The Evolution of Gender Roles Across Generations

Sometimes, looking back helps us look forward.

Illustration by Victoria Maxfield

As I write this, The Donald is in meltdown mode and Hillary Clinton appears to be on her way to becoming our first female president. Not that everyone will take the time to savor the moment—especially after the months of mudslinging that threatened to drag our whole democratic process into the manure pile. 

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As for the female segment of the population, we have trouble savoring our accomplishments. Rather, most of us have already moved on, looking for our next target. 

Fittingly, in this milestone year, my initial reaction to Hillary’s ascension was that we haven’t come far enough. We still make over 20 percent less than men, we don’t get guaranteed paid maternity leave, and we continue to subject ourselves to unrealistic, confidence-sapping standards of beauty, personal fulfillment and success. Only when I viewed 2016 from the perspective of a special group of women who are many decades my senior—specifically, my grandmother and the rest of the mothers’ club at Holy Saviour in Norristown—did my viewpoint change. 

On my desk sits an old, framed photograph of them, clad in white blouses, black ankle-length skirts, and white top hats, entertaining a mid-1960s crowd at the church’s annual Christmas show. They’re all identified by their husbands’ names. Never mind that they owned businesses—a deli, a corner store, a beauty parlor, a dance studio—along Norristown’s Main Street. 

One of the women in the picture, Mrs. William Borzillo, is my 92-year-old grandmother. “That’s just how it was, angel,” she recalls. “It was an honor to be married and have children and be addressed by your husband’s name.”

The Times Herald, the same newspaper that ran the photo of the mothers’ club almost 50 years ago, now publishes my column every Sunday—accompanied by my full name, I might add. “I always knew my girls and their children would have it better,” my grandmother says. “That’s what I hoped.” 

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She envisioned this future, where women could claim their own names and make their voices heard—and even be president. Now, it’s time for us to keep that hope alive. 

Katie Bambi-Kohler is honored to fulfill her grandmother’s hope that things would be better for her granddaughters.

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