ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME
Our second assignment in my historical fiction writing class is to move the first assignment into the 1950's. I chose to compose it as a response to the first - to describe my bedroom at age ten. But I also post it here in honor of V-Day and the upcoming One Billion Rising event this Thursday. I tend to allude to the violence I experienced as a child rather than writing about it head on and that's true in these pieces too. I think, as women, we have all experienced some form of violence. There are the more subtle jeers and sexual innuendos from male strangers and co-workers to outright forms like rape, assault, molestation and murder. I'm not ready or I don't feel entitled to hang my own detailed experiences out like shingles as they are no more or less important than any other woman's. But I will honor them by acknowledging that I am one of one billion women rising above the violence and today, I intend to dance. Happy Valentine's Day.
To imagine the room I slept in at age ten if it had been 1950, instead of 1970, I would have to both resist and utilize the sepia toned images of my mother’s childhood photographs. I’d have to fight against them because the colors they conjure imply something less real than the rainbow burst of my 1970’s bedroom. But their content would be perfect as a primary source.
Instead of the gingham bedspread across my twin mattress, I would have had a white terry loop woven blanket with knotted fringe just like my mother and her five sisters had on each of their small beds. The mattress and box spring I slept on, were it twenty years earlier, might have included a wooden frame with thin spires on all four sides. Or, during the baby boom of the 1950’s, I might have had a room packed tight with the matching beds of my siblings. My parents, both born in the 1950’s, had five and twelve siblings respectively.
The sky blue painted walls of my 1970’s room might have been pasted in pink damask paper in 1950. And instead of that loud shag carpeting, my floor would be bare except for an oval knotted rug. An article on carpeting in the 1950’s, insists that post war families could rarely afford wall-to-wall carpeting, perhaps my family would be careful with their money.
But more than my room might have been different. My mother was seventeen when she discovered she was pregnant with me. Had my parents met in the rigid 1950’s rather than the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, I might never have existed at all. But I know from studying and teaching women’s history that had my mother become pregnant just after World War Two, my parents would have been swayed by a different set of social constructs. They were more likely to have married before I was born and probably would have tried harder to patch their opposite personalities together and assemble it into something called “nuclear.”
Yes, it definitely would have been nuclear.
But maybe they had money. My father was a veteran after all. He’d have qualified for a GI loan, put a down payment on a small suburban home and took on the upstart role so many men did when they filched the jobs from the Rosies after the war. In that case, my room might have had a vanity to sit in front of, the top littered with tiny bottles of perfume and pale pink curlers. That room would have smelled like talcum powder and a 1950’s mother might have swept through it every week, cleaning it from tail to tip.
In place of the sodden prom dresses in my closet, I’d have flouncy new dresses that fit, and were fit to wear in public. The stuffed animals would still line the shelves. But in the 1950’s, my collection might have included a few porcelain dolls. And the grimy fingers of other children might never have loved these toys. Their colors might be a host of pastels rather than primary, and perhaps I wouldn’t have felt such a desperate need for them to prove I was worthy of my peer’s approval.
But most important, we would never have lived in California. (My father hated the sunshine and the pretense he saw there.) So, in 1950, I might have made it home safely. And The Color Purple would have been someone else’s story.