News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It Was Different Back Then

     I've heard that so many times but never thought much about it until a few weeks ago when I received a free-lance assignment for an article about growing up a teenager in the 1940s. For me it was a no-brainer. I was essentially interviewing myself.
The article covered 1940 to 1949, the year I graduated from high school and included World War II, but even before the war there were huge differences between childhood then and now.
     Last evening was Hallowe'en, with the traditional trick or treating. In my day we went with friends. Even the grade schoolers went unchaperoned, never imagining being kidnapped or attacked, or worrying about being poisoned by tainted candy. In my small hometown such things didn't happen, or if the evil existed, we didn't hear about it. Did we not have such a vast number of perverted individuals in the 40s, or did they suddenly begin appearing later on?
We didn't know. We didn't have TV and the Internet to keep us informed about such stuff outside our comfort zone. It was a time of innocence and freedom from fear. We had newspapers that only adults read, except for the funny pages, and radio, but who knew that playing with water in the gutters during a rainstorm could bring on disease, or that there were evil men lurking in doorways, or driving around in cars, (nobody owned a car),waiting to pounce? Definitely, some weird adults lived in the neighborhood, but details were scarce. You instinctively avoided them. Sex, rape, and perversion were mysteries left for later years, unless you personally knew someone, then the gossip went wild. Dire rumors of the grim consequences of indulging in sex, the worst being that somebody might find out and you'd be branded, like The Scarlet Letter, kept most of us chaste, even in high school.
      For amusement we rode our bikes to the stockyards and chased the cows until we got run off, or read comic books. I learned math by playing cards, and about money with a Monopoly game. We talked. Every neighborhood had a place where we all gathered, after dark, to talk. Does that happen anymore? Texting is hardly talking, nor is tweeting.
     So, I was writing furiously, not really thinking too much, until I came to the question: What expectations did your parents have for you when you graduated from high school? Wow! The difference between then and now smacked me in the libido. The answer was, absolutely nothing. I was a girl, stupid. Girls weren't expected to do or be anything. You got married and had children. If you worked, it was until you got married, then you didn't work. It simply wasn't done. If you went to college, it wasn't to learn anything; it was to meet men with better job prospects, or who came from money, so you could make a better marriage. The accepted wisdom was that the money for tuition would be wasted on a girl because she'd just get married and never use the degree.
     Since the Women's Movement, which began with World War II, and reached fruition in the 50s, women in the US and Europe have gained many freedoms. We're still learning how to handle it and society is still, like flood waters, trying to return to the way it was. Probably the greatest change is the power to choose or reject motherhood. As the role of women in directing the course of world economic and political future increases it is inevitable that we realize men have made an unholy mess of things. I wonder how long we will put up with it?

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