Women at Play and Libraries

In my previous blog I wrote about my best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, which is now available as an ebook.

First published twenty-five years ago by Harcourt, Women at Play went into a second printing, and then, eventually, it went out of print. But it has had a long and interesting life through baseball book collectors, through stores that sell used books, and also through libraries. I’m particularly fond of and amused by the way Women at Play has gone into libraries, out of them, and then back into them.

imagesWhen the book was first published, many, many libraries purchased copies, probably because Women at Play was the first book to present the history of women who played hardball. Soon, however, there were many more books on the subject. For at least ten years, though, I could find a copy of Women at Play in just about any library I visited almost anywhere in the country.

But just as libraries buy books, so they divest themselves of books due to limited shelf space and the need to buy new titles as they come out. Eventually Women at Play was taken out of some library collections. But libraries love books and would not destroy them — the library copies were either sold or donated and ended up online. If you typed “Women at Play” into Amazon, you could (and probably still can) choose from among five to ten online sellers . . . many of whom specified that the copy you would receive was an ex library book. Which is how I learned that libraries were taking Women at Play off their shelves.

But here’s the amusing thing. I intended to organize my thousands of pages of research notes on women in baseball and donate them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. (See Cooperstown Bound: Third Time’s a Trip). Before I did that, though, I ended up publishing the public-domain part of my notes in a three-volume collection titled Research Notes for Women at Play. I published Volume I in 2010.

Perhaps because Research Notes was an unusual book, or perhaps because they remembered Women at Play, many libraries (both public and academic) purchased copies of Volume I.

The existence of Research Notes led to a renewed interest in Women at Play itself. And libraries that had divested themselves of the original title now ended up rebuying that title so that, in addition to having Volume I on hand, they could also have the actual work on hand. Because Women at Play was out of print, libraries ended up buying used copies of it through Amazon and other venues. I like to think that somewhere, at least one library purchased back its own book.

There’s something about this circle of in-out-in that makes me smile.

Now I’m hoping that the existence of Research Notes on library shelves makes libraries want to buy the ebook edition of Women at Play.

 

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To purchase the 25th anniversary edition of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, click here.

Women at Play: 25th Anniversary Edition

For the past several years I’ve posted a free chapter from one of my books as part of my New Year’s blog. That book has been Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

But this year’s giveaway chapter comes from my best-known book, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, published twenty-five years ago (Harcourt). The paperback version has been out of print for twenty years, and there has never been an ebook version.

Until today. I’m publishing Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball as an ebook. A text-only ebook, because photo permissions cost way too much.

All the stories are here: Maud Nelson, Margaret Gisolo, Jackie Mitchell, Babe Didrikson, Dottie Collins, Rose Gacioch, Jean Faut, Lois Youngen, Bernice Gera, Pam Postema, Julie Croteau, the Sun Sox. And more. All the original sidebars are here, as are the charts, credits, etc.

The new cover design is by Robin Koontz. The baseball on the front cover was given to me by Nellie Kearns, who played with Maud Nelson’s All-Star Ranger Girls during the 1930s.

The free chapter is below.

WAP-EBOOK

 

 

Jean Faut

 

In seven years of overhand pitching, two perfect games were pitched in the All-American Girls Baseball League—and Jean Faut of the South Bend Blue Sox hurled them both. “She had great strength,” says catcher Shirley Stovroff, “and she was very smart. She had a mixture of pitches—fastball, curve, drop, slowball—and she had excellent control.” The league’s leading hitter, Dottie Kamenshek, evaluates Faut this way: “She put them all just where she wanted.” Pitching overhand was never foreign to the Blue Sox ace. She grew up playing hardball, and when the league switched to overhand, Jean was like a fish in water, moving effortlessly through the environment.

Few pitchers were able to make a successful transition from underhand to overhand. Among those who did were Dottie Wiltse Collins, Joanne Winter, and Helen Nicol Fox. Those who couldn’t went back to softball or, like Connie Wisniewski, converted to another position. By 1948, when the league went overhand, softball had all but obliterated baseball as a sport for women, and ironically the AAGBL, which started out by capitalizing on the softball craze, found as it moved toward the more exciting and exacting game of baseball that pitchers were suddenly difficult to find. In desperation league managers began to convert their hardest-throwing outfielders (who naturally throw overhand) into pitchers.

