Girls Need Heroes Too

I was born in December of 1947.  I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, which were extremely oppressive decades for women and young girls.  There were no female heroes little girls could look up to and aspire to become.  The closest I came to female heroes was Lois Lane and Dale Evans.  Later, I would fall in love with and read every Nancy Drew book published.  I wanted to become a sleuth like Nancy.

The sad truth is, there were no such characters as Wonder Woman, Super Girl or the like.  Boys had the monopoly on heroes, which made growing up with realistic aspirations a given.

I was the oldest girl of six children.  My brother was the oldest of all six.  Our family was a dysfunctional one with a father who wielded his power over everyone with zeal, and a mother who was wholly beholden to her husband.   Dad was an officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy, which meant he was not home all the time.  He would go off to sea for months on end.  In his absence, our mother took over the household.  She was in control and, in my eyes, did a great job.  However, when Dad would return, she shrunk to her second-class-subservient-role never questioning the demotion.

Mom became anything but a role model for me, especially when she would stoop to talking in a baby-like manner in the presence of Dad.  The mere thought of that behavior makes my skin crawl.

Living in a household populated by lots of people, I was extremely lonely.  The reason for my loneliness was devastating for me.  I fell victim to a father who was also a pedophile.   To date, my siblings have confirmed that I was his sole family victim.

I realize now that I spent my entire life in my parent’s home trying my best to hide from my father.  The only periods I felt safe were those when he was gone.  While he was home, I looked forward to family vacations when we would stay in motels.  I learned to love the evening sound of traffic as trucks and cars whizzed by the motels.

While he was home, I sought safety in my mind.  I found solace retreating to my mind where I would write my future; one which was free of harm; and, one where I was equally important.  Too, I would devise situations where I could protect myself from him and his hands.

When in high school, for example, I talked my youngest sister into sleeping with me promising her she’d never make another bed.   With her in my bed, I knew our father wouldn’t risk coming to my bed during the night to bother me.  All the while I lived under my parent’s roof I didn’t realize I was cultivating a new female hero.

With my ingenious thinking, I was becoming my hero because I was devising ways in which to stay safe.  Still, I craved outside female heroes.  Those didn’t come along until much later, and after I finally fled my parent’s hell.

It’s no coincidence that I met my husband of now forty-seven years in 1970, the year I left home.

Until then, I tried numerous times to leave.  Each time, however, my parents would play the blame game with me, e.g., “How dare you think of leaving, after everything we’ve done for you.”  In truth, they did little for me.  In fact, when I went to work for the Federal Government at the age of 18, they demanded that I hand over my entire paycheck from which my Mom would give me a meager allowance.

Working out in the world,” at 18 I decided I wanted to go to college; my parents did all they could to discourage me.  Until then, I never considered college.  For one, I was never encouraged to think of anything other than getting married and having as many children as God would give me.  Too, until I experienced the freedom of being in the workforce, I was constantly in a state of emergency where I directed all my energy toward staying out of harm’s way.

I would soon learn that there was a college fund; but, it was never meant for me.

It was originally intended for my oldest brother.  When, however, he made it clear he had no intentions of attending college, the fund was reassigned to my sister who was two siblings younger than me.  I was not intelligent enough. Instead, my label was not college material.

My parents were panicked.  How can we discourage Maribeth?

They enlisted my Dad’s younger brother, who was a Dominican Priest and a professor at Catholic University in the Washington, D.C. area where we lived, and I worked.  He, Tom, devised the perfect plan as he made an appointment for me with a female dean at the University who was instructed to intimidate and discourage me, leading me to acknowledge I was indeed not college material.

I remember that dark-haired, be-speckled queen-bee type woman.  When I told her I was interested in studying biology, she went to work scaring the bejesus out of me as I became convinced I could never pass chemistry.  So, the next day I went back to work, leaving my college wish behind.

In April of 1970, and after having saved a down payment for a new royal blue Camaro, I finally moved away from home.  I planned to move back to the Washington, D.C. area and, in one year, qualify for a program where I would be sent overseas to work.  I wanted to move and work in Brussels, Belgium.  I wanted to move far away physically and emotionally from my past.  I wanted to begin living the life I only dreamed of living.

I never made it to Belguim.  Instead, on my first night in D.C., I met Bob.  He had become friends with my older brother, with whom I stayed while looking for my apartment.  Bob was different from any male I had met.  He was kind, going to college while working as a meat cutter in the Safeway stores.  He was paying for college via his earned income and the GI Bill.  During the Vietnam war, Bob had spent four years in the U.S. Army as a medic assigned to an evacuation hospital.

Soon after meeting Bob, we moved in together.  We married in September of 1970.  One Sunday, while talking to Bob about what I wanted from my future, I told him about my desire to earn a degree.  For Bob, that was a no-brainer.  He encouraged me and a few months later walked me through registration as I registered for two evening classes with the University of Maryland, the same college he attended.

I began taking courses during the evenings, and, during the day, I worked at the Civil Rights Commission.  My world was expanding rapidly.  I relished every single minute of my growth.  Ironically, the same uncle had left the priesthood, married an ex-nun and was in the process of moving to Washington, D.C. where a job was waiting for him.  He asked me to take him around to apartments.  During those few days, Uncle Tom tried his best to break up Bob and me.  He explained to Bob that he was leaps and bounds ahead of me intellectually.  He begged Bob to break up with me.  “Maribeth is a sweet girl, but she’s not all that bright.  You will become bored with her and wind up breaking her heart,” Tom explained.  Bob countered that Tom had no idea who I was nor how intelligent and complex I was.  Tom lost that argument and Bob, and I married a few months later.

