Remembering my fights with big brother 70+ years back I must have been a feminist before the term was invented. My feeling as a young girl held that I was, and should be, as important and respected as my big brother. Life slapped me in the face a bit over that belief as time went on, but if the “was” got a bit tattered, the “should be” remained.
In the forties and fifties young men were taught to open car doors for their dates, which involved getting out, shutting the driver side door, walking around the car and opening the passenger side, while his date waited for the door to open. As a child I had always opened doors for myself. It was a difficult task schooling myself to wait for…essentially “permission” … to disembark. Happily the young man I married seemed to feel I was healthy enough, strong enough, and capable enough to open my own doors! After eighty years of living (many of those decades on my own raising our daughter after his abandonment) I can fault him for many things, but he respected my independence, my intelligence, and treated me as an equal partner. Perhaps that gave me the groundwork for my belief system as an adult.
Which brings me to my experiences as a mature student at the University of Washington. The red nosed elderly chair of the Audiology department, who stated that women did not do well in his department, was a dinosaur, but normal among older males for the time. On the other hand, the Principal of the grade school where I student taught was a woman. Her mantra was that I needed to be in late evening meetings where I had no vote, no voice, and all I could do was sit and listen, while my young child was home alone. “We have lots of latch key children here” was her statement when I tried to get dispensation, or even leaving early. I rode a bike the few miles to the school each morning. I chose to wear trousers for obvious reasons, and was informed that was improper. This was in the mini-skirt era, and ended with my wearing a dress over the slacks, and abandoning the slacks upon entering the school. Also being very aware of bending over in the classroom!
I did think those were incidents in the past and women had finally come out of their cocoons, until I was working at UCD. My supervisor was a very nice woman who helped me immensely as a graduate student and employee, but the one conversation among all the women that has never been forgotten pertained to so called feminism. “I like having the door opened for me…I like the men to stand when I enter a room…I won’t give up the little niceties”.
To my male acquaintances, you have no need to stand when I enter your space. As an octogenarian I still open doors for people if I am in front of the pack, I would be happy to give my seat to a person of either gender if they are frail, handicapped or stressed. Equality to me means equal in responsibility to be helpful, understanding and kind, equality in legal rights, as well as equal opportunity and pay for identical job duties. Some may remember the old saw that males had to support families and therefore needed more money, women were just making extra dollars, which enabled prospective employers to offer less salary to females: married, single, or widowed with children.
The norm was supposed to be woman in the kitchen, man in the office. This is the norm that many people, both men and, unfortunately, many women, would like to see resurrected in our social structure. I believe it is an underlying (sometimes not quite understood) motive behind the vehement “pro-life” screamers and greatly injurious laws to allow rapists, who impregnate their victim, access to the subsequent child; to force preteen children to carry their abuser’s child to term, or to require invasive procedures before permitting an abortion. For many men it is a matter of control. For many of the women it goes back to that patriarchal era when women had babies and men took care of their women .
My mother was a “Rosie the riveter”. Those women contributed immensely to helping our armed forces win WWII, and were immediately discarded upon the return of our troops. Women had a baseball league during the war to fill in for male players then soldiering. That was allowed to fail as the men returned. It has been a long hard slog to emerge from the kitchen, put on shoes, have our babies when we were ready to become moms, and choose how many children we wished to raise.
We have, and are, evolving and earning our place in the working world, gaining slightly in the political and power structures, and shedding light on abusive practices toward females that have long stayed underground. Nevertheless, the forces that abhor those changes and gains are still out there, and hitting back in egregious and harmful ways whenever possible. That reaction among some men, perceiving their control diminishing, I fully understand… though it saddens me. That reaction among women, in particular white women, is both puzzling and distressing. Why do we want members of our sisterhood beaten down? Why do we want to force our religious/moral/ethical beliefs on women we do not even know? Have we discarded the idea that an individual should be able to make their own choices, decide what is right for themselves, so long as they do not intrude on their neighbors safety or comfort? If so, who are the “deciders” that will tell us how to live our lives…old white men?
The warriors in this battle for equal respect and opportunity have been the feminists, and strangely many women who have denied being “feminists”…actually are! Do you work? Do you feel you are worth as much as the man doing the exact same job? Do you own property, and believe you have the right to do so? Do you like being able to sign for your own loans without daddy or some male relative co-signing the document (I had that happen to me in 1970, not that long ago)? Do you believe women should be able to do whatever job they choose (provided they are qualified and capable) such as astronaut, pilot, etc.? Then you are a quiet feminist. Those are rights that some personages would like to revoke and move you back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
What is wrong with women who lean toward blustery, older, white men rather than a well qualified, pragmatic, strong woman? We are faced again with, not one, but multiple strong women. And guess what? An old, sometimes comic, often misspeaking, huggy
bear, white man is leading the democratic pack , along with a grouchy, old, angry, white man. A lot of this is due to women, this time both white and black women, who identify the first with President Obama and feel he is “Uncle Joe” and will take care of them. The second has created a cult like persona similar, but on the opposite end, of our president. So I ask again, why do so many women reject the idea of handing power to a highly intelligent, empathetic sister woman, and embrace misogynistic or sexist patriarchs? And why do so many women flinch from the feminist idea of equal opportunity, equal respect? Those women who were force fed and tortured trying to get all women voting rights saw a future where women were as valued and respected as men. Sadly that vision is still far in the future. A large segment of our citizenry, many of them women, still cannot accept the idea of a female in the White House and are perfectly willing to idolize as president an old man who brags about “grabbing pussy”.
So, at the age of eighty, I am still searching for the value and respect that my brother received from the day of his birth. No little girl should be regarded as less important than her brothers, or less likely to be successful at whatever she chooses to do in life. No woman should be told females “don’t do well in my” department or class, both of which were my experiences. Hopefully those women who have fought against such equality will discover their own value, join their sisters of all religions and ethnicities, and fight for the life, choices and freedoms their daughter’s deserve to inherit.