Girls and Freedom

Where I come from, girls are monitored much more carefully than are boys. Still, yes, even decades after the Dinosaur Era when I was a child.

Girls are taught they are responsible for the comfort of others, the ones who will find you that cool drink, the most comfortable chair, the clean sheets. And they are the ones who are admonished to be modest. And ready to be a mother at the drop of a hat.

Taken to its extremes, the message to girls can be the same in South Carolina or Saudi Arabia: You are responsible for how men treat you. Cover yourself appropriately, don’t be loud or boastful or too sexy. And maybe then you’ll be safe from men’s “animal instincts.” (The insult to men is noted!) But control over when and how you have children is pretty much out of your hands.

These days, however, nearly every ad, movie, or product placement screams at women to unleash their inner animal. To show the world “what you got.”

There is a freedom to be found in pride and enjoyment in one’s body. But there is also a line between pride and being eye candy, easily dismissed, a line that is seldom discussed. And modesty can be a tool like any other.

How is a girl to parse all this?

In Eve’s Garden, I wanted to explore this world. To talk about “bad girls” and what they give to us, their friends. To look at what happens when a young woman does put herself first. To examine Louise Westerly’s suggestion, in Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens, that women have to leave the South to earn their freedom.

I do know, from conversations with friends, that many of us GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) and Romniya (Romani women) have pondered whether we would have had more choices elsewhere.

Do girls in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, or Kenya feel the same? I suspect they do, given the news items about the Boko Haram, Malala, and the recent spates of gang rapes in India.

But what will happen to our world, the one we grew up in, to our daughters and nieces and mothers, if we don’t stay and try to make a little more space for those who come after?

This is part of what I wanted to examine in Eve’s Garden. I hope it might somehow, even in a small way, make a difference. In my library talks, especially, I’ll see if we can get a good conversation going on this topic.

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My Adventure in Scotland, Part one

The Scots are amazingly civil. The best example of this is their behavior on the street and on public transportation.

My son arriving in Edinburgh, in front of the Robbie Burns quote printed across the luggage carousel.

I walk with a cane. A common problem is passersby kicking my cane out from under me because they aren’t aware there is something jutting out below their eye level. Also, not even in the so-called land of Southern hospitality can I depend on finding a seat on a crowded bus (except in Washington, D.C., the city I’ve found to have the most courteous commuters). Jostling for advantage at crosswalks, shoulder-butting, nudging the line forward with an “accidental” poke in the back, these are common incidents on American urban streets, right? I fear I’ve been guilty myself.

Not once in Scotland was I jostled or butted. No one so much as touched my sleeve, even on Prince Street on the last night of the festival. The Scots watch out for each other and give each other plenty of room on narrow streets, at crosswalks, getting on and off busses, in lines—or “queues.” No surly teenagers or truculent commuters in the “priority seating for disabled” seats at the front of the bus, as I’ve sometimes found to be the case even in D.C. People deferred to me and to others even when I wasn’t properly queued, as in a last-minute arrival at the bus stop.

But the most admirable custom I saw was this: In six days of hopping on and off their prompt and clean buses, all over town, almost every person who disembarked turned, smiled and thanked the bus driver. And what did the busy drivers do? They smiled or waved or nodded or said, “’S alright, Mate.” Two drivers who knew we were tourists even took the time to announce our stops for us. (And, perhaps because they waste no time pulling away as soon as the last queuer has stepped on, no bus was more than two minutes late.)

Twice when we were stumped for directions, bystanders stepped up with a jaunty, “May I be of service?” And, once, a nattily dressed elderly gentleman, seeing our clutched maps, stopped to inquire, “And how are you enjoying your wee adventure in our City? I hope you’ve found us hospitable?” Several people apologized for the construction barriers dominating several major streets as they install a new tram service, and proclaimed they hoped we’d visit “when we’re beautiful again.”

Our landlady took us on a tour of the entire building when we rented her flat and also left us a binder of tourist information. When we passed her on the street on our way to breakfast late in our stay, she re-crossed the street to inquire if we’d encountered any problems or needed any more assistance.

“Dour” Scots? Not in my experience. True, they were not, in my experience, effusive or particularly chatty. From their public transportation to their service in restaurants to their museum guides, they are efficient, busy, industrious, and cheerful.

Besides, they have the best slang. “Separates the true fans from the numpties,” proclaimed an ad for a talk radio sports show. (Numpty = one who has no clue.) And “shrapnel” has become our family word for loose change, after the bus driver who was nonplussed by our digging through pence to find the fare. “Ah, just throw in all your shrapnel, Mate. It’ll be fine.”

Reading about Joe Wilson’s outrageous challenge to the President’s speech, and Kanye West’s upstaging of Taylor Swift, and the heated health care debate, not to mention reading the Tea Party signs in The Scotsman, had a different slant from abroad.

As one taxi cab driver said to us after a night of pub adventures, “What’s wrong with you people, anyway? Don’t you know everyone needs caring for?”

Indeed. Lovely city, Edinburgh.

Photos, above: L) My son, Ansel, standing in front of the luggage carousel at Edinburgh Airport with a quote from Rabbie Burns (“We hae meet and we can eat, and sae the Lord be thankit.”) Below: My favorite bartender in my favorite pub, The Kenilworth on Rose Street.

Pubs are a great contribution to the world.

NEXT UP: Why I went, and what I learned, or, What’s a good Romani/Indian Girl doing in Scotland?

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