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Many times an adult or young girl forgets what it’s like to not have societal pressures. But you and I know there is always an opportunity to lead the life you want to live, despite obstacles or others’ ideas of whom you should be. Society has placed constraining expectations on women in the past and present, which leads to misconceptions regarding their roles. “We live in a world today, where people don’t keep open minds,” admits 75 year-old Ms. Mary (Mary). Born in the small town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, following World War II, Ms. Mary grew up in a time and place where life was simpler and optimism ignited the dreams of many. Girls, imagine graduating high school in the 50’s. Women were expected to be caring mothers, diligent homemakers, and obedient wives (Cey). But all women were mothers, and societal conformity is a thing of the past, right? Wrong. Prior to the interview, we believed in the “single story” (Adichie) that women living in the 50’s remained domesticated and rarely took on roles beyond the household. Independent and very well educated, Ms. Mary defies the stable conformity of homemakers of the past. Currently, as an elementary school tutor, a democratic campaigner, an active member of the church, and leader in multiple committees at the nursing home, Ms. Mary works to take the initiative in helping others, just as she has done all of her life. She has never given up her roles to conform to the ideas of others, or to act as the ideal woman of society back then. As a leader in many assets of her lifestyle, Ms. Mary still continues to defy the social norms in which she grew up, just as she did as a young adult. With such a busy schedule, Ms. Mary remains an observant and active participant in society, as well as a contributing factor to her local community.
Now retired, Ms. Mary still does not let her age or health catch up to her. Having quit smoking permanently at the age of 35, and remaining active as a runner/walker, she acts as a role model for people her age in her community. It is very intriguing that a woman of such a different cultural background could be open to such beliefs of today. Today we know that exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle, and smoking is one of the most physically detrimental things you can do to yourself, but society did not have the same ideas back then. In fact, smoking was seen as GOOD for you, and running was believed to be BAD for you! Ms. Mary, having views like us women of today, shows her versatility to change and openness to new ideals.
As a child in the 1940’s, Ms. Mary recalls feeling the safety to stay outside past “when the streetlights came on.” When have kids these days been able to do so? Just after the war, she attended school knowing that the world was hopeful of a new era. Our perception of war is very different today; while Ms. Mary attended school knowing that better things were ahead for the country, we, as young people today, have the perception that the greatest things are not ahead for a country involved with war. These different views of the country give us young women and Ms. Mary an entirely different look at life. She developed a love for school, with “so much less pressure than kids today,” and discovered she was a natural at helping others. In the ‘50’s, she claims, “the dollar had never gone further,” and the economy was booming. A high economic stability and overall morale contributed to Ms. Mary’s motivation to pursue a college education and career as a teacher (Mary). Today, where there may be less economic stability in the US, and many of you may feel the need to attend a university, there may be less economic opportunity for it.
Very interested in school, and having a love for children, Ms. Mary attended the Pennsylvania State University as an Elementary Education major and went on to get her Masters, following her dream to become a teacher. It is timeless that women have a love for children, but it was a major step to take the route toward educating. It is widely believed that women in the 50’s only cared about receiving their “Mrs.” degree- meaning a husband. Women felt societal pressure to focus on getting married and becoming a happy homemaker (Daniels). Although women had other aspirations in life, family was the focus and culture and media promoted that a husband was far more important for young ladies than a college degree (Daniels). This may no longer be the case for us. When asked about marriage, Ms. Mary stated she was married once, only briefly, and then divorced- husbands and families were not the sole focus of ALL women throughout the 50’s. Ms. Mary was not defined by her being the perfect wife and mother; she did not conform!
In her middle years, Ms. Mary moved around several times during her career as a teacher. Teachers played a major role in the integration of schools in the late 1950’s and 60’s. Living and teaching in Greenwich, Connecticut, Ms. Mary was never fully aware of the minority communities in her town (Mary). Most of the students were white and “well-off.” It was not until she moved to Alexandria, Virginia that she became involved in the political activism that was taking place. She recalls, “Integration of black and white schools was a hard transition.” She herself noticed the valuable lessons coming from the change (Mary). She says, “It was hard to learn from new types of races; they all learn and mature very differently” (Mary). Change is scary for us, and it is difficult to assimilate to new circumstances and people. We are often quick to judge or stereotype, but often times the diversity we encounter enriches our interactions with others. While Ms. Mary played a major role that students of our history were learning from, she was also taking many lessons as well.