These converted outfielders learned about pitching from their managers, from watching their teammates, and from being on the mound themselves. Their knowledge was only as deep as their league pitching experience. Jean Faut’s was not. “I had more experience than most of the girls in the AAGBL,” she contends. “I came into the league with a fastball, a sharp curve, screwball, drop and change—and a lot of deviations from these basic pitches.” Born January 17, 1925, in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, Jean grew up two blocks away from the practice field of a semipro baseball team. She hung around the field and yearned to play, and by the time she was thirteen the players had taught her how to pitch. Faut learned so well that when she was still in high school she pitched several exhibition games for the semipro Buck-Montgomery League, an experience she describes as “a great thrill.”

In 1946 a scout from Allentown, Pennsylvania, offered the five-foot-four, 137-pound young ballplayer a chance to attend AAGBL spring training in Pascagoula, Mississippi. “The rookies went in first,” she remembers. “All the representatives were there from the cities, the board of directors. They chose who they wanted.” After finishing fifth out of six teams in 1945 with a 40-60 record, the South Bend Blue Sox would have been among the first to select players. Board Director Harold Dailey, who had smarted so badly from losing Rose Gacioch to Rockford in 1945, wrote of the 1946 tryouts, “We got Wirth and Faut out of the deal.”

The Blue Sox started Senaida “Shoo Shoo” Wirth as shortstop and Jean Faut as third baseman. “I had a strong arm,” she says, “so third was a natural spot.” Late in her rookie season, the league permitted some sidearm pitching and manager Chet Grant asked Faut to take the mound. Although she didn’t like to pitch sidearm because “it’s not very good for your arm, almost like throwing a screwball,” she started twelve games, winning eight and losing three. The League went to overhand in 1948. “I was ready then,” she states. “I was home free.”

When Jean Faut moved to South Bend, Karl Winsch followed her there. A pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Winsch was called up to the majors in 1946 along with his roommate Del Ennis, who flourished there. But Winsch sustained an injury in spring training that ended his career. When that happened, he moved to South Bend and in 1947 he and Jean were married. In that year, Chet Grant sent his sophomore to the mound in forty-four games, and she posted a 19-13 record with a 1.15 ERA. By midseason, Jean was pregnant; she gave birth to her first child in March 1948. Writing about the Blue Sox 1948 season, Harold Dailey opined that “Faut was not in condition until July owing to the drag on her by pregnancy.” Starting thirty-four games, she compiled a 16-11 record.
Faut turned twenty-four years old before the 1949 season started. “I started to mature,” she reflects. “You get better, your control gets better. You work on new pitches.” The overhand ace was now in her element. In 1949 she started thirty-four games and racked up a 24-8 record and a 1.10 ERA.

Unlike Lois Florreich, another great hurler of the overhand era, Faut didn’t have intimidating speed. Outstanding hitters such as Dottie Kamenshek rank Faut as the best pitcher of the League’s overhand days despite her lack of velocity, recognizing that what matters is whether the pitcher gets the batter out, not the speed of the ball as it crosses the plate. Yet many hitters’ perception of greatness is thrown off by speed: they rank the pitcher who gets them out on a blazing fastball higher than the one who gets them out on an adequate fastball, or on a combination of pitches. Umpires, too, were baffled by Faut’s success. One of the umpires even stepped into the batter’s box during practice and bragged, “I can hit you.” So Faut whiffed him. “Afterward, he still didn’t understand why he couldn’t hit me.” Even her own manager, Davy Bancroft, said he just didn’t understand why batters couldn’t hit her.

“My biggest asset was control,” Faut explains. “I have very strong wrists and could do things with the ball. I got that way splitting wood by the hour when I was a kid.” Her variety of pitches also helped. “I had a good curveball and could throw it overhand, three-quarters, or sidearm. If overhand, it went straight down. I threw a screwball, like a slider, but not often. And a fastball. I could throw them with different speeds.” And if, as they say in the majors, 90 percent of pitching is mental, Jean Faut had that, too. “Part of my success was that in my mind I could record the pitches and the order of pitches I threw to each girl, so they never saw the same thing twice. I was a mathematical whiz in school. They’d never know what was coming, so they’d start guessing. When batters start guessing, they’re never right.”

Some analysts of the All-American Girls Baseball League say that the reason batting averages went up so dramatically in the last third of the league’s existence was that there were few really good overhand pitchers. Faut disagrees, naming Lois Florreich, Maxine Kline, and Millie Earp as great overhand hurlers. She should know, for in addition to 35-45 pitching appearances a year, Jean often played an additional forty games at third base, where the Blue Sox counted on her fielding and hitting. Faut believes that the hitters coming into the AAGBL in the 1950s were strong athletes who mastered baseball hitting. She points to the Weaver sisters in particular: “Betty Foss would run the bases and the dirt would fly up. One time I was pitching and Betty Foss hit the ball straight at me. It came so straight and fast I couldn’t see the spin, couldn’t react. I saw the seam and then it hit me in the stomach, there wasn’t even time to get my glove up. When I undressed, I saw the stitch marks on my stomach.”

