When the 1960s started, we moved from Michigan to Colorado and then to Northwest Arkansas. Although unaware at the time, exploring gender roles played a huge part of the 1960s for me.
This is the 1960s overview in a series about 65 women who have shaped my life. For more posts, visit Accidental Mentors, a publication of Marquis Mojo.
The four Accidental Mentors I’ve shared with you so far are deceased, and truth be told, they weren’t so “accidental.” My mom, sister, aunt, and grandmother were my genealogical ancestors, and they played roles in my life because of how they were related to me. Other women I will be sharing in this series who have died (11 to date) are my spiritual ancestors, women I look to for guidance because of who they chose to be in my life.
However, as I go forward into the 1960s, most of the women I share with you are currently alive. It’s always riskier to write about living people. Novelist and non-fiction writer Anne Lamont famously wrote, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I’m taking a different tact. I’ve chosen not to tell the stories that show less than admirable characteristics of these women. In fact, I hope I have chosen stories that honor them as a way to remind us that it’s mostly just being yourself that can have the biggest positive influence on those around you.
NOTE: To protect their privacy, I do not to use full names of those women who are still alive. I will still show photos, though, and hope my readers get as clear a sense of who they are even without their full names.
For our family, the 1960s started with a move from Michigan to Colorado and then two years later to Arkansas, where I spent the remainder of my childhood. For many reasons, the two years we spent in Denver at the start of the ‘60s played an important part in my understanding of the world. For one thing, we began to travel. Dad worked as a traveling salesperson for Daisy Air Rifles. What better way to experience the West than by hawking BB-guns at sporting goods and Western Auto stores throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas? Most photos of me from that time show me with a cowboy hat on my head and a holster on my hip.
By the time we moved to Arkansas in 1962, so Dad could work from Daisy’s home office, I had already visited twenty states. By the end of the decade, I had added at least five more to the list.
Throughout the 1960s, I searched to find out who I was in a world that expected me to be a feminine version of myself I could not embrace, despite being elected May Queen in the second grade.
Once we settled down in Arkansas, we still traveled, mostly during the summers, but much of the time Mom, my brother, and I stayed at home while Dad went on the road. To describe us as a TV-watching family in the 1960s would be an understatement. A TV-obsessed family would be more like it—at least Mom and I were. The first thing we did when we arrived home was turn on the TV and it stayed on until Mom fell asleep to its vacant glow.
TV served as the soundtrack to our lives. Most of the shows I watched taught me how to be submissive to men, supportive of their careers, and a good mother to their children.Unbelievably, one notable exception was Gunsmoke. The character of Miss Kitty, the local saloon owner, taught me women could be strong, independent, and not have to take guff from men.
With the arrival of Star Trek in 1966, I had a new role model: Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols. Uhura served as translator and communications officer aboard the Starship Enterprise. Uhura’s quiet but forceful manner taught me women could be intelligent, powerful, and competent, exactly like I wanted to be. In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was such a fan that he convinced Nichols not to quit the show after its first season as she had planned to do because she was a role model to millions and a non-stereotypical representation of black women. To a white girl growing up in the racist South, Uhura’s strength and courage inspired me as I began to see the harm that racial stereotypes cause.
The 1960s start with an introduction to my first real friend, my next-door neighbor in Denver, who you’ll meet in tomorrow’s post.
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