Ms. Mary lived in Alexandria until 1999. She remembers not having a great influx of other races into schools until the 1980’s, with a large growth in the Hispanic population. Regarding this, she says, “it’s great to have a large mix of people, so much racial integration, there’s a lot to learn from it.”
Integration of schools contributed to Ms. Mary’s global citizenship style and has been consistent with her life choices. She was open to new experiences and was not a conforming member of society! If she had been less open-minded, she would have struggled in response to such cultural adversity, that of racial integration. Can you imagine being a teacher during this monumental cultural transition? It’s almost 2015 and there is STILL racial tension today! Even in the past presidential election, prejudices and racism were present. Ms. Mary, an active campaigner for the Democratic Headquarters was very involved in the Obama campaign, commented that the “news has become partisan and technology has polarized perspectives.” We have come a long way since the 50’s and 60’s, however, with media surrounding us, our generation does not “weigh all the facts” (Mary). Having grown up with so much technology surrounding us, it becomes easy for people our age to not notice the huge influence it has on our ideas. We have grown up surrounded by the media, whereas Ms. Mary has not, and she has an understanding that it can have a major influence on our perspective.
Ms. Mary first became interested in politics during the 1992 presidential campaign, when the Clintons gained in popularity. Ms. Mary admits that she did not take an interest in politics until her middle-age years. She did not feel the need to be involved as a woman in college, however, this still holds true for many college-aged students in the present day. Regardless, Ms. Mary takes on a huge role as a woman by being a campaigner for the Democratic Party. Politics has been heavily male-dominated, but we as women have been gaining political power and respect. While there has yet to be a female president, it is very possible in the future. All political agenda aside, it is hard to forget Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 and aspirations of becoming the first female president. What is very interesting is her husband Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign caught Ms. Mary’s attention. Back then, Hillary was the dynamic spouse of Bill, and she was a valued political figure (Dowd). Despite being simply “the first lady,” she had a significant voice in politics, as she was an accomplished lawyer herself. Hillary Clinton was not simply Bill’s wife during the campaign and presidency, she was half of a political power duo. She was independent and changed the way women were viewed in politics (Dowd).
Independent as she is, Ms. Mary prefers to get the campaigning work done faster by walking on her own, and campaigns through neighborhoods solo. Despite having adapted to new ideals over the years, one thing that Ms. Mary has not adapted to is the governmental campaigning style. While much campaigning and polling has made its way to the internet and telephone mediums, Ms. Mary has always contributed herself as a door-to-door campaigner, as she says, “it’s the best way.” Nowadays, things like fundraising door-to-door seems like a chore for us! Ms. Mary claims, “You meet a lot of people; most are kind, some interesting.” She prefers to campaign by herself, as we witnessed during the interview; she was headed out in the early evening, bundled in her American flag knit scarf, with stacks of pamphlets boasting for the democratic party in this past month’s governor election.
Ms. Mary, active still in her 70’s, and still all over the place in her community, also does not fit our perception of those living in an assisted living home, as clearly, she does not require much assistance. She continued to defy our preconceived ideas of what women were expected to be! We were honored to meet and learn from someone who has given so much to history and the present, and we were very uplifted by our experience with her. As a bit of advice that she gave us toward the end, “investigate new points of view- keep an open mind; a lot of people don’t do that anymore” we left with the impression that there never really is a “single story” for any one group of people. It is also our advice to you that you do the same; there are many different types of perspectives out there, and we should never have just one. Even we, young women, were fooled by the idea of what a woman should be! Society places a huge amount of obstacles and constraints on the things that we want to achieve, but this inspiring story is a clear example for us to understand that there are ways to overcome societal influences. Thanks to our time with Ms. Mary, we have discovered an enormity of opportunities that we can open our eyes to, and realize that there are many different ways people are participating in their global community, regardless of their sphere of influence.
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