Friday, April 12, 2013

My Aunt is My Everyday Heroine

Over on the HerStory blog this month, we've been talking about our everyday heroines. Everyone has a different idea of what that is. Some think of a disabled friend who shows up to work every, no matter her pain. Some think of a mother juggling sick kids and a career. Some think of policewomen or brave women of the past who helped others.

I think of my aunt and this is my post...

When you were a little girl, there was that woman you looked up to. She hung the moon in your eyes. She was just COOL. You said, "When I grow up, I wanna be just like her!"

Mine was Aunt G.I. Jane.

Due to her current occupation, my aunt wishes to remain anonymous and I am giving her a code name of her choice. It suits her. Not because she looks like Demi Moore, but because she has been in a position such as G.I. Jane more than once.

At the moment, she rises and works really long days (we're talking over 10 hours) with all male prisoners. She dresses in Battle Dress and starts her day with a morning wake-up run. Then she proceeds to do things we aren't allowed to reveal, but she is the ONLY woman drill instructor out of ten, disciplining 60 male prisoners.

Can you put yourself in her combat boots for a minute? You think it's awkward maybe giving a presentation in a room full of men? Imagine how she feels running, yelling, commanding, bossing men all day--and remember they've been put in prison for a reason. I'm sure more than one have a nasty attitude toward women.

Sometime in the afternoon, she runs again for 2 miles in 17 or 20 minutes.
There's also marching, cadence, drill movements, and other things.

Why does she do this job? you wonder. "Surely it's to help the women's rights movement," you declare.

She does this job because she got tired of working in a sawmill--not tired of the work itself, but tired of worrying about the constant layoffs and if she would have a job from day to day. There's nothing heroic in her career choice. She says that some of the greatest women in history didn't do what they did to prove anything to anyone but themselves. Instead of saying, "Look at me. I'm doing this," she says, "They did it to prove to themselves they could do it."

And that is how my aunt is. She does what she feels is right. She's not out to impress anyone, just prove things to herself.

She worked in a sawmill for seventeen years, another male-dominated profession. She witnessed fingers being cut off, arms pressed flat, and her first day on the job, a man actually asked her, "What are you doing here? Are you lost?"

You know what Aunt G.I. Jane said?

"No. What, are you afraid I'm going to take your job?"

She says the man retired shortly thereafter, but other men doubted her at first. "Oh, you better go help her. It's going to get nasty", was a common attitude when she was around, but not for long. They would come to "help" her and she'd outwork them by doing both her job and theirs.

On top of this, her own family wasn't supportive of her career choice. "That's not a woman's job!"

I picture her back then, my aunt, chin up, eyes narrowed, a spunky grin on her face, as she puts on her hard hat and gloves. I imagine she looks much the same now as she gets up and puts on her BDUs and laces her combat boots. And I know what's going through her head as she did/does these things because her advice for women in male-dominated professions is quite simple: "Don't take their shit. Stand up for yourself. Keep your head up and trudge on."

My aunt never intended to be a feminist. There were no motives behind her life choices beyond "get a job, keep a job, do my job", but she's an everyday heroine. She's my everyday heroine. When I was a kid, teenager, young adult and I was trying to choose a career path for myself, I heard a lot of "You can't do that. You're deaf". But if anyone dared to say to me, "You can't do that. You're a woman", all I had to do was think of my aunt. "Look at this woman! Look at all she does and has done! Now tell me again a woman can't..."

She's a woman who faces obstacles everyday in her work, obstacles such as "She's a woman. She better be careful. Go help her. Is she lost? That's not women's work", yet in her mind she only has to prove herself to herself. That's tough. How many of us can say the same? That we don't have an agenda beyond ourselves for whatever we are doing?

What's HER idea of an everyday heroine?

"A person who does great things without expecting a reward or a pat on the back."

What's yours?


  1. Your Aunt sounds amazing! I agree with her idea of an everyday heroine. i feel the same way, an everyday heroine to me is someone who just gets on with it. Whether they are ill, or old etc, they get on with it with no complaints.

    They all deserve some recognition dont they :)

    1. SO true, Dee. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it.

  2. This is a very good account of my sister. She is just like that person described. I have to say as Tara's mom, I am glad she sees my sister as her every day heroine. I am very proud of my sister and her accomplishments and she is one tough lady. She is the one of the best she will do her job and turn right around and help someone with out thinking of her self and her needs or rest that she might require. She has one heck of a job and I always have felt safe in sticky situations knowing she is there. I love my sister very much. She sets a good example for young women today.