Original Inequality by
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Prompted By Inequality

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Growing up: Louise, Barbara, Suzie.  And the youngest, the Prince.  The stage is set.

Barbara to Mom: “why doesn’t Tommy have to do this?”

Early years:

Barbara to Mom: “why doesn’t Tommy have to do this?”  Mom replies: “because he’s two years younger.”  At the time, appropriate.  But it continues. For years.  Until it’s a family joke.

Early teens: Barbara to Mom: “It’s more important for boys to go to prep school, huh?”  Mom listens.  Barbara and Suzie go, too.

Years and years later.  We all call Dad to chat regularly.  Barbara and Suzie report that Dad often reports, with gravitas, “Tom called.”  Like my call parted the Red Sea.


Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Interesting family dynamics, Tom. You were the chosen one, eh? Do you think it was because you are the youngest, or the only male?

    • Clearly the latter. My parents intended to have six children but the war complicated matters. Barbara, Suzie and I were born in 1947, 1948 and 1949, respectively. April/April/March. I was named Thomas for my Dad’s older, beloved brother who died as a young man, and pursuant to paternal grandmother’s family custom that the first born son is Thomas. I am also the only male of my generation in the family. I have no doubt that my gender influenced the decision not to have more: I think my real name was “Quits”.

  2. And lucky you Tom growing up with three sisters!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks, Tom, for reminding us of this other form of blatant inequality — which, as you know, we are also discussing on our class blog. Not just white privilege, but male privilege too, no?

  4. Marian says:

    Yes, Tom, my partner Dick, as the only boy in his nuclear family, relates similar stories to yours. I don’t think his sister was encouraged to go to MIT! As you probably have experienced, there is a flip side to this privilege. As the girl, I was allowed to study anything I wanted in college as long as I got good grades. My brother was discouraged from journalism and writing and had to have a practical economics major so he could “support a family.” He ultimately did do a lot of writing in his work, so there was a good ending.

    • Unfortunately for my sisters, especially for my sister Suzie (next in line up the ladder) that was not true. Not vis a vis their college experience but Mom was hypercritical of them. It was tough to watch.

  5. Marian says:

    I’m sorry to hear about that, Tom. It also happened to me to a degree. My mother was hypercritical about my physical appearance. Dick relates the same story with his mother and sister. It must have been a way of being at that time.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great photo of the four of you, Tom! And glad you appreciated how the family dynamics worked in your favor. I think this was very common in our generation; I wonder if it still is.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Oh. Tom, I know this phenomenon. Good for you to recognize it. My grandmother always favored her son over her two daughters, no matter how hard they tried.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    Nicely said, Tom. I captures the dynamic perfectly. I was lucky to be in a family of three sisters and a mother who was determined we would not have barriers, in part because she grew up in a time when so much was just for the guys. We live in a time of change, may it continue.

  9. This is a sweet commentary, loaded with convincing examples or details. My first thought was to write about “birth order” as a source of inequality. I’m writing about something very different but I’m glad you chose this topic.

    • Thanks, Dale. Yes, birth order is significant. My sister Suzie (to my immediate left in the picture) is the third daughter, just a year older than I. My mom was particularly hard on her; it was almost as if she resented Suzie because she was not born male, thus “necessitating” another pregnancy to get the boy she wanted.

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