She is close to my heart, this girl. She is a composite of girls I knew when I was in school in the mid-sixties, and many of the wonderful girls I have had the privilege of teaching and working with during my long career in education.
In a way, I am sad that she is a composite of girls I knew so long ago and girls I know now…I had hoped that in the years since the sixties, the rebellion against ‘the man’ would have netted complete and unquestioned equality of opportunity for brilliant girls... But let me start at the beginning.
I was lucky. My parents who paid no attention to my grades or my work ethic, or any notion of a curfew, and made few demands besides some house chores, believed in education and expected that I would go to university. (Luckily we found an extremely liberal arts college that could accommodate someone with zero math skills and high verbal acuity) My father was away a good deal of the time, and my mother was too busy going to university herself, something she had had no opportunity to do as a young woman, and which thrilled her in every cell. (This love of learning never left: she was studying classical Greek architecture and feminism at UBC when she died at aged 87.) I lucked out. My parents thought a good education was necessary for a good career, whether you were a boy or a girl.
But some of the other girls I knew were not so lucky. Oh, they went to university all right, but the object was not to get an education so much as to meet a suitable man. I remember with particular poignancy one of the smartest girls in my school, who wanted to become a brain surgeon. She, a bit like Erin in my story, was told in no uncertain terms that her job was to use her time at the uni to marry, and marry well. I remember wondering how any one could impose such restrictions on such a brilliant girl. And I remember her anger.
And while women have made a great deal of progress in our society, I still met girls while I was teaching who were brilliant students, but who had to struggle because the resources of the family were being directed more towards the boys. All this, while girls were out-performing them on every level.
But it’s 1947 in my book. The restrictions on female ambition were deep-rooted and nearly universal. I understand Erin’s sudden delinquency. And I admire her combative resiliency. I only hope she was able to do with her life what she wanted. Just as I always hoped that my friend in school was able to spend her life happily operating on people’s brains.