Strong hitters or not, Jean could handle them. On July 21, 1951, she pitched a perfect game in Rockford against the Peaches, retiring twenty-seven batters in a row. Dottie Kamenshek, who prided herself on not striking out, whiffed twice that night. It was, says Kammie, “the best game I’ve ever seen pitched. It was just perfect. Overpowering.” The next morning, the South Bend Tribune reported that “Jean Faut, a sturdy gal with a lot of heart, a fast ball that hops, and a curve that breaks off like a country road pitched a perfect no-hit, no-run game to subdue the Rockford Peaches, 2-0, at Playland Park Saturday night. . . . The chances of a no-hit game were never mentioned in the Blue Sox dugout during the game, according to baseball superstition, but the crowd of 1,490 were fully aware that baseball history was in the making.” Whiffing eleven of the twenty-seven batters, the Sox hurler got behind the count on only two. “She threw three balls to Eleanor Callow in the fifth and then fanned her. One other time she threw three balls, then two strikes, and the batter grounded out.”

Faut’s 1951 pitching record was 15-7 with a 1.33 ERA. She was chosen Player of the Year and helped lead the Blue Sox to their first Shaughnessy Series victory. In 1952 she went 20-2 (a .909 winning percentage), posted a 0.93 ERA, and once again helped lead her team to a series victory, batting in the cleanup position. With the playoff series tied, she hurled the deciding game against the Peaches, hitting two booming triples for extra measure. In 1953 she pitched her second perfect game, this one against the Kalamazoo Lassies on September 3. That year she was again elected Player of the Year, only the second person in League history to receive the award twice (the other was Doris Sams).

In major league ball, Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson compiled a .665 winning record and a 2.13 lifetime ERA, while later-day greats such as Sandy Koufax (.655 and 2.76), Bob Gibson (.591 and 2.91), and Tom Seaver (.603 and 2.86) had somewhat lower winning percentages and higher ERAs. Jean Faut’s career statistics are 140 wins and 64 losses—a .686 winning percentage and a 1.23 ERA. Of all her accomplishments, she is proudest of her ERA, because “that’s the most important statistic of a pitcher.”

Although Faut was a real team player, her life on the Blue Sox was that of a loner. It wasn’t just that Jean was married and therefore didn’t room with another player or take part in their pregame or postgame activities. And it wasn’t just that she was raising a child. In 1951, Karl Winsch became manager of the South Bend Blue Sox, a job he held until the league folded. Under Winsch, the Blue Sox won their only two championships, but there was tremendous dissension on the team. Groups of players wouldn’t talk to the manager, and then they wouldn’t talk to Jean. Winsch wouldn’t talk to Jean, either. “Neither side communicated with me” she says. “It was a big squabble.” At the end of the 1953 season, she retired from baseball at the age of twenty-eight because it was just too rough being married to the manager.

“I suffered because I wasn’t playing,” she remembers. At first, she’d go to the games and sit in the stands, but that would make her miserable because she wasn’t playing. So, “to fill the void I went to the bowling center.” Jean became such a good bowler that in 1960 she turned pro, retiring from that status in 1988. Today she bowls with the senior women’s tour. Her highest game to date is a 299, just short of perfect.

In 1946, the same year that Jean Faut attended the league tryouts, another Pennsylvania woman went to spring training in Pascagoula. For nine years, Ruth Williams played for the South Bend Blue Sox and then the Kalamazoo Lassies. She’ll always remember one game. “Jeannie Faut beat me in sixteen innings, one to nothing, back in 1952,” says Williams. “She was pitching for the Blue Sox, I was with the Lassies. I had pitched forty consecutive shutout innings, then I got tied up with Jeannie. She was the best player in the league. She doubled off me in the sixteenth, moved to third on a bunt, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Figured it would be Jeannie that would end my streak.” It figured because Jean Faut was to pitching what Dottie Kamenshek was to hitting and Sophie Kurys was to base stealing—without peer.

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To purchase the 25th anniversary edition of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, click here.

