When I was in high school, the only sport for girls was cheerleading; popularity and good looks were far more important qualification than gymnastic skills. During my college years, young women had curfews, but not young men; if the girls had to be in their dorms at a certain time, according to conventional wisdom the boys had no reason to stay out. With my first teaching assignment I received a higher salary than my female colleagues because as a young married man I was head of a family.
Girls in my rural high school were required to take home economics and wear skirts. They hoped to become teachers or nurses, if they wanted a profession; otherwise they opted for careers as secretaries or store clerks. At least until they found a husband and began a family.
But things have changed in schools. Now girls are active in sports, as competitive as their male counterparts. Some intend to become physicians, lawyers, engineers, and members of the clergy. Together they make up a larger percentage of high students enrolled in honors and Advanced Placement classes and swell the enrollment of university freshmen.
What happened? It seems to be a guy thing, but no one has definitive answers. While we applaud the liberation of women that allows them to become fire fighters, soldiers, and police officers, why are fewer men pursuing academics?
Perhaps the explanation is one of economics, the fact that women on average still earn 75 cents to the dollar earned by men; education levels the playing field.
Of course the implications are astonishing: as the tables turn, men will have their prostates checked by female doctors, will be married by female clergy, and will end their marriages with the help of female attorneys. Traditionally politicians emerge from the ranks of attorneys; men will be governed by women as well.
With women moving into the professions traditionally held by men, will manual labor be the last bastion of the more rugged sex?
Not long ago I picked up a new washer and dryer from a warehouse. I parked my van at the loading dock and waited for the warehouse man to wheel the appliances out. To my surprise, the warehouse man was a woman, not an especially bulky one at that. She wore a back support for lifting and wielded a hand truck with authority.
When I took a vanload of old furniture to a Goodwill store, the crew who helped me unload it were all women.
And with my purchase of an unassembled TV cabinet at a discount store, policy dictated that employees load the heavy box into my car. Two young women picked it up and nonchalantly slid it into my vehicle, while I watched.
As an old geezer, I am expected to lament the passing of the good old days when men were men and women were women and everyone could tell the difference. I might decry the fact that men are in danger of becoming drones in the beehive of our society, and if we are not careful, we will have a queen bee as president. (We came dangerously close! some will say.)
But I will resist the urge to cry doom, because our history as a people is one of grudgingly making room for those who have been relegated to the back rows of our society. Just as African Americans are making their way up to the front, so are women, and so are lesbians and gays.
Our society, like our language, does not deteriorate, but rather changes, becoming more complex, more interesting, and filled with far more possibilities.