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A Gen Xer Raised for a Different World Than This

I was not made for this world.

My mother was. She was right before the Boomers, the tail end of the Silent Generation. In some ways, she and I, her late-in-life baby, can relate more to each other than either of us can with my siblings, her Boomer first batch of kids. There are many similarities between the Silents and the Gen X-ers, bridges between larger and louder generational cohorts.

But in other ways, we are different. We were made for different worlds.

She was raised to be a wife and mother. If she wanted a career, she could be a teacher, nurse, or secretary. White middle class southern culture raised her to wear no white after Labor Day, to accept her place and be grateful for having a good man to provide for her, to adapt her interests to the hobbies of her man, to sit with her ankles crossed and her knees touching.

I was raised for a different world than she was. In fact, I was raised for a different world than my 16-years-older-than-me Boomer sister, who grew up watching Father Knows Best. I grew up with Sesame Street and the Electric Company showing me a Beloved Community of different races, differently-abled people, where diversity was treated as a treasure, where Maria could fix any machine brought into the Fix It Shop as well as Luis. I was raised to be free, Free to Be You and Me, Rosey Grier singing that it was okay for even boys to cry, and the announcement that they were closing down girl land, (which was never much fun.) Saturday mornings, I crunched my cereal in front of the tv, watching Wonder Woman and brainy Velma, overt and subtle feminism woven into the Schoolhouse Rock snippets between the shows.

"You can be ANYTHING you want to be!" the grownups told me, repeatedly. "Even President of the United States!"

Even President of the United States ... I heard it so much, from so many voices, it was almost a chorus of my childhood.

I came of age with the Cosby Show and Claire Huxtable was my model of modern womanhood. Dignified, fun, feminist, fiery, and loving. Educated and professional, and clear in her own authority. African American, but being raised on Sesame Street, it was my expectation that this was the world I was supposed to be in, a diverse and equal world that just happened (no need for white people to sacrifice anything, it would just turn into Beloved Community organically, with no muss, no fuss.)

Mine was -- for the most part -- not the generation busting down the doors. Those Boomer women (thank you!) were the ones often holding the hard-earned (thank you!) title of First Woman CEO of Company, Inc; First Woman Doctor in the practice, First Woman Minister of Big Church Downtown, First Woman Chef, etc. etc.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. But my generation was raised to expect this, you see. It wasn't something out of the norm. It was the way it was supposed to be. I grew up in the time of legal abortion, the birth control pill, Title IX. "Ms." was nothing radical, it was the expected default address.

Disillusionment is part of growing up, as is finding your heroes have feet of clay. The man who cheered on the feminist icon that was Mrs. Huxtable is going to jail for his brutal treatment of women as sexual objects to satisfy his desires. And we now look back at the other things that shaped our childhood and adolescence and realize we were, to say the least, getting mixed messages.

"Define 'we,'" a voice whispers in my ear. Oh yes. Because "we" is so very different across the population. Certainly parts of my Gen X cohort did not get the same messages I did.  My "we" is assuredly liberal, feminist, educated middle class, white, suburban. That is my context.

How are you doing? asked a concerned older Boomer friend. You were kind of a mess yesterday. 

Of course I was a mess, I retorted. The question is, why weren't you? 

I was a mess because I was not made, was not raised, for this world. A world where it's okay for young men to try to rape a woman - hey, he didn't succeed, what's your problem? A world where all the rules of decency and character are thrown out, in unabashed transparent vies for power.

Good women and men and non-binary people came before me and carefully crafted a vision of a world that they laid out for me in songs, books, tv shows, and movies and they said, This is your world, Baby Girl. A world of equality, of Beloved Community. You can be whatever you want to be.

Baby Girl is pissed.

Baby Girl is mobilizing.

And Baby Girl is not alone.

* yes, I could throw in a gratuitous "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" reference because that's what we Gen Xers do. But no one is pulling us out of a corner because we refused to go there in the first place. BLAM. 


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