 

Not One Woman

Many and many a blog ago, in Woman Yes, Girl No, I wrote about some people’s inability to use the word woman. Recently I was reminded of this by a book I read. In it, the author either refused to or could not get himself to use the word woman.

My response was to write a “skinny” poem, also called a “short lines” poem.

WLM-picture-of-logo

Let There Be Light

The man
writes
a book
peopled
by men,
boys,
ladies,
and girls,
but not one
woman.

In four
hundred
pages,
not one
woman.

I want
to rate
this book
one star
but can’t:
even one
star
belies
the dark.

 

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Barbara Gregorich has published one book of poetry: Crossing the Skyway.

Putting Sisters in Crime on the Map

IMG_2884In 1986 Sara Paretskey helped found a new mystery writers organization, Sisters in Crime. Its purpose was to help women who write mysteries win equal treatment with men who write mysteries, particularly regarding book reviews and award nominations. (For a good article on the founding of SinC, click here.)

Sisters in Crime fought against the belittlement of women mystery writers and at the same time worked to make its organization grow. In 1990 mystery writer Susan Dunlap was elected President of SinC. One of the things Sue worked toward was “to put Sisters in Crime on the literary map” — to help bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and readers everywhere become aware of female mystery writers.

Sue asked several Chicago mystery writers to help with this project. Specifically, she asked Barbara D’Amato, Jacqueline Fiedler, and me to help. My husband, Phil Passen, who was working for Madden Communications at the time, offered to donate the paper and printing for the project, and this went a long way toward making the project possible.

RedHairedFor at least six months Barb, Jacquie, and I met a couple of times a week. We came up with the idea of a map of the US, with small graphics depicting mystery novels, and a line locating the setting of each novel on the map. Jacquie, who did the design work, thought of the black background and red outline of the United States.

I don’t remember how we found the almost-50 authors and novels that populate the map. We might have put an announcement in the SinC newsletter asking authors who wanted to be represented to contact us. It was definitely an opt-in proposition.

Once we had the authors and one novel of choice from each, we searched for an illustrator.

Our first choice didn’t work out: we felt the illustrations were missing a sense of energy and fun. What to do? It’s not easy to come up with an illustrator . . . especially since we were now behind schedule because the first one didn’t work out.

DragovikThat was when I thought of Robin Koontz, whom I had met through projects in educational publishing. I knew that Robin could bring both energy and fun to the map. And so I asked, and Robin said yes, she would attept this tight-deadline, 46-individual-drawings idea.

As Robin awaited instructions on what to illustrate, I got in touch with each author via telephone. It was up to Barb D’Amato and me to summarize each novel in 12 words or less (!), to the satisfaction of the author. And it was my job to describe the proposed art work for each title to both the author and to Robin. (Barb and I ended up reading a lot of mystery novels in a very short time, all the while thinking of illustration possibilities.)

Some authors were calm, some worried — but when the posters were finally published, I think everyone was happy beyond expectations. Solving Mysteries from Coast to Coast went out to libraries, bookstores, newspapers, and magazines. (It appeared in Publishers Weekly, and that alone alerted every bookstore in the country to its existence.) Authors autographing at various venues had their photos taken under the poster. There were several years during the 1990s when I couldn’t walk into any bookstore or library without seeing that exciting poster on the wall.

RattlesnakeAs Susan Dunlap anticipated, the poster did indeed help put Sisters in Crime on the literary map.

Having done its job, the poster is now retired. Sisters in Crime has more members than ever, with a web site and a continued presence at book events of all kinds.

The poster you see with this blog hung on the wall of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Illinois, for many, many years. Visiting authors happily autographed their spots on the map. I recently attended a talk and autographing at Centuries & Sleuths — for Julia Buckley’s new series, launched with The Big Chili — and when I asked proprietor Augie Aleksy if I could see the poster (which he now has in storage), he brought it out, I photographed it, and we reminisced about the project and its impact.

Not all publicity campaigns turn out this successful — I’m delighted that this most-deserving one did.


Barbara Gregorich’s Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, consists of 25 chapters containing explanations, examples, charts, and graphs but, alas, no enticing oval drawings.

Throw Like a Woman: Book Review

If one were to write a novel about a warrior who somehow entered a walled and fortified city, and sought to function within that city, the first question the writer would have to answer is: How did the hero manage to enter the fortress? A fortress which for nearly two centuries was closed to the hero’s tribe. A fortress whose defenders perhaps catapulted boulders down upon the hero’s tribe if it drew too near. If not boulders, then vats of boiling oil.

