It was the men who did the fighting, who declared independence, who exhibited bravery in the face of exhaustion and starvation, who rode through the towns at midnight warning of imminent attack by British troops. The men got to be the heroes and do the exciting stuff. Meanwhile, Betsy Ross sewed a flag, and Martha Washington cheered the troops from the sidelines. Whoop. Dee. Doo.
At least, this is how we learned it in fifth grade. I have since read a bit more about Mrs. Washington, and it turns out she was a pretty tough lady with leadership skills and a practical fashion sense that was actually pretty important for women at the time. I wish we'd learned that stuff about her in fifth grade instead of just that she was somebody's wife.
Every other girl in the class chose to be either Betsy Ross or Martha Washington. I, however, decided to be Paul Revere. I think it was his midnight ride that got me going (I was really into horses at the time....) but I remember thinking it was highly unfair that there weren't any particularly interesting females to represent in this mock interview assignment. (My sense of injustice was acute even at a young age, you see.)
I don't know how the other girls in the class felt about the assignment. Clearly, while our teacher didn't object to me playing a male role, she hadn't encouraged it since I was the only one. I came up with the idea on my own. And I wasn't the only Paul Revere, understand, just the only girl who chose to be him. Did the other girls not feel empowered enough to choose another character? Did they truly think Betsy and Martha were as interesting and as important as all the men we studied? Or did it not even occur to them to do anything differently? I wonder.
I've been thinking about this recently in the wake of all the idiotic things that have been said in the last few weeks and months about women's health and mothering and the pay gap and all those things that show just how far we are from true gender equality and justice in this country. Truly, the mind reels at the asinine things that come out of people's mouths. I'm angry about a lot of it because, well, it's hard not to be angry. If you're not angry, you're probably not paying attention - is that how the saying goes? Anyway, I feel frustration and anger mounting at the "conversation" we (the societal "we") are having, or pretending to have, and the assumptions people make about me...and I think about myself in fifth grade dressed in gray knickers (my mom converted a pair of corduroy pants for me), a button-down shirt and thick glasses, describing my midnight ride and pretending to be a hero.