sex, and I loved the men I loved. There was an expectation of virginity, and one of the few regrets of my life is not having sex with my high school boyfriend, whom I loved very much. I feel impatient and filled with wonder that we still are debating the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, as it is so clear to me that it’s simply about who you fall in love with. The first time I met my partner’s family, I knew why I had fallen in love with her, at least in part: our family systems were so complementary, we spoke the same language. Our communication is far from perfect, and perhaps retains too much of the volatile nature of our parents’ marriages. But we’ve been together for nearly 13 years, and she is home to me.

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