Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Are things improving?

          I had bronchitis a couple weeks ago, which really knocked me flat for a few days.  So I was at home during the day (a rarity for me) and I was flipping through TV channels.  I came across an old Andy Griffith show rerun, one of the early ones.  My memory is of enjoying these "wholesome" programs when I was a child, so I thought, "well, this should be fun!" But the first thing I noticed, not surprising since it is still often an issue, was that every character in the story was white as snow. Then we get into the story line. In this particular episode, there was a young woman (meant to be 16 or 17) working her father's farm.  Andy's girlfriend got it in her head that this young woman would much prefer to exchange her work clothes and base look for dresses and make-up and a stylish hair cut, so she troops out to the farm to give the girl some of these items.  The girl's father rejects the gift for the girl, saying he needs her help on the farm.  So Andy, Barney and Andy's girlfriend, after a conversation in which they accuse the father of being abusive for not allowing his girl to have these "girly" things, basically kidnap the girl ("arrest" her?), dress her up, give her a hair cut, make her up and then bring her back to present her to the girl's father.  He admits that she looks very nice, but then explains that it really is just the two of them and he needs her to now get back into her work clothes (dresses are not helpful for the work that must be done on a farm) and help him with the farm. At this point, Andy takes the girl by the hand, leads her over to some boys who just happen to be working nearby (on the next farm over?) for them to ogle her, and then returns to the father.  Andy explains to the father that he is not "using" his girl to the best of her abilities.  Surely, he explains, it would be better for the father to have a male helper than this useless girl.  So he could use her better by allowing her to attract a male who can then work the farm with the father.  The father agrees and they all live happily ever after (?!).
          Needless to say, I was absolutely appalled. And I don't think I even need to list all the things wrong with this.  I don't need to list them because it is obvious that this devalues women's work, women's worth, women's person-hood.  It is obvious that the girl in this story never had a voice and was never able to express what she wanted.  It is obvious that she was just a resource for the father, as either a helper or as a person to attract a "better" helper (ie a male).  It is obvious that gender roles were so fixed in this scenario that there was no possibility of seeing her for anything other than a second class citizen. It was very disturbing.
         But I also found myself reflecting on the fact that things actually have changed and moved over the last 50+ years.  Not everywhere.  And there is a long way to go still towards recognizing women's humanity.  We still don't pay women equal wages for equal work, we still treat them as sex objects, we still value their appearance over their talents, we still abuse and use women. There are still fields of work and study that are restricted by gender (women cannot be priests in the Catholic church, for example), we still treat them as second class citizens. But, at least here in my community, I know that the large majority of people here would be equally appalled by this TV episode, and that shows movement, that shows growth in our understanding, in our vision, in our appreciation for who women are, what we can do, and what our best gifts are.  I am not, in any way, the only person who would watch this episode and wonder what the girl (who remained voiceless in the episode) would say for herself.
        This episode gave me perspective.  It has been hard to not fall into despair when I read about the racism, the sexism, the rejection of other people, the increase in poverty and in the huge gap between rich and poor in our culture, the cruelty towards immigrants and LGBTQ+ people, the abuse of others and of our earth that seems to have escalated in the last couple years.  It is hard to not fall into a sense that everything is moving backwards in terms of our understanding of one another as siblings, as family, as connected to each of us in a way that makes it absolutely necessary that we care for and love one another.  I am blessed by the wisdom and perspective of people who are older, who have lived through other troubled and dark times, who remind me that "this too will pass".  But their words don't always drive away the growing sense of a damage done that may not be reversible.  To see this episode, though, reminded me that in the midst of all of this, there is movement still.  At the time that episode was written and aired, my grandmother was working our family ranch by herself.  No one questioned that.  Not one person felt she was less than competent to do so.  But still, the episode aired.  While it was aired again a few weeks back, it is a rerun shown.  I don't know of any new programs that could get away with a horrible message like this.  And that is good news.  If our art reflects life, we are moving, we are growing.  And that gives me hope, indeed.
        I'm also attaching a link here to a commercial that I think also shows this movement.  Granted, this is a New Zealand ad.  Also, the language may be a little much for some.  I apologize for that.  Still, I love the message here.  Hope you enjoy it.