Sweet Sixteen

I remember a time when gender roles were rigid.  Women wore jeans with side zippers while a man’s rose up the centre;  men had their hair cut in barber shops – by male-only barbers – while women had theirs cut in beauty parlours; men swore because it was tough while female lips never uttered obscenities.  There was a peace about this demarcation of gender – at least for the men – a sense of knowing who you were in the greater scheme of social relations.  But this division also had its dark side which often brutalized women as well as men. 

I remember accompanying my mother on a shopping trip to downtown Prince George where she decided to enter a clothing store for young women called Sweet Sixteen.  I never went in with her because males in those days would not have been caught dead in a ladies’ boutique.  It was bad enough being fourteen and being caught shopping, downtown with your mother.

There are many examples that arise in my mind about gender roles in those days, and the prevailing sensibility that suffused male-female interaction.  I remember the braggadoccio that was typical of those times among emerging young males.  Immature and lacking confidence in what it meant to be a man we would say things like: “In the North, a man is a man, and a woman is glad of it.”  Nowadays, things have changed enough so that we can say: “In the North, A man is a man, and a woman is a man.”

I confess that I have a certain nostalgia about the old gender roles that governed our relationships.  I am not suggesting that we return to the sexism of the 1950s and early ’60s, but I think that, at least ceremonially, I prefer a culture of gender that celebrates and highlights our unique strengths.  Androgyny is not my preference.

But I digress…this article is dedicated to the past when there were two entrances to beer parlours – one for men, and one for men and their escorts; women would not be caught dead in a pool hall; a man’s hair was always short; men could wear whatever colour of suit they wanted, provided it was black; occupationallly, women were streamed to become homemakers, nurses or librarians…the list of now obsolescent manners and sensibilities is inifinite.

Yes, gender roles were rigid; but have we made any real progress during the great social revolutions of the past sixty years?  Have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater? – never mind that nowadays, as I read in the newspapers, men are getting pregnant too.


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