Tag Archives: family dynamics

The Brother Girls.[final edit]

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You’ll find us, easily.  We stand out, in a crowd, even when we’re sitting down.

We’re the girls who are seen out with one guy, who isn’t our boyfriend, for dinner.

Or, drinks. Or, in meetings. Or, in church. Or, at the concert, or the game, or wherever people spend any time at all together.

We’re the lone ladies who come from a family of boys. We’re the Brother Girls.


I grew up in a brother “sandwich”: one older; one younger. They were quite far apart in age, but the younger was born only two years after me and, because our family was poor without realizing it (thanks to Mum), my little brother and I shared a bedroom until I was 10 years old.

Yes. We talked in the dark, across the room. We heard each other’s secrets, longings, and troubles – just like two sisters. (This, I found out from my girl cousins, a couple of whom lived around the corner and across the street.)

He and I would observe our elder brother, from the distance of age and experience, his activities and escapades filling us with wonder and admiration. I became aware of my little brother’s feelings toward our elder brother, and how they differed from those of my own as sister to each of them.

I learned the art of the boy.

But, as we grew, and encountered puberty, what made us distinct became both more apparent and less amenable to such closeness in proximity. Nevertheless, our emotional dynamics, and the patterns which would shape them, would be set forever.

I believe that women who grow up surrounded only by brothers have a perspective on human relationship specific to the needs of the opposite sex which may elude families of sisters. To many girls, their fathers are their model for the role men will play in their lives; to those with brothers, the models are as varied as the number of boys in the house.

Furthermore, in the absence of other girls, the sister to brothers has a relationship with their mother which is distinguishable from that of the brothers with the same mother. More on that, in a bit.

Brother Girls. We are, first and foremost, comfortable around men. We relax when they enter the room. Generally, they make us feel “at home.” We tend to treat them as familiar to us, even when we haven’t been formally introduced. To others, women with sisters, men without sisters, this behavior might seem forward, or driven by a need to dominate. It isn’t; it’s just our habit.

Men without sisters, for whom girls have played a more distant role ( not having been a part of their family’s ethos) prefer to idolize women. They place a set of expectations upon them, based in the model of their mothers, which are often subjected to disillusion. But, women who crave feeling special, in this way, perhaps due to neglect or trauma, seem nearly perfect for such men.

A brother girl, however, may squirm under the gaze of adoration. Such body language may even provoke from us an amused chuckle. We are far too wise about ourselves, and them, to buy into this brand of fawning. Burping and farting are far more easily tolerated than milky eyeballing and flattery.

(Important to include, here, would be those whose mothers have had a negative affect on men’s lives. In this case, and sadly, misogyny rules the roost.)

Brothers who had one sister may always need to be close to women. Additionally, upon marrying they may confuse the role of wife with that of mother, and continue to seek out the company of other women in search of their newly absent sister.


The lone sister plays the role of confidante in the lives of her brothers. She learns that their needs are both deep, sometimes confounding, and often persistently unmet. In turn, she learns that mutual revelations are bonding, and is more than ready to forge these. I will not reveal in this forum what I have both been told by my brothers, nor what I have disclosed to them, but I can say that no topic has either been off limits or alarming. It’s as if the brother and sister can confront anything, and that fearlessly.

Now, girls with sisters who are reading this piece might be reaching peak saturation annoyance. They may be thinking: “I have the very same relationship with my sister as you do with your brother.”   Right. Of course. Who’s arguing?

I might. I might suggest that, while similar, they are not parallel. Men and women, countless studies keep implying, do not think the same way. They view neither themselves nor the world identically, either. After all, society’s constructs dictate much of their response, and the history of gender bias in the workplace speaks for itself. No. Brothers need sisters not only to make sense of their feelings; they need them to make sense of their role in the lives of women.

In truth, every permutation of gender in any family dynamic has its pros and cons. In addition, the role of negative and positive influence cannot be ignored. But, I offer this piece from an informed perspective; how I view men is directly the result of my experience with those who lived in my family.

But, what of girls without brothers? Here, I can only speculate. Perhaps a lone girl without a brother forever subjects herself to men, either with joy due to having had a loving father, or with reluctance and fear for the opposite reason. However, in families of many sisters, the league of women may rise and overtake the father’s role, leading to future relationships between such sisters and their husbands marked by female domination of such total affect so as to render the men, at least at home, virtually subservient. I know this, because my mother was one of four sisters.

Now, I would be remiss were I to end this piece without addressing the dynamic between brother girls and other women.

Sister siblings, and brother girls, in the spirit of compatibility, are the least congruous. They have completely different views of men, and play equally distinct roles in the lives of men. Furthermore, because of their blind spot with regard to relating to each other’s experience, they tend to judge one another – and, somewhat harshly.

Brother girls tend to view sister siblings’ relationships with men as immature, lacking in insight or empathy. And, sister women likely see brother girls as a threat to the security of their own culture of female dominance. To them, brother girls don’t care enough about people, or children, nor do they possess any social finesse. And, the fact that their husbands disagree with them about such women is a source of contention and strife.

It may be true that brother girls appear to care more about men than women. But, this may be nourished by a cocktail of familiarity and experience; we are, after all, what we know and, increasingly, who we know. I, for one, have had a lifelong problem trusting women; yet, perhaps it is only sister siblings to whom I am reacting in this way.

I do know that I adore men, men of every type and persuasion. From the vantage point within my brother sandwich, I learned to value their dry wit, fierce intellect, brute strength, and inventive resourcefulness. From my father, I learned to desire creative genius and musical gift. And, from our mother, I learned that a woman should never be either subject or ruler.