The seriousness with which a writer attempts to answer this question is a good sign of the seriousness of the book. In Throw Like a Woman, Susan Petrone answers the question seriously. It is clear that she knows what has happened in both the remote and recent past when female baseball players have pushed the barriers and tried to enter professional baseball, and she uses that knowledge to create a realistic story.

ThrowLikeAWoman copyBrenda Haversham is a 40-year-old recently divorced woman with a low center of gravity. As the mother of two sons, ages nine and thirteen, she struggles to provide them with a few of the perks they were used to when their father’s income supported them. Nothing extravagant: a new baseball glove, an mp3 player as a birthday present, a summer camp that they bike to each morning, and, come September, a few new clothes and supplies for school.

When their father, Ed, fails to show up as promised one Saturday morning to take the boys out, Brenda takes them to the park and pitches to them. When she was a child, her father taught her to pitch, and the kinesthetic memory remains with her. She throws heat to her 13-year-old. And when she takes her sons to Progressive Field to see an Indians-Tigers game, they take turns at a Test Your Speed pitching cage. The 13-year-old is clocked at 48mph, the 9-year-old at 33mph. Brenda then takes a turn and her three pitches are clocked at 79, 77, and 82 mph. She is throwing heat because she is imagining throwing at her ex-husband.

An unknown somebody videotapes this, and the next thing Brenda knows, she’s on YouTube. From there the story escalates. She agrees to pitch for a local team. A sports agent pursues her and signs her. She is signed by the Cleveland Indians and sent to their Class A Lake County Captains as a reliever, and from there to the AAA Clippers team in Columbus. And then: she’s called up.

Not necessarily for her pitching, but because her presence will help sell tickets. Of course, her presence will sell tickets only if she pitches, and pitches well.

Petrone is a good writer, one who understands the art and craft of the novel. Her characters are empathetic. The story moves forward easily, with the reader wondering what will happen next. The baseball conflicts are totally real: Brenda faces what every woman in a formerly-all-male profession faces. For starters, that means disdain, disgust, graphic sexual harassment, juvenile fixation on items such as tampons and jock straps, threats of violence, and the ever-present “invisibleness,” as if she’s not there.

Realistically, not every man behaves in this fashion, and Petrone brings to life not only the women haters, but also just regular men who judge other human beings by their performance, not their sex or the color of their skin. There are plenty of these men in baseball, and it feels good to see them in Petrone’s novel — they are signs of hope.

Throwing Like a Woman is about more than baseball, though. Face it: life is about more than baseball. In Petrone’s story we can see the distance between pampered 20-year-olds and wiser-by-life 40-year-olds. Maturity, or lack of, is one of the themes running through the book. I especially liked the character development in Andy, Brenda’s 13-year-old son, as he begins to take steps into adulthood.

Petrone, along with Stephanie Liscio, writes an Indians-fan blog itspronouncedlajaway, and although there’s no blog in the novel, Petrone is clearly familiar with the media world. In her novel she creates an ESPN show, “Today in Sports,” with host Charlie Bannister. The “transcripts” appear throughout Throw Like a Woman and are great fun.

Brenda Haversham’s name calls to mind Miss Havisham of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Jilted in love, Miss Havisham turns into a bitter character who grips others too tightly, molding them to her wishes and warping their lives. At the beginning of Throw Like a Woman, Brenda Haversham stands on the cusp of her new life. She, too, has been jilted. How will that play out? She is clearly unhappy. Will she become bitter? Will she mold her children into people who cannot experience love?

Or will she understand that life is like the four-seamer — a failure if you grip it too hard. But if you grip it “loosely, gently, to minimize friction between the hand and the ball,” the pitch will fly like a bird.

The Webbing in the Glove

istock_000017050356xsmall
I, and I suspect many other writers, feel great annoyance when somebody asks us, “Where do your ideas come from?” That’s because ideas come from everywhere. They come from within. From without. From above, below, and sideways. From the ground we walk and the air we breathe. Sometimes they come solo, sometimes attached to other ideas, which in turn become their own stories. “Where do you get your ideas?” is one of those questions that usually can’t be answered because the answer is amorphous.

A progression of ideas-into-books, however, or the relationship between these books, is more easily traced. Take as an example a book I’m sort of working on, now and then. I may or may not finish it.

But how did I come up with it in the first place? Well, if I hadn’t written She’s on First (my first novel, 1986), I would never have wondered, What’s the true story of women who played baseball? And if I hadn’t asked myself that question and then gone to investigate, I would never have written Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (1993).

sc004dc527Had I not written Women at Play, I would not have written approximately 30 magazine or newspaper articles about women who play or played baseball. Definitely not: I would have skipped all the articles and gone directly to writing my next book.

