Growing up with four sisters, the common rule in our house was “share it with your sisters.” I grew up wearing hand-me-downs and sleeping on an upper bunk in a room with three of us.
But our Barbie dolls were different. We each had one and those we didn’t have to share. My oldest sister had a Barbie from the early 60’s with a mod beehive hairdo and unbendable legs. She had a strapless sequined evening gown with long white gloves. The second oldest had a Midge with the same unbendable legs and a red flip and a smattering of freckles across her nose. Her clothes included dresses that Gidget would have worn. There are six and half years between #2 and myself.
My Barbie was representative of the early 1970’s. Her legs had a bendable joint – she was on the move! She had Mini skirts, boots and knit scarves and pantsuits. She had a brunette flip and looked just like Mary Tyler Moore. I made apartments out of our blocks and tinker toys to house my modern gal. I envisioned an apartment in the city where she would work during the day and go to parties at night. There was no Ken in my world. I would sit in front of our Zenith with her while we watched Mary Richards lounge in her hip apartment with Rhoda after a long day at the TV station. I watched shows like “Maude” and “All in the Family.” I fell in love with Bea Arthur and vowed one day someone would call me “a broad.” All these women showed me that marriage and babies wasn’t my only option. I saw women burning their bras and marching on Washington and fighting for birth control. I couldn’t wait to grow up. These women were my role models.
My mother was a housewife and part time secretary at my father’s law practice mainly out of financial need, I believe. She never talked to me about her choices. She had never finished college, where she met my father, and eloped at 19. I don’t know if she ever wanted to finish. She wasn’t a feminist. She was just my mother. Neither of my parents was particularly involved with us on a personal level. They “had enough to deal with.”
I found my role models through the television I watched and my friends’ mothers. I had a few that were professional and strongly feminist. We would discuss the world and they would listen to me.
In every step of my life I have found strong women, who taught me to be myself and find my own voice. These women were mothers of my friends, the women I worked with at the New Mexico legislature during the two years before I went to college. They were directors and actors of the theaters I worked with. They were college professors that mentored me. They were women who showed me the way.
My wife reminded me that the first election we voted in was Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. I remember the excitement of voting for a woman on a ticket. I don’t necessarily remember the crushing defeat. Too many years have passed, my entire adulthood in fact.
I moved to a city after college and made my own way into the world. I knew I was never going to have children and marry. I had known that sitting cross-legged while watching Mary toss her beret up in the air. I just recently was given the right to legally marry my wife. My soul mate, who didn’t play with a Barbie, but who was determined to wear her cowboy boots no matter what anybody told her.
By the time my youngest sister got her Barbie doll on a cold Christmas morning, the hair had become blonde and the outfits were made of silver and gold lamé and included bangle bracelets reflective of the 1980’s.
During this election I saw so many women who still clutched their Barbies from an era where the strength of women was seen in the knit slacks and blazers of the 1970’s and were making their way into a world that men had built. Our time had finally come. We were all ready to toss our beret.
My niece now has a bin full of Barbie and princess dolls that come in economy packs that hold 5 each. She has clothes that run the range from yoga pants to mini bikinis. They have hair and skin of different colors. She sees that the choices are plenty and a girl can be anything she wants to be.
But again, it’s just a doll. Time to grow up.
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