“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. … We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
— Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), farm worker, labour leader, civil rights activist
When I was a little girl, I found many of my female role models in the wooden box in the corner of the living room.
They flickered to life on the black-and-white screen and lived out their lives in shades of grey: Mary. Rhoda. Maude.
They were independent, working women, making their own small marks on the world.
There were women like that closer to home, of course, but the job options at that time and in that place were scarce: nurse, teacher, homemaker, assistant storekeeper and the intriguingly titled “postmistress.” Not that those careers aren’t good and honest ones, but most kids want more possibilities for fulfilling their dreams and aspirations than can be counted on one hand.
It was the 1970s, but everyone could still tell you who the first woman in town to get her driver’s licence was.
We had not come a very long way, baby.
The television held the promise of a bigger world and a greater range of opportunity for those who wanted a different kind of life.
I was living in an outport and enjoying the countryside, but I wanted a faster pace.
Mary worked in television in Minneapolis. Rhoda was a window dresser in New York. Maude lived in suburban New York and would wind up in politics.
They were strong, intelligent women with opinions, just like many of the women surrounding me, but the TV women had the added allure of living polished, TV lives on picture-perfect sets.
They didn’t have laundry gone stiff with the cold that had to be wrestled in from the side of the hill that was our backyard. They didn’t have to share a bathroom with six or seven other people. They didn’t have to clean rabbits or gut fish, like my mother did. They didn’t lug groceries home in empty Eversweet boxes or have a daily, sweaty tug of war with the wringer-washer.
They had powder rooms and doorbells, paper bags of fresh produce and French baguettes. They were fashionable and went to the dry cleaners and wore high heels. They shopped in boutiques and ate at bistros and went for drinks with work colleagues. They were glamorous and sophisticated — or at least they seemed that way — and they made the possibility of living an adventurous life seem within hands’ reach.
They were inspiring and encouraging to a girl whose own life seemed to have more in common with “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” than with “Mary Tyler Moore.”
Thankfully, times have changed. Girls — and boys — have more career choices. Ironically, these days, being able to be a homemaker in rural Newfoundland is the more elusive option.
Kids no longer have to turn on the television to find inspiration. There are role models all over the place — entrepreneurs, actors, techies, philanthropists, academics, authors, artists — of both genders.
It’s interesting that so many people these days are crediting Danny Williams with having restored pride and confidence to Newfoundlanders.
That is not my reality. I grew up guided by my father’s admonition of pride tempered by humility, not a politician’s rhetoric.
“You’re no better than anyone else,” Dad always said, “but you’re as good as anyone else.”
And I believed him. The only thing hampering me and so many other people from this province was lack of opportunity. If we wanted to see the world and give ourselves access to as many career choices as possible, it meant leaving rural Newfoundland or leaving Newfoundland altogether.
That has changed to a certain extent. Now, just as people are ditching Ireland and its ailing economy — the place we looked to for inspiration and innovation — we have more opportunities at home than ever, with low tuition rates, more cosmopolitan communities, expertise in research and technology and an economy that’s no longer limping along.
Best of all, from a woman’s point of view, my daughter does not have to look to the TV for inspiration.
We have female entrepreneurs, female executives, female judges, female party leaders, female cab drivers and construction workers, female fishers and farmers.
And, as of this writing, this province has its first female premier, albeit not an elected one — not yet.
Danny Williams led this province into a new era of prosperity. He fought for and achieved for us greater control of our own resources. He righted old wrongs and asserted our equal role in this federation.
Those are commendable things.
But what I’d like to commend Williams for most is his support and encouragement of women in politics, and his realization that they were as deserving of meaningful, challenging cabinet roles as their male counterparts.
I don’t look to politicians for my own sense of pride, but I am proud to live in a province that finally has women at the helm of all three mainstream political parties for a change, even if it is only temporary.
Turn off your TVs, kids — things in this province are getting really interesting.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email