If you are on Facebook, you have taken any of a dozen tests that promises to tell you if you most resemble Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy (I’m a Jackie); that you are a dark or light-filled personality (I’m dark. Duh!) ; and if your real age is two to four decades less than you know it is (my real age is 33, time two). It’s okay to admit taking them. The tests are relatively harmless, although I have a niggling suspicion that the NSA is going to do something with the information.
For those of us older Boomers, especially female members of the post-war generation, there are truer tests of the times in which we came of age. I’ve distilled this list from thirty-five to twenty. I’m sure you have your own measures of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. I do believe that younger Boomers, those like my niece born in the late sixties, have slightly different measures of coming of age.
Anyway, there’s no scoring on this test. You will either recognize the markers or not. Perhaps you can add a few of your own. As the old Virginia Slims commercial used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” (Remember that commercial? You’re a Boomer.) Sadly, we still have a way to go.
So, age mates, let’s see which of these memories we share, and which still make you cringe at their patent unfairness:
1) You always wore a skirt to school. No matter how cold the temperatures were, your knees were bare and the wind chilled your tush from kindergarten forward.
2) You read from primers with characters called, Dick, Jane, Alice, or Jerry. These children lived in idyllic suburban neighborhoods with not an “ethnic” neighbor in sight. They all had “stay at home” mothers, too. Dad wore a fedora and mom wore an apron. We knew the children would grow up to buy a home in the same neighborhood.
3) Boys were “Safeties” (i.e. crossing guards in training) on the street. That was the status club to join. Girls were “Girl Guides” who stood in the hall to stop kids from running or talking. Apparently, girls were not able to brave the elements, and boys might let their buddies run rather than walk in the halls.
4) You remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and either hiding under your desk or in a hallway away from windows which somehow was supposed to save you from an atomic bomb dropping on your school.
5) You read Archie comic books and wanted to be Veronica Lodge. More likely you were Betty or Midge, but Veronica with her money, wardrobe and wealth of admirers was definitely the goal.
6) Somewhere around your tenth birthday, you were given a pamphlet about menstruation. Usually, this came from an older sister because mothers never, ever discussed sex with daughters.
7) Your first stockings came with a garter belt that inevitably tore the stockings which you then repaired with nail polish that stuck to your legs.
8) You bleached your hair at least once with a product called “Summer Blonde,” a single process bleach that turned your hair orange.
9) Your early brassieres came to a point. Boys considered it sport to snap the back of your bra straps.
10) You clearly remember where you were on November 22, 1963.
11) You coated yourself with baby oil and used a reflector, each summer, to get a “protective tan.” You are paying for those abuses during those long-ago lazy summer days with regular visits to the dermatologist.
12) Boys took Shop class and built useless tie racks and bird houses. Girls took Home Ec and learned slightly more useful skills like cooking and sewing. At the end of the year, you were forced to walk, class to class, to display the product of your sewing class, crooked seams and all.
13) At some point in high school, you were given a gender-oriented test that predicted your future occupation. Girls options were limited to being secretaries, teachers, or nurses even if they longed to be scientists, lawyers, or doctors. Your job, after all, would only last until you had children and, should you be unfortunate enough to have to go back to work, your hours needed to be compatible with your children’s school and social schedules.
14) Someone, usually your mother, told you to take typing and shorthand so that you would have “something to fall back on.” The implication was you would fall back on these skills until you got married or, G-d forbid, not get married.
15) You and your friends joked about attending college to get an “MRS” degree. (But were you actually joking, hmmm?)
16) You searched for your first job in a newspaper with columns divided into “Male Help Wanted,” and “Female Help Wanted.” The female jobs all involved operating a typewriter, switchboard, or cash register.
17) It was drilled into you that your “reputation” was your most precious possession, and “reputation” did not refer to being known as smart, funny, or ambitious.
18) You begged your girlfriends with steady dates to “fix you up.” You hoped that you were not described as “smart” or “having a good personality,” both of which were code for unattractive.
19) You remember the Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan and had a favorite member of the group (usually Paul). If you were slightly older, you wore an “I Love Elvis” button pinned to your blouse.
20) Your first marriage (or maybe your only) happened around the age of 21 and certainly no later than 23. After that, you were considered desperate, if not an “old maid.” Your mother reminded you that life was passing you by. Looking back, this one is perhaps the most horrifying.
There’s no scoring on this test. It’s merely a reminder that we survived times that younger women cannot possibly imagine. Our times presumed the inferiority of women. We, on the other hand, have spent decades reinventing the perceptions of women and to what lofty goals women can achieve. The next time you look in the mirror, and wish for a younger image of yourself, remember the lines around your eyes, the wrinkles in your forehead, and the creases near your mouth were honestly earned. Every single indentation is a badge of honor for the fact that we achieved far more than we expected to in a time when expectations of women were mostly limited to marriage, community volunteerism, and model children. We far exceeded the prospects of who we were to become. We survived, we excelled in unexpected ways but, most importantly, we proved that we were far more than our pretty faces. Our race, while not yet over, has been well run. We now only need to see how women who redefined gender roles, can bring our experience to growing and excelling at being wise women and storytellers for the young women who come after us.