When I first started my education, the Equal Rights Amendment was working its way toward being signed into law, in 1972, by the US Congress. I was much too young to understand what was happening in our country, let alone the world. But I do remember arguments in school, between the boys and girls, regarding the possibilities of our futures and what it would mean to us girls if we were all, indeed, created equal.
The subject would come up every year near Mother's Day, when the entire class was busy making gifts to take home to our individual mothers. The subject would come up again whenever we had a classroom discussion about "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Many times the subject would carry over to recess and the boys would laugh openly at any girl who said they wanted to be a doctor, a fireman, a mailman, or a scientist. Our teachers tried to be understanding with the boys, telling them, "The world is changing before our very eyes." I went home and asked my mother about it, wondering why the boys laughed at us girls even after the teachers had said we could be anything we want to be when we grew up. My mother said, "You can do anything you want to do, if you put your mind to it." I believed my mom. The boys at school just didn't know how determined us girls could be.
Information on the Equal Rights Amendment
- Equal Rights Amendment
Help the ERA Summit and the National Woman's Party promote the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to guarantee on behalf of all women and men that equality of rights under the law cannot be denied on account of sex.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
My first ambition as a young child was to grow up to be a teacher. I loved school and wanted to share my love of learning with any and all children that would inevitably come my way as a teacher. At one time I wanted to be a scientist or a chemist, but my mother failed to get me the chemistry set I wanted for Christmas. By 1977, after I had seen the movies, "Gone With The Wind", "Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory" and "The Wizard of Oz", and learned they were adapted from a book, I wanted to write. My teachers thought it was a wonderful idea. My mother, on the other hand, thought it was a waste of time.
My mother said:
"Do you really want to be an unemployed writer?"
"Do you want to starve to death?"
I didn't understand. How could a writer be unemployed? A writer is always employed as long as they're writing. Books cost money and the money had to go to the writers, didn't it? My mother wouldn't listen to any more of my nonsense and demanded I choose another occupation. I ended up choosing to be a math teacher, since I had once wanted to be a teacher anyway. The boys didn't laugh; women were meant to be teachers.
A couple years later, in 1979, the subject of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" resurfaced in school. Unknown to me at the time, the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment was approaching. Believing I had the freedom of choice at my fingertips, I was completely lost as to what I wanted to be. My mother encouraged me to consider accounting, as I was good at math. I didn't want to be a teacher anymore, and she had refused to acknowledge my desire to write, so I took her advice.
During High School
During high school we took tests to help us determine what occupation we should consider upon graduation. My results told me I would be best suited as a forest ranger. Well, I did enjoy being outside, and being alone was never a problem for me. But seriously, I could not see myself as a forest ranger. One day, in class, my algebra teacher told me algebra was supposed to teach us logic, critical thinking, and analytical skills, and since I understood it so well, I should be a scientist. I thought this was exciting! Then, my mind thought back to the chemistry set I had never received - my desire to learn science was gone.
I had an English teacher in high school who gave us a creative writing assignment. We were to write a short story about how Paul Bunyon created the Grand Canyon. As she was grading our papers she came to me and asked for my permission to submit my short story to a creative writing contest. My eyes lit up, I know they did. I gave permission and waited, but I never heard anything more - until the day I received a poster in the mail. Had I won a second or third prize? There was no return address on the mailing tube and I never found out.. Later on in high school, I wrote my first non-school related poem. As I wrote it, I felt guilty. I was wasting paper.
As An Adult
I graduated when I was 17 years old, and was married by the time I was 19. By the age of 23 I had given birth to 3 children. I had a fascination with pens, pencils, and paper. I always had to have them in the house and with me at all times. I didn't know why and I didn't know what to do with them. I just had to have them.
We didn't travel much and we never traveled far, but whenever we did I would take my pens or pencils, and paper with me. I would write down weird and unusual street names, names of towns we went through and the unique names of people we would meet. I bought baby name books when I wasn't pregnant, and collected useless information from whatever source was available. I just knew I would need it all, someday.
After 10 years I realized I didn't love the man I had been sharing a bed with since the age of 19. I packed my belongings, took my children and said goodbye. Two of my children were school age and every year when I bought them school supplies, I made sure to buy pens and at least one notebook for myself. I didn't know why.
Should Equal Rights be protected by law?
After a couple more years I found myself working as an Administrative Assistant in the customer service department of a small insurance company. One of my job duties was typing the weekly staff meeting minutes. I was continually surprised to hear a colleague say, "I love your writing style!" I had no idea what she was referring to - it was the staff meeting minutes! After that I began noticing some of the representatives in the department were anxiously waiting for me when I walked through to hand out the minutes. Week after week I would see the same people take the paper from my hand and scan the typewritten words with anticipation.
At one point my boss said
"You should be a writer."
While I was working as an Administrative Assistant, I entered into a deep depression. One I didn't think I would ever find my way out of. I took my notebook and began writing. What ended up on the pages looked like something a kindergartner would have written. All the anger, sadness, pain and hatred I had kept inside myself for 30 years were scribbled into an illegible mess. New Years Eve that year, I took my notebook outside and burned it at midnight while reading a poem I had written. I don't remember the entire poem, only these two lines:
I will never forget this year, or the pain I have endured
I will never forget, but I will move onward— Rafini
Shortly after this I discovered hardcover journals at the dollar store. I bought a bunch of them, all at once, and began writing in them every day - with multi-colored pens. My journals took me back through my childhood angers and hurts, and threw me into the realities of my 10 year long, miserable, marriage. My journals taught me there is always two sides to every story, as I'm sure my ex-husband would not agree with anything I wrote down as an experience. My journals also taught me it isn't worth it to argue over perceptions, unless there is something valuable at stake.
Ten years later, shortly after I learned the Equal Rights Amendment was never signed into law, I am beginning to write for the joy of writing and to become the writer I always wanted to be.