Independence is among the good/bad things found in people who are not inclined to think of happiness as places such as NYC or Minneapolis. People do not elect life in the boondocks in order to have neighbors and congestion. The nightlife we enjoy is mostly animals and the store we walk into will not have a wide selection of goods. We will pick one of the three models of coffee maker available and be satisfied, and I suspect that a great many of us secretly feel sorry for those burdened with reviewing 47 models of coffee machine in order to find one. A theme of independence and simplicity runs strong and true as you get up the Shore or if you visit most any rural area.

I say that as prep for this topic and follow-up on Valentine’s Day because one thing about being off on an independent limb is perspective muddied what I’ll call 47 models of coffee machine. With less distraction a focus on essentials is easier to find, though in some cases independence can run to odd eccentricity. (I don’t mean me, of course.) While objections to Valentine’s Day can be shrugged off, it can’t be denied that small things can carry more than a little significance; take Sadie Hawkins.

I’d like to quip she was Jim Hawkins sister who never made it to Treasure Island. She was, however, the creation of cartoonist Al Capp who introduced her to the public in the late 30’s. As an icon Sadie got off to a bumpy start as the homeliest girl in Dogpatch who would get her man by running him down in a footrace. Not being pretty didn’t mean Sadie wasn’t fast. It’s actually not so much what Capp had in mind as what the public did with the idea. Social change is slower than Hershey Syrup left outdoors in February, so I am not pointing to Sadie as major sign. But, however flawed, limited, and humble it is, the public accepted the idea of gender reversal. As I say, this is not a huge shift in attitude, but it is significant that it came to be accepted at all. A Valentine or Sadie Hawkins Dance are things we might say should be put from the public sphere so as not to discomfort others who find even those small suggestions of open expression of affection or gender play offensive.

In too many places if a woman gave a Valentine or asked a man to a dance she’d be punished for it. So yes, those things are definitely offensive to some cultures. Does that mean, I ask sitting out here in the boonies, the objection is more important than the opportunity? What to do favor? Is it obstruction or is it opportunity? Oh a Valentine or Sadie Hawkins Dance is a small thing, but the significance of allowing or rejecting is huge. American popular and public culture has accepted (however slowly) the possibilities and benefits of gender equality. Is that, even in the token form of a Valentine or Hawkins Day Dance, worth setting aside in favor of repressing and denying opportunity?  Am I on a limb alone thinking we ought to value and hang onto the small changes in social acceptance that have barely begun to reach a few generations deep?

It fascinates me that it was the American public that took Sadie Hawkins and turned her into an active symbol. Al Capp didn’t grasp that potential. It was the American people and our culture that did so. To set social progress aside in order to protect and ensconce its opposite seems to me as tragic and sorry a betrayal of the future as you could find anywhere. To be sure, our emblems and symbols and progress are all flawed and open to criticism. Does this mean they should then be passed over in order for rigid rules of gender to be honored? I really hope I am not out on a limb thinking that the American way should be to buck and protest at efforts no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that sanction repression.

There are, of course, arguments going the other way saying it is a violation of human and women’s rights to expose women and girls to standards of immorality. Some say the only real freedom and the best right is for the genders to know and follow their exact roles. This can be made to sound OK, but guess who loses at each and every turn when this smiling unctuous deceit gets its way? In the cultures we are told to respect girls and women are the losers every time. Does a female get multiple husbands or have a voice equal to that of her son once he reaches puberty? The answer is no, and if you examine in any detail the various “cultural” things expected of women they are almost universally aimed at control and repression that is intended to be degrading.

An argument runs that these cultural things are matters of choice that women elect (and gladly) to follow. Oh really? It is not a choice when you’re told eat this or go hungry. There is no choice when deviation brings swift and nasty social sanction. One person making a restrictive choice (as in a religious order) is not the same as a cultural norm that expects and requires this of all. You know damn well males would not put up with it. But with repressive cultural norms you can inflict this on women. It stinks. Every time we weaken in our resolve and end up protecting systems of repression we help ensure more women and more generations will face a tougher time and be forced to live essentially as property where dress and behavior require them to be subservient. Even in its mildest form this is unacceptable unless you care to believe that some form of slavery is OK if the slave says he or she is happy. Out on a limb might be the best place to look at answers.