American Dream

The American Dream didn’t make it out of the Leave-it-to Beaver or Father Knows Best fifties. The Korean Conflict was the first to inflict the initial blow, but by time of the Vietnam Conflict, the notion of living the American Dream was dead to many. There are so many of us who have lived in the shadows of those who could dream of of doing anything, anything that only required determination and opportunity. Inequality is a rugged road to walk and I learned early that I better watch my step.

As soon as my little brain started putting together patterns, I noticed gender inequalities. Maybe I wouldn’t have hated dresses if I had a choice. Why did boys get away with such casual attire mask for what constitutes as being dressed up. From the get go I have fought the dress code and the unwritten rules of what a female is supposed to look.

A few weeks ago I was reminded on how important gender identification is while I was in a kindergarten class. I had never been in this class before; the kids didn’t know my name or anything about me. I probably had just gotten my “I’m sick of my hair” cut. I usually tell the hairdresser to cut it short enough that I don’t have to come back for four months. Anyway, I step inside this class and meet a student; she studied me for a minute or two and then asked if I were a boy or a girl. I really wanted to say, “Does it matter?”

Why does it matter? As long as there are different expectations between the genders, the American Dream will never be a reality. How can you tell little girls that they can grow up and be president when it never has happened. I wonder how this election will be treated in history books?

There are so many things that I grew up dreaming about the things that have never happened. I was not allowed to play baseball when I was a kid. And yes, girls can now play baseball, Little League is the top of the staircase.

Not too many people know of Jackie Mitchell. In 1937, at the age of 17, she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. She was coached by a hall of fame pitcher and not had the variety of pitches, but she had deadly aim. She proved it enough to get a minor league contract, which is how she came head-to-head against the most fear duo in all of baseball, and to do it at such a young age and without any experience. If I were to go up against any of the Red Sox, I’d be so nervous, my pitches probably wouldn’t have been close to the target. The stadium was packed when Jackie took the hill. There are clips of her powdering her nose before making her very first pitch. Maybe she was able to put something on the ball.

Jackie never made it to the big leagues.The commissioner of baseball vetoed her contract, saying that professional baseball is too hard on women. Yes, science and testimony proves that men are stronger than women. But when it comes to agility and ability, women can do so much more than we’re allowed to.

One commentator about Jackie Mitchell had to remind us that this was a period where there were no helmets or that when the ball came back, it was going to do more than leave a mark. There was more concern of her physical welfare due to her being female. Why would a woman risk getting a black eye or worse? The question isn’t even asked of the men who had been playing that way their entire lives. Why suddenly the concern.

I experienced this when I played ice hockey in junior high. Girls had to wear more gear, especially head gear. Professionals didn’t wear helmets. Boys had to wear helmets, but not face guards. Why are female faces more important to protect? Our bodies were protected as well since we weren’t allowed to check. Can’t allow girls to get too physical.

Gender inequality in sports has gotten a lot better, but the pace of change has been so slow. One of my American Dreams was to be a professional athlete. The Boston Bruins weren’t eager to bring on a female in the seventies. I was too short for basketball, though there have been a couple of five four men who have made it, there is hope that a woman gets a chance to break that barrier. The main female sports back then were tennis and golf, but the idea that I would have to wear a skirt bugged me. I had even turned away from lacrosse because of the dress code, but learned that goalies didn’t have to wear one.

And then I had to wear one. Many years ago, almost a lifetime, I did have the opportunity to be a professional athlete. I never got good enough to give the LBPT or WPBA national or regional members a run for their money, but I did have a lot of fun trying. And I had to learn how to have fun while wearing walking shorts, which wasn’t the problem, but I also had to wear panty hose. I almost stopped bowling just because I thought the rule was so stupid.

It’s hard to make change if I’m on the other side of the door, though it sure took me a long time to learn this lesson. Eventually the dress code relaxed, but by then Professional Bowling was no longer an opportunity to women. I’d hate to think that there’s a correlation.

The other day I was talking to a woman about her daughter who wore my favorite number eleven while playing football. I always feel so much hope when I hear about girls playing “not traditional” sports, but her story didn’t have a happy ending. She could have played on the middle school team, but her mom would have had to have provided a chaperon for her daughter at all practices and games, especially involving transportation. That’s one way to prevent participation.

I’ll never forget going door-to-door raising money for my hockey team’s transportation to only be told that girls belonged in the kitchen right before getting the door slammed in my face. We all struggled against the tide, but my team was good in a ground-breaking ways. The Waltham Angels, which then became the Waltham Wings, was one of the best teams in the Assabett Valley League. I wasn’t one of the stellar players, but my heart was in playing and I played constantly, working on becoming better. I’ll never forget playing in tournaments, especially Nationals, and feeling as though I were playing for the Stanley Cup. It really didn’t matter that we had to be self-supported and rubbed people the wrong way; the love of the game was all the motivation I needed.

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