So, brother girls, unite; we are, after all, in league with the canines. We are man’s best friend.




© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  10/27/16    *inspired by Margaret Andraso, who takes credit for the title. All other rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above these two lines.  Thank you, boys.  ❤


The Man In The Room.

I am a woman. Always have been; had no choice in the matter. My fetus did not grow external gonads.

At birth, how was I to know that I would never really be alone? No; wherever I would be, go, or do, there would always be a man in the room.


The first man in the room was late.

He was sitting at a bar, drinking, on a Friday night – shirking the very responsibility for which any woman in his position, at least in those days, would have immediately jumped to respond. He was an obstetrician. He was my mother’s doctor. And, he was definitely On Call.

When the phone reached him, he likely chuckled with the bartender about cervical dilation and other, baser aspects of the female anatomy over which he claimed domain. And, he probably ordered another beer. After all, who was this infant to proclaim any birth rite at prime time on a Friday night in April? It was pouring rain. Time out.

Back in labor and delivery, my mother was practicing female obedience. No woman, in the history of the world, did this better. I was crowning, and the nurses, frantic to enact their version of submission, pecked about, insisting that the doctor would be there “any minute”. To my mother, the directive was unanimous:  “Just  hold ON!”

So, my mother obeyed the nurses, who were obeying the doctor, who was calling for shots by now in the bar. And, she held a birthing baby in her vagina until it felt certain her entire body would explode. The man was not yet present in the room but, at that interminable moment, he was everywhere. He was squeezing my mother’s abdomen, suffocating me, and holding lit matches to every nurse in the wing. What a masterful grasp wielded that drunken sailor on such a wet and inconvenient night.

When he finally appeared, as doctor, the gurney carrying my mother and me was propelled so fast down the hallway toward delivery that it nearly toppled and, at about 8:45 pm (well after the downbeat), the next baby girl was finally permitted entry into the world. Through the caul that draped my soaking face, I screamed bloody, spitting murder at the man in the room.

The second man in the room was just returning from work.

He was my father.

To hear him tell it, I would be the embodiment of his every gift…a “born” artist and musician, a singer like him, his – for all practical purposes – first-born child. He would hold me with tender arms and soft hands, feed me, sing to me. I would love him with my whole heart. He would go to work, come home, bring the money with him, count it on the kitchen table, and share with me a teaspoon of his hot tea with milk and sugar.

On his day off, he would come and go as he pleased. And, he would take me with him. I would sit in the car, singing to myself, while he did what he had to do inside the store or the other man’s house. He would eat his supper after dark, make his lunch, go to bed, and get up before everybody else in the house was even awake to walk to work. He owned his own barber shop, made his own hours and, when his day was over, he was done.

Mom’s day was never done. She’d stay up til after midnight, finishing the sewing that needed to be ready by the next day’s pick up, and get up before we would in the morning to prepare our breakfast, shrieking us awake so that we’d be ready for school before she was nearly late for work.

On the weekends, not otherwise pulling a shift at the machine shop, she’d run the sweeper and dust around us as we tried to practice our piano lesson or read. On Sunday, she’d get us ready for morning worship at the Gospel Hall and we’d all go, to spend most of the day there listening to: men. Mom finally took her nap, on Sunday afternoon, while Dad would spend the afternoon chewing on a toothpick seated on a park bench watching us pet the small animals at the zoo.

The third man in the room reached puberty when I was almost a toddler. He was my elder brother.

A very ripe 11 at my birth, he had been the only child for those first ten precocious years, surrounded by adoring adults substituting for the father who was not yet there. I was an intrusion, a stray dog, a reluctant pet, an object of derision. I was in the spot reserved for him, and this was not to be.

My brother would manifest as the man in the room for the rest of my life in that house. He would ride his bike wherever he pleased, growing to be an active teen with the capacity to socially organize and initiate all manner of events in the basement, where he held court. I grew, too, but the playpen that corralled me was the only point of view from which I could define the world. He was, when not placed in my exclusive care, always outside of the box – and, ever-present, in the room.

If there were rules, they never applied to him; if there was law, he learned to rule it. When I came of age, he dictated to my parents just what the outside world was all about and, in spite of my creative gifts clearly matching or surpassing his, my choices were decreed: for the daughter, there would be no further education. Doctorate degrees were there for the men to take; girls should get a job, learn to cook, and prepare for the husband God had in mind.

God, on the other hand, frightfully busy making more men and the women intended to serve them, tried to present the man for me on more than one occasion. In the first offering, there were other men with power in their laps who determined that the man God had clearly chosen for me should stay away. Because they were in a position to claim their dictates as from God directly, the fact that they weren’t listening to what I was hearing seemed to have no bearing on the outcome God intended. I just chalked it up to the men themselves, and peered at them, from across the room.

From that point forward, the man in the room took many forms. He was a boss, or a hired hand, or a curious customer, or a band mate. And, I was ready to pass his test. When I graduated to the ranks of professional, Union card carrying musician, he became the Maestro – an object of my adoration. If I couldn’t please God anymore, then perhaps I could revere the baton in his hand.


The man is still there. He still waits to tell me when to speak, when to act, and when to acquiesce. He decides my value. He directs my course. He expects me to be there when he needs me, and to disappear when the time is right. He may not have any idea how much power he holds because, to him, he is just in his world – the world he inherited from his mother’s womb.

He’d best preserve that power for as long as he remains strong; a world without a woman in it would change his forever.



© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

2013  all rights reserved. Thank you, sir.