Some of our smallest acts last for a life time in the hearts and minds of those who witness them.
When I was in grade school, I had three older brothers (after my parent’s divorce and remarriages I would end up with nine brothers, but that was when I was older).
It was the 70’s and my mom worked outside of the home in various jobs while I was growing up. I don’t remember a time when my mother didn’t work. She worked, and she worked hard. My mom never complained about working even when she had two jobs, and our lights were turned off for not paying our bill.
You would think with all those boys, that I would have been the family princess, but the brother that was closest to me in age, definitely didn’t think I was a creature to be cherished. He enjoyed slugging me in the arm just to see me cry. We were very close growing up, and played together building forts, as well as, climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing kick the can with all the neighborhood kids.
I liked dolls though. I had Barbie, her Country Camper, and her kitchen. I also had little pink suitcase that turned into a studio apartment when I opened it up. When I was old enough to really read and choose my own books at the library, I picked books with females as lead characters like Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew.
On television I watched Gilligan’s Island, M.A.S.H., Bewitched, the Brady Bunch, and I Dream of Jeannie. The choices back then didn’t exactly provide me with strong female characters to look up to and think about being. The only women that worked were on M.A.S.H and very few of them were doctors. I loved the magic in I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, but in reality most of the magic was used to manipulate the male characters in some way. Neither of the lead female characters in those programs had jobs.
It was a time when woman’s roles were changing, but most of the messages in toys, books, and on television were confusing at best. I never did figure out the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I really didn’t know my choices, and society wasn’t doing much at that time to help me figure it out.
I look at the 70’s as transitional. Many parents were getting divorced. Women were working. We were the first generation of “latch key kids.” And male dominated professions were beginning to open up to women for the first time, but not as equals, in fact, it has been over forty years and that still hasn’t been completely achieved.
Beyond my mother, I had my teachers to learn from, and there was one in particular that did something that changed my thinking.
In third grade, I had a teacher that went by Ms., not Miss, not Mrs. but Ms.
It was the first time I knew anyone that took that title. I realized even at my young age, that I didn’t know if my teacher had a husband, if she was single, or if she was a lesbian. The title she chose for her young class to refer to her as changed everything. She was Ms. Bush. She was singular. She was not a possession or attached to another human being.
Ms. Bush was one of my favorite teachers. As a young child, I loved her.
The choice she made in taking the title, Ms. has made a difference in my life. It opened my mind to possibilities, and it spoke about things I couldn’t yet define.
To her it may or may not have been a big decision, although I imagine in the 70’s she was trying to make a statement.
She made a statement to me, and it was one I have returned to over and over again as I have passed through different phases of my life as a woman.
I like to imagine that Ms. Bush is still alive and living a radical feminist existence somewhere even though it has been over forty years since I last saw her. I would like to believe she will see the first woman president. I would like to believe that, because she was more important to me than characters in books and on television, she was my teacher and she opened up my young mind to the importance of being my own woman, and the defining of self not by my marital status, but by one’s own accomplishments and imagination.
Society may have been sending mixed messages, but Ms. Bush was strong and clear.