Thursday, March 20, 2008

Not My Mother's Generation

By the time I reached junior high school, women’s liberation had been in full swing for some time. Gone were the days that men held doors for women whether they were trying to seduce them or not.

Boomer women had pounded into the heads of the establishment that women needed to know how to navigate a repair shop rather than a sewing machine and I was right there too asking questions like: why aren’t there more women fire fighters or police?

When it came time to pick my seventh grade classes, I selected the shop series: wood, metal, print and horticulture. I was one of five girls that first year the school principal allowed girls in the shop area. I learned a lot. I enjoyed the whole thing. Being a tom-boy and not yet filling out, the boys knew I could play street ball and fight with the best of them. I wouldn’t change that experience. It was the beginning of my non-traditional life, outside-the-box.

However, nothing comes without a price, what I didn’t get were sewing or cooking skills of any kind.

After high school, I found my experience in shop class put me in a unique position, I had the same knowledge and experience as many of my male peers, but I was not hired for the apprentice plumbing position or the apprentice carpenter position.
The lack of domestic skills has been an embarrassment over the years. I’ve had to learn those skills I deprived myself of learning because I had bought, hook, line and sinker, that women wouldn’t have to do those mundane chores.

Years later, much to the dismay of my husband in our early marriage, I knew very little about cooking and indeed, I burned water, more than once.

Sewing, ha! If I couldn’t hand sew it (reference: small mending of partially pulled hems or a button) I was completely lost. I hemmed pants with safety pins more times than I care to remember. The drycleaner’s seamstress loved me.

Historically, sewing was not gender segregated. Tailors were more often men. Towns that afforded their own tailor were hubs of commerce. Women were not generally considered weavers or tailors. Tailors were tradesmen, craftsmen, artisans and business men, venerated for their skills.

In the days of the traveling salesman, men knew how to mend their own clothes. Civil War memorabilia includes small sewing kits from soldiers’ on both sides of the Blue & Grey.

Indeed, men did and do sew. At the George Washington Carver Museum in Missouri, there is an entire display of the quilts and needlework completed by Scientist Carver. Former Football Hero, Rosy Greer sat on a talk show panel doing needlepoint. Even bikers are seen sewing accoutrements for their “hogs”.

Perhaps, I’m continuing in my non-traditional stance. Or maybe it’s just good sense to teach children to sew. However you might look at it… I took my sons (along with my daughter) to sewing class today.

When the instructor of the usually all girl workshop asked the boys why they were there, they said, without prompting from their mother, it was another life skill they’d like to learn.

The truth is the boys have been in sewing class a time or two. But if they’re ever going to learn this skill, it’s not a lesson mama can provide. While I have taught myself how to thread a sewing machine and replace a zipper, I am not by any means able to teach them the skill in depth or answer anything but the most rudimentary questions.

The sewing instructor, who would be within my mother’s generation, came up to me after class and said how well the boys did on their projects. She was especially impressed by their attention to detail. She asked if I had taught them. I laughed and briefly explained my domestic impairment.

She said her daughters (my age) didn’t know how to sew either, with a sort of puzzled look on her face.

Apparently, the gender pendulum had swung away from home arts across the country not just in my home town.

We gathered all three sewing projects. I would defy anyone to determine the gender of the creator of any of the projects. My girl and boys did very well indeed.
I cannot decide which skills are required for my children. I do not know where their life paths may lead. I do, however, believe I am obligated to make sure they have a variety of skills. It never hurts to know how to be creative, constructive, and productive; even if you never end up needing that skill. I hope I would never make a child learn something or deprive them of that knowledge based on gender.

Clearly, I’m not of my mother’s generation.

1 comment:

~ Roxanne said...

Very Interesting Kate!

Growing up in the 70's I was very determined to do anything a boy could do. My school was a little behind the times and all girls took home economics.

I did get a little exposure to auto machanics during a summer program.

Life skills should not be a gender specific!