I think I was always looking for female role models, so, in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, I fell head over heels in love with his beautiful, assertive wife, Hillary.

Hillary was everything I aspired to be.  She was bright, inquisitive, assertive and she was not a typical wife, let alone First Lady.

Soon after Bob and I wed, the Navy assigned my father to the Pentagon as he subsequently moved my Mom and younger siblings to the D.C. area.  A week after Bob and I married, Bob’s father called him.  Bob’s daughter, Kimberley, from a long-past marriage, was living in a foster home in the California area.  Social Services removed Kim from her mother’s living quarters where a live-in boyfriend beat her with a beer bottle.  A month later, I was a mother.

When we married, both Bob and I agreed that we would not have children.  I never knew why I didn’t want children. However, I knew I didn’t.  So, becoming a mother the way it happened was a shock to my senses.  For the first few months after Kim’s arrival, a Social worker visited us on a frequent basis.

My mother went to work on me coaching me how to act.  She encouraged me to make cookies for our first Social Services visit.  I reluctantly did.  However, the social worker caught on to my feelings of reluctance to play the stereotypical mommy role.  When she left our first meeting, she instructed me to be myself and act naturally.  It wasn’t too long after that meeting that the social worker suggested that we had the option to send Kim back to California.  Bob had not been a father very long when he and his first wife were divorced.  Thus, when suggested, he flirted with that solution.  Too, he was terrified of losing me.  I, however, could not agree to send her back.  I had spent my entire childhood in misery.  I was not going to be the person who doomed Kimberley to a life of misery knowing she was unwanted.  So I raised her, giving her all the guidance I could offer.

When Hillary came along, she was the very role model I had thirsted for all my life.  I was captivated when she made the statement, “I’m not sitting here like some little woman who stands by my man like Tammy Wynette.”  Later, she followed that up with, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and have teas; but, what I decided was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public office.”  Wow, hot dog was my reaction to this assertive, proud female who was my age and was standing up to the world with vigor, confidence and an I am who I wish to be boldness.  And, so, I stepped up and became the same type of woman, one who proudly assumed the label of uppity.

Later in life and during a job review, my male supervisor evaluated me as an average worker on paper, however, in our meeting he raked me over the coals.

I was the Kroger, Nashville Division’s first female Meat Field Supervisor.  I supervised two store districts and thirty meat departments.  My approach to those departments and their meat managers was not the typical field supervisor one.

Instead of playing a merchandising department cop, my style was to become a partner with the departments.  Everything I did, including sending out a plan that accompanied the weekly sales plan was intended to help the departments utilize their merchandising skills.  For example, I would discuss selling cuts of meat that made up for the unprofitability of the cuts on sale.  I respected the department heads and their staff.  In return, I was respected and appreciated.  In fact, after several inventory periods, all my stores began bringing in profits that surpassed their expected profits, something that had not been achieved in recent history.  The zone and store managers loved me because I was making them look like heroes.  My immediate supervisor did not.  He felt threatened; and, so he told me I had a reputation for being too pushy.  He then told me that women should have a quiet power.  I listened, felt bad, questioned myself, but, then, picked up my head, held it high and, when offered a job with a Fortune 500 company, I moved on.  I would later learn how much respect I earned while I was the Meat Field Supervisor.

One of my husband’s co-workers was friends with the Kroger, Nashville Vice President of Store Operations.  This VP expressed regret that I left the company as he called me a shining star who was destined to go places with Kroger.

Recently, a friend asked why I was still commenting on Facebook that I was #StillWithHillary.  He explained that although he respected the former Secretary of State, there were so many other outstanding women in politics and business.  I decided not to give him the short, tart FB answer.

Instead, his question made me ask myself the same one.  I wanted to know the answer, and that would take me time.  I explained that to him and told him I would give him the link to my blog when published.  He accepted my offer and said he looked forward to reading my answer.

Hillary Clinton was my first real female hero.  She came along for me when I desperately needed a female role model.  She was everything I aspired to become and now realize I was already becoming.  Although there are many outstanding women qualified to become our first female president, I feel Hillary earned that right to be the first.  She earned the right to be the first female to break that ultimate glass ceiling.  She wasn’t, and now I look to the future.  However, I will always stand with Hillary Clinton.

As Hillary became my first hero, I became my second hero.  I have overcome much in my life to accomplish more than I ever expected.  As the title reads, Women need Heroes Too.  As girls and women, we need other females to look up to and emulate.  We also need to be so proud of who we’ve become that we too become our hero.

5 Comments

Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing

5 responses to “Girls Need Heroes Too

  1. Dang – there’s a novel here, Maribeth!

    • Charles, thanks for that. The novel has been written. My first, Crack in the World. Now, I need to write “my” story as a memoir. I wrote the memour first but wasn’t satisfied. Sunce writing CIW, I’ve been preparing myself for writing the actual story, The Fish That Got Way. That’s one if the titles I’ve come up with. Thanks again!

  2. I read every single word and knew you were pouring your heart into telling your story. This is wonderful!!

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