Today’s guest post for “About The Girls”/#HereWeAre is from one of my long-time favorite authors, from wayyy back into my own teen hood: Megan McCafferty!
Megan McCafferty has written about adolescence for two decades. The author of of ten novels, she’s best known for the Jessica Darling series. She’s currently adapting SLOPPY FIRSTS into a stage play that will debut in spring 2018.
I was a 10-year-old Junior Girl Scout in 1983. It was my second year with the organization and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick around for a third. At my young age I was already wary of any group that required conformity, especially the form of an actual uniform. And I hated knocking on strangers’ doors to sell Thin Mints and Samoas. What was the point of sticking with Scouts when my sash would always have more blank space than badges?
I liked our Troop Leader though. Mrs. Henderson was the divorced-and-remarried mom of Kim Hartmann, my only friend with a different last name from her parents. I liked Mrs. Henderson mostly because she bought Kim a copy of FOREVER… and let her daughter read it even after she discovered it was all about sexy sexy sex.
Still, I was pretty determined to de-enlist from the Scouts when Mrs. Henderson made an exciting announcement at our weekly meeting.
“Troop 10 is participating in a show! On stage! In front of an audience!”
I loved being in shows! On stage! In front of an audience!
The theme of the show was “Singing and Dancing Through the Decades” and each Troop was randomly assigned a specific time period to celebrate in skit, song and dance. I wasn’t much of a dancer, but I was one hell of a singer/actress double threat. No 10-year-old Annie wannabe could out-vibrato me. For a blissful ten seconds, I imagined myself at center stage… I was the 30s in a red dress and curly wig singing “Tomorrow.” I was the 40s in a swingy skirt and army cap harmonizing all three Andrews sisters’ parts in “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” I was the 1950s in a Pink Ladies jacket, belting Rizzo’s tour de force “There Are Worse Things I Can Do.” Nevermind that my historical references were mostly anachronistic and all from movie musicals. For the first time since I put on my Junior green beret, I was excited to be a Scout.
This excitement lasted for about five seconds, when Mrs. Henderson informed us that Troop 10 would present the E.R.A. era.
The what what?
“The Equal Rights Amendment era.”
I had no idea what this was. And if I didn’t know, none of us did.
Mrs. Henderson devoted the rest of the meeting trying to convince us of the great entertainment value to be mined from second-wave feminism of the early 1970s. And the more we heard about inequality, Congress and constitutional amendments, the less enthusiastic we all were. Mrs. Henderson, however, remained optimistic.
“One of you will be the first female President of the United States!”
“In the show?” I asked.
I knew a juicy part when I heard it.
“In the show! And in real life!”
Mrs. Henderson lost me again.
A few years earlier, my beloved first grade teacher Mrs. Mohr had introduced me to the book GIRLS CAN BE ANYTHING by Norma Klein.* In it, six-year-old kindergartner Marina pushes back against her boysplaining best friend Adam. He says she can’t be a doctor (she can be a nurse!) or a pilot (she can be a stewardess!) or President of the United States (she can be his wife!). Marina isn’t having any of this sexist nonsense. If other countries elected Golda Maier and Margaret Thatcher, why couldn’t the United States elect Marina? I loved the book but was disappointed by the realization that it was probably already too late for Marina and for me. I did the math: I’d turn 35 years old just in time for the 2008 election. Surely the first female President would be elected before then.
Mrs. Henderson needed me on her side. If I didn’t muster any enthusiasm for the ERA era, no girl in the Troop would.
“Why are we making big deal about girls being able to do all the same stuff as boys?” I asked her. “This E.R.A. stuff should have been settled a million years ago already.”
“You’re right, but it’s not.” Mrs. Henderson said. “And until it is? We keep making a big deal.”
Mrs. Henderson’s vision was simple, maybe even inspired by Klein’s book. All girls in Troop 10 would dress up as just a few of the many jobs women could do as well as men. We had a doctor and a pilot, as well as a construction worker, a teacher, a scientist and a mother. We held a special vote to determine who would be Troop 10’s First Female President of the United States.
I won the election in a landslide.
On show day, I dressed in a wool blazer and pleated skirt. The outfit was itchy and uncomfortable but commanded respect. I wore it that one time and never again. I marched in circles holding a poster saying “VOTE FOR MEGAN FOR PRESIDENT AND VOTE FOR ERA.” It wasn’t as glamorous as the razzle-dazzle song-and-dance numbers in my head, but I was proud to be chosen by my peers to represent the most powerful person in the world. I couldn’t help but wonder about the girl out there somewhere who would eventually grow up to be the real first female President of the United States.
I still wonder about that girl.
And until we know who she is, I guess we all need to keep making a big deal.
*Norma Klein deserves her own post. She wrote groundbreaking YA books throughout the 70s and 80s featuring fiercely feminist teenage girls who had lots and lots of sex with–and sometimes without–consequences. She died at 50 in 1989, a premature end that perhaps explains why she isn’t worshipped on the same scale as her kick-ass contemporary, The Goddess Judy Blume. All of Klein’s books are out of print.