Saturday, August 04, 2012


Yesterday I was at the art museum and heard the strident voice of an old woman as she teetered up to a guard. "Now, you have some kind of chapel, don't you? Where is that?" she asked. She didn't add "young man," but she might have. He directed her to the chapel.

There's a certain air I notice in older women from privileged backgrounds. They command others without any seeming doubt in their minds about whether they will be obeyed. Of course, you see this attitude in men too, but I expect to see it in men. I think about all the people who didn't grow up with that sense of entitlement - the poor, the poorly educated, the disenfranchised. The people who have usually been bossed, not bossy. It makes me sad for the people who couldn't assume anyone would listen to them.

But I also love these old women. I love that they're not worried about charming anybody or asking permission. They simply expect to get their way. I love that they grew up in a pre-Second-Wave world and came out with dignity intact. A lot of them probably went to women's colleges, which I think are excellent for fostering that kind of confidence.

I was reminded of my great-grandmother, who informed her minister that the church would not be cutting down that oak in front, no matter how many limbs it had lost, because she had always taken her children under that tree to spank them when they were bad in church, just as her mother had spanked her under that tree. And the minister was wise enough to wait until after her death to have the oak removed.

Fortunately, I don't think it's a zero-sum game. You can be assertive without stepping on other people. I hope all our girls will grow into self-assured old women.

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