Yesterday, Husband and Classmate got dropped off at my office for a ride home. They’d been meeting with a mentor close by and decided just to catch a ride back down to campus with me. As they were coming in the door, I heard Husband say, “No, they don’t have any secretaries here.”
After we dropped Classmate off at his apartment, I had to ask.
Yup. You guessed it! (Or maybe you didn’t.) Classmate saw that they were entering my rather swanky office building and assumed that I was the secretary there.
Okay, okay, so he could have not been making an incredibly sexist assumption. He could have not known that I wasn’t still a student. He could have not known that I worked full time. He could have not known that I am a smart, capable person with marketable skills. (No offense to secretaries–I’ve been one plenty of times.) I’m trying to think of other excuses for Classmate, but after meeting him, I’m pretty sure that he was just making a idiotic remark.
Maybe I’m just extra sensitive to sexist comments and attitudes after working as a research assistant for the Woman Stats project and seeing the effects of much more extreme sexism around the world. I just can’t help but notice (and point out to everyone) situations like the one I just described.
It’s not an unusual attitude where I currently live. I have a friend who graduated from BYU’s marketing program. She said that there was a strong feeling among many of the male students (who make up 80% of the program) that a girl in the major was just taking away that spot from some family’s future provider. When forming a group project, there was sometimes an attitude among the guys that they needed a girl in their group so they’d have someone to schedule group meetings and bring baked goods.
I didn’t really start to form an opinion about gender stereotypes until college, and I think that my feminist viewpoint has grown stronger the longer I’ve been in Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have anything in its doctrine that discriminates against women, but Utah Mormon culture is sometimes a different story. Much like my liberal ideology (that’s a whole new post), my feminism stems from a desire to keep as much of my northern Virginian identity as I can! (I still haven’t gotten a Utah driver’s license.)
When I graduated as a married woman, I put my maiden name on my diploma. I partly did it because I never officially changed my name at school, and I wanted my friends and professors to recognize me up there. But I also did it because I went through 3.5 years of college with that name. It was my name during some of the most important events of my life. It is also the name of my parents–who paid for my education. But even my own sister acted like it was a scandalous, “feminist” thing.
So, in response to Denise’s post, I would say I’m a relative feminist. I’m not for burning bras or banning high heels. I enjoy being a girl, and I’d never want to be anything else. But I don’t appreciate being discriminated against because of my gender. I hate stereotypes, and I hate it when people say ignorant things. I always feel the need to set them straight. And that’s where feminism comes in for me. I’m not always sure what I believe, but I have strong opinions about what I don’t believe.
Before coming to BYU, I don’t think I had much of an opinion about feminism. I just knew that girls were just as good as (or better than) boys at practically everything, and that was about it. My mom would occasionally tell me about how things were different when she went to school, how back then, women in a university setting could basically choose between being a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. But my parents raised me to believe in the importance of education, not just for a future job or salary, but because of its inherent worth.
So when people here act like the only reason for a women to get an education is to become a better mother or provide for her family in case her husband in unable, I argue.*
When girls who are barely out of their teens jump at the chance to live happily ever after or feel like they’re old maids when they’re single at 23, I argue.
When some Mormon girls decide to serve LDS missions at the eligible age of 21 because they feel like (if they’re not seriously dating someone) its the only other meaningful thing they could do with their lives, I argue.
When on a date, a guy told me that he would never let his wife share his bank account, because he didn’t trust her to spend “his” money, I definitely argued (and lost any respect I had for him).
I’m still figuring out what being a feminist means to me. But I do know that I am one. I subscribe to Leonard Swidler‘s definition of feminism:
By a feminist is meant a person who is in favor of, and who promotes, the equality of women with men, a person who advocates and practices treating women primarily as human persons (as men are so treated) and willingly contravenes social customs in so acting.
And I think that the best people to contravene those social customs** are women themselves — by changing the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat each other. By making sure the men in our lives understand why feminism is important. And by being feminists ourselves.
*Okay, so maybe I don’t always argue outright. But I do get really angry inside and fume about it for a few days!
**If you’re interested: Seriously, So Blessed –a parody of a typical Utah stay-at-home-mom’s blog