When I was growing up they were called heroines, there were also actresses. The division of the sexes was clear and accepted. Today as you know they are all actors and heroes.
I recently wrote about my heroes the Kennedy brothers, Malcolm X and Dr. King. This drove me to look around my memories for heroines of my childhood. It was a difficult search.
When you google heroines of the 1950s you get actresses. If you push harder you get Mamie Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Wonder Woman appeared in the comics during the war years. The comics then brought us Supergirl in 1959. Batgirl doesn’t appear until the ‘60s. That decade also brought us Jackie. She was not universally a hero but neither were the aforementioned first ladies. I don’t recall ever being taught about these women.
I will say that the women outside of my family whom I admired most were my teachers: Mrs. Miller at PS9, Miss DiPiero at JHS44. Others too, but those two were standouts.
There were no female Rabbis, like my daughter-in-law, for me to idolize, like I idolized my childhood rabbi.
I was already past my teens when Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm took formidable roles in politics. They were not formative for me but they were avidly cheered on.
Why wasn’t I for example, taught about the scientist, Heddy Lamar or civil rights lawyer, Constance Baker Motley? (Look her up)
So as a boy I had no female heroes to idolize like the men remembered and idolized by many. This is a clear defining matter.
Today my grandson can idolize RBG (who he will hear about from his mother) or Michelle Obama or so many others. Some things have changed, maybe not enough, but they’ve changed.