I used to think that I had been born several generations too late. I thought it would have been great to have lived in pioneer times and explored the frontier. It would have been hard work, but I knew how to do most of the tasks that were required. I could sew and cook and garden and churn butter and wash clothes. I liked the outdoors and loved to watch the critters. I could shoot a gun or hoe corn or chop kindling.
Then after losing my first child, I realized that I would most likely have died in childbirth if I had been born in the 1800s. When I went to college, I was the first girl on either side of my family to get a degree. I had one uncle who had gone to school after the Korean War on the G.I. Bill. There was no expectation for me to become any sort of a professional and when I completed my degree, I didn’t have any plans or dreams. I had just fallen into the process. Most women of my generation who had careers were nurses or teachers. I got a teaching certificate as a hedge, but I taught only one year. The rest of my working life was spent as office staff. I followed in the footsteps of my mom who went to secretarial school before she married and raised a family.
All the while I was growing up no one asked me what I wanted to be or suggested that I might pursue a career other than wife and mother. No one had expectations of me and I had none for myself. Unlike my son who probably always assumed he would go to college people of my generation, especially girls had no such assumptions.
Now girls have choices, boys, too. There are a multitude of career paths that are available which didn’t exist in the 1960s. If I were starting college now, I might choose to major in meteorology or some other scientific field. I like science, but during my high school and college years the possibility of pursuing a career just never occurred to me. The standing joke when I went to college was that we girls were there to get our Mrs. Degree and most of us did just that and nothing more. I roomed with the first female Mechanical Engineering student to graduate from my school. She was one of a kind in many respects. She was the only girl in the class. She was smart, but she was abrasive. She expected to be treated with disdain and often was.
My niece is working on an advanced degree in geology. I doubt that she’s ever had to deal with the condescending attitudes of the 60s. A lot has changed in the past sixty years. There are female CEOs of tech companies now and female professional athletes. There are more opportunities, but there is still unequal pay for equal work in many fields. However more girls feel safe pursuing fields that interest them instead of doing what is expected because that’s the way it’s always been. The future is less self-limiting now because more women have stepped out in the direction that their talents lead them and paved the way for others to follow. Maybe I was just born, too, soon.