Had I not written Women at Play, I would not have had bookshelves and file cabinets full of research notes. Had I not decided to reprint She’s on First on my own, thus experimenting with self-publishing, I would not have had the thought: I wonder if people might benefit from reading my research notes? Which means I wouldn’t have compiled and published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volumes I (2010) and II (2013).

Which means I would never have had the thought: Hey, what about those 30 or so articles? Which means I would never have started the work I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

Yes, I started to put 25 of these articles into book format. And books need titles, and I’m a writer who loves to think about titles. And so, because most of the 25 articles aren’t just about women who played baseball, but also about the men who helped them do so, I came up with the working title, The Webbing in the Glove.

Now, had I not at the same time been working on my first collection of poems, Crossing the Skyway (2013), I might never have thought of leaping from the title of a work in progress to a poem.

But I was.

And I did.

        The Webbing in the Glove

        The strap secures
        the glove to the hand,
        then steps aside
        from contention.

        The stiff male thumb
        defines the outside edge,
        is certain it owns the glove,
        sometimes mistakes itself
        for the entire glove.

        Four female fingers,
        flexible but in accord,
        extend the range
        and reach for
        the future.

        The palm fashions
        the pocket which
        cradles the ball,
        wanting,
        above all,
        cooperation.

Samantha Ostrom, International Earth Stars, 2012 Phoenix Cup, Hong Kong.  Photo courtesy of Carol Sheldon.

Samantha Ostrom, International Earth Stars, 2012 Phoenix Cup, Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Carol Sheldon.

        But the webbing
        ahh, the webbing —

        the webbing laces opposed
        fingers and thumb
        into a beautiful whole,
        a completeness that
        stops grounders cold,
        swallows popups,
        bags line drives,
        and hauls back
        would-be homers.

        Without the webbing
        the glove is weak.

        Prospects bleak.

Writing and ideas are a lot like baseball. Some ideas hum toward the plate, jump off the bat, and clear the fence. Others are solid singles, and the writer waits on base until something or somebody helps bring the idea home.

Woman Yes, Girl No

Equal Rights 1970 March (Public Domain)Although we were young, in our teens and twenties, we were not girls. We were women — young women who felt and understood the gross inequality between the sexes, with women required to perform the mind-numbing drudgery of cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, and care-giving, practically from cradle to grave. And even when we were able to land jobs outside the home, we were paid half the wages men were and treated with condescension.

WLM-picture-of-logoDuring this, Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day approaching, it’s good to remember our struggle. We never asked for “girls’ liberation,” nor “ladies’ liberation,” either. Girls were adolescent females and their liberation would come when ours did, as a result of our struggles. Ladies were a fiction, some unreal ruling class standard of behavior that reduced women to their social manners. Ladies’ liberation would never arrive, because in a world where people have equality, nobody would choose to restrict his or her behavior to that of a helpless “lady.”

For a while, women’s liberation was in the news and in people’s consciousness. But without a fundamental change in society, backsliding is inevitable. Those with privileges wangle things so they can retain their privileges. And public consciousness, fueled by movies, television, and advertising, couldn’t let go of the notion that “girl” was the appropriate word for an adult female.

B465_DontCallMeGirlSome avoid “woman” because it’s too powerful a word. Others think that only “girl” connotes fun, adventure, youth, and sexiness. Some think they want to be called “lady” because that term implies respect. Others think that “lady” is something better than a woman.

Well, there’s nothing better than a woman. During this, Women’s History Month, it’s wise for every woman to think about what she is, especially in relationship to children, adolescents, and adults of the other sex. When I was teaching college, the question of sexual equality was a hot topic of the day. Looking back on those days, I recently wrote a poem about how my students responded to the issue.

        Equivalency Tests

        Writing boy on the blackboard
        I ask my students, thirty
        college freshmen, the female
        equivalent. Girl, they all
        reply, wondering where this
        might be going. Next I write
        gentleman and ask the same
        question. Slower responses,
        and fewer, but they call it
        right: lady. I write man and
        look at them.

        Total silence.

        Finally, a hesitant,
        questioning response — woman?

        Confused, unsure, they have come
        to immaturity in
        a world which has never taught
        there’s a female parallel
        of man.

        They are too staggered
        to even think the thought, too
        stunned to use the even word

(For more poems such as this one, see Crossing the Skyway.)