That’s what I call my paternal grandmother. Before I was born, my grandparents each chose what they wanted me to call them. My dad’s mom picked “Honey” because she said she’d never been called anything sweet before. That wasn’t strictly true, but she did have a difficult upbringing and an overbearing husband. She grew up as “poor white trash,” and why my grandfather married her, I’ll never know. Honey taught me a lot of things, as a kid and as an adult, but I don’t know that any of the lessons were good.
Sheltered though I was, I learned about sexism when I was a child, and my first experience with it was probably the most hurtful – though not the most damaging in terms of academic or professional advancement – because it was the most personal. When I was a young girl, I slowly began noticing that my paternal grandparents treated me rather differently than they treated my brother. He was cooed over and treasured in a way I hadn’t been, he was given attention and praise in a way I wasn’t. The differences seemed stark. At first, I couldn’t figure out why it should be so – why would I be treated differently when I was so pretty, so intelligent, far kinder, and more polite? What had I done wrong? Hurt and uncomprehending, I finally thought to ask my mother, who I could always trust to answer my naïve, innocent questions in the same way: Truthfully. Gently but bluntly, she explained that my father’s parents were children of the Depression and had been raised with an old Southern mentality that men were more valuable. My brother was more cherished, more loved, and more important in the eyes of my grandparents because he was the male heir, and because he would carry on the family name, whereas I, as a woman, would lose it when I married (in the old South, marriage was a question of when, not if). This was a difficult truth for a young overachiever to understand because it was something which had to be accepted rather than overcome; no amount of success on my part would ever make me equal.