Thursday, April 24, 2008

Speaking of Gender

“Girls can’t do that!” exclaimed my then four-year-old son, Grange. “Who told you such a thing?” I asked. “No-one, I just know that only boys are . . . architects, lawyers, doctors, fill in the blank."

Kira & Grange Simpson with their medals
Kira & Grange Simpson at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

How had this happened? How had this son of mine, the son of a woman who had learned the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat because of Title IX; a woman hired into the Procter and Gamble sales organization, that staid company’s last bastion of WASPishness; and the first female Indian trader in three generations of Kennedys. Grange again assured me that no-one had taught him this supposed truth, he just knew. At that moment, I realized it was going to take a lot of nurture to help him understand the complexities of what he understood to be nature.

Title IX, now known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, was enacted June 23, 1972. The following year, Gallup’s first girls basketball team was formed and my best buddy, Robyn, and I joined. We had funny red uniforms, white tube socks with red stripes and Converse low tops; the basketball shoe of our day.

As I progressed into playing basketball and volleyball, running track, and playing tennis, my parents were certain I was going to “Hades in a hand basket”. Each of my older sisters had been a cheerleader, an acceptable activity, not yet filled with the hip-gyrating, gymnastically challenging routines of today’s ultra-competitive squads. My sister, Chris, admitted to never being able to do the splits, but she did have a mean Herkie in her repertoire. Nope, it was sports for me all the way.

Title IX means little to my daughter, Kira. Solid girls sports programming is now the norm. Our local communities have well developed volleyball, basketball, softball and track teams for the girls. Kira enjoys each activity, but our son Grange loves sports. Baseball, football, basketball, wrestling; he attacks each of them with the fervor of the true enthusiast. When he was six years old, in his very first wrestling match, Title IX took him to the mat and pinned him. That’s right. His first match was with a girl and she won. He did not like it one bit. In that millisecond, a substantial crack formed in his male/female classification system.

My first serious foray into the gender minefields came when I accepted a position with Procter and Gamble, at that time, an almost 150 year old company with its mores set in soap, if not in stone. Sales was the last organization within the company to fully integrate. They were a hard-charging bunch in both work and play. Women were so new to this branch of the organization that sufficient mentoring had not yet developed. Male managers within and without the company turned away from me with the knowledge that this tough business was going to metamorphize me into a monster (they had a different term for it.) When attending sales meetings which included spouses, the wives gazed upon me with suspicion. We were struggling to relate with each other’s choices. The one manual available, Women in Sales is one of the funniest treatises I have ever read . . . and could not possibly have been written by a woman.

The same battle I had with my parents about sports again raised its head when, after six years, I decided to leave Procter and Gamble and follow my passion into the family trading business. My dad, a man who had personal experience with the harshness of the Great Depression, said, “What are you thinking?! You have a great job, benefits, a company car”. He saw secure trappings; I saw a trap. Looking him in the eye, I said, “You succeeded and you always made trading look fun.” At 95 years of age, he still makes trading look fun.

Twenty years ago, I entered the trading business and have never looked back. Every day is filled with beautiful art and interesting people. Best of all, it led me to my husband, Steve and the Four Corners lifestyle I deeply desired.

While attaining the freedom to live and work as I had hoped, gender identification issues persisted. I remember my multifaceted personality dropping to a single dimension when I became pregnant. “Oh, you’re just a mother.” Just?! It is one of the most difficult and beautiful assignments on this planet. Just?! In the news today, Spain’s prime minister Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recently appointed a majority female cabinet, including Carme’ Chacon, the new Defense Minister who is, gasp, seven months pregnant. The news bulletin stated that Spain, the inventor of macho, was in an uproar. Every successful, multitasking mother is probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? She can handle it.”

About a week ago, I had a conversation with a woman who recently relocated with her husband to Durango, Colorado. At one point, she mentioned her financially fruitful career in Northern California real estate. Her husband was a successful doctor, but she was the major money producer in their pairing. She related how often upon meeting her, both men and women declared, “Oh, you’re the doctor’s wife.” She cannot recall a single time when someone said to her husband, “Oh, you’re the broker’s husband.” I told her, “I know. I am the lawyer or trader’s wife”. I have never heard Steve referred to as the trader’s husband.

Navajo Rug Weaver Allison Billy

Our artist spotlight this past week focused on my dear friend, Allison Billy. He attempted Navajo rugs at the age of nine. Unlike other young weavers who are taken under the wing of a mother, an aunt or a grandmother, Allison started weaving in secret, hiding his small loom whenever family drew near. As a young boy, the prevailing Navajo traditions and taboos prescribed that a male should not weave. Watching closely as his female relatives were weaving, however, Allison was compelled to learn this beautiful craft, so he snatched opportunities at his secret loom whenever possible.

One day, his grandmother, Gladys Yellowman, discovered his crooked hourglass weaving. Rather than reprimand him, she sat down and started working with him in the open and the promising career of one of only a handful of Navajo male weavers commenced. She told Allison that their clan, Kinlichinii, the Red House clan, derives from the Hopi people. In the Hopi way, it is the men who weave and she believed that explained his desire to pursue Navajo rug weaving.

Allison has his mother, his grandmother and ten aunts who all stand firm in their support of his weaving. The journey requires courage. He is often told that he should not be weaving. He said, “As long as my family stands behind me, I have the strength to continue forward with my work”.

. . . and that is what I hope to teach my children; to follow their dreams, to honor all people and to believe in themselves. If achieved, I believe Kira will handle anyone who says, “you cannot because you are a girl” and Grange, well, he has already gained strength and grace knowing a little more about what girls can and will do.

With warm regards,
Georgiana, Steve, Barry and the Team.

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