Nolen: These women are strong, independent

May 10, 2013

Every now and then I have to remind a friend of mine that I was brought up in a family that was dominated by women. It’s not that I have anything against men as heads of households, it’s just that I grew up under a different system of government.

The men in our family were mostly self-employed. They were carpenters, bricklayers, house painters and homebuilders. Between jobs, they had all kinds of pet projects in the works. You could hardly ever find the men sitting around the house engaged in idle conversation.

Women would be working at the sewing machine, shoveling coal, wielding a paint brush, working with a hammer and a handful of nails, and conversing.

I think that strong, dependable fathers are just as important as mothers when you’re trying to grow up to be a responsible adult. But everybody has to go with what they have and what I grew up with was a stable filled with strong, black women.

None of my sisters grew up with the ambition to find a good man to settle with into marriage. We all ultimately got married, but that was not a first ambition.

I understood that early on when a young man came to ask for my oldest sister’s hand in marriage. I listened in from the living room doorway.

I heard my mother explain to the trembling young man that none of her daughters had been brought up to be cooks or servants, but independent young women. And she doubted that their minds could be changed.

In the end, the young man didn’t survive the conversation. He ran off and joined the Army as a single man and my sister went back to her job in the city.

She got married several years later and kept her job. The sister next to me followed her lead and kept her job after marriage.

I was lucky. The role of women was rapidly changing during the years that I was growing into womanhood. More women were working outside the home and the role of full-time motherhood was gradually disappearing. Jobs which once were designed for males began to become available for females. Things were rapidly undergoing change.

Women had gained the right to vote and they were on their way to conquering other fields. Men were being encouraged to take on their responsibilities as fathers and even go so far as to share in the maintenance of family’s household responsibilities. We had begun to catch the early glimpses of the “house husband.”

So, I guess I have to say that the women in my family were ahead of their times. Somehow, we had avoided falling into the trap of “dependent women.” My mother loved being a country school teacher. I don’t think she got over having to give up her job when she married, as women had to do in those days.