Reading My ReflectionsWhen I was in fourth grade, my music teacher asked for volunteers to help move folding tables. Of the eight people who raised their hands, I was the only girl. Of the seven people that she chose, I was not one. My nine-year-old world was flipped upside-down by this incident.
I was absolutely irate. For the rest of the forty-five minute class, I sat in silence, fuming over the injustice of society. What automatically made a boy stronger than me? In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft was irate at the notion that men were automatically considered intellectually superior to women.
In truth, she was irate at the notion that women were incapable of being intellectual, period. In her essay, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” she ran down the entire list of the injustices done to women during her time. The list was long and largely accredited to the uneducated lives women led. At a time when the question of whether or not to educate women was very controversial, Wollstonecraft asked, “Considerwhether, when men contend for their freedom, and to be allowed to judge for themselves respecting their own happiness, it be not inconsistent and unjust to subjugate women, even though you firmly believe that you are acting in the manner best calculated to promote their happiness? Who made man the exclusive judge?”(Primis, 10)Women were not given the opportunity to decide for themselves, much less decide that they wanted to be educated. Women were expected to trust that the men were truly acting in the best interest of women when deciding upon their education. They were expected to trust men who did not know how it felt to be the lowest on the food chain. They were not autonomous human beings.
I know how Wollstonecraft felt. I knew how she felt when I was nine and discriminated against merely, and quite obviously, because I was a girl. I had to accept that someone- someone who did not know my capacities as a human being- was deciding what was “in my best interest.” What made a man so much greater than a woman that he should carry all the heavy things and she all the light things? What made a man so much greater than a woman that he should be able to study the great philosophical theories and she study only the knitting and cooking? And what could possibly make society- men! – think that, in keeping women from being students and workers, they were doing us a service?As I sat there in my little plastic chair, listening to my classmates complacently playing their recorders and tambourines, I would have liked to have been Sojourner Truth. I would have liked to have been a six-foot Amazon woman, standing up in front of my classmates and asking, “Aren’t I a woman?” I would have liked to have lifted a folding table by myself and then turned around, shouting, “And aren’t I a woman?!” I would have loved to have stood up as a leader for the other girls my age and shown them that they didn’t have to take ballet lessons and braid their hair and stay out of the mud.
I would have loved to have shown them that they could climb trees and run around and wear baseball caps and get dirty. I would have liked to have shown them that the boys didn’t have to be the only ones moving tables and playing kickball and getting dirty. I wanted to stand up for the injuries done to my young female at the age of nine. I wanted to stand up against all the stereotypes that grown adults should have known better than to buy into.
I would have looked at my music teacher and said, “You are a woman. You should know better than to believe this as true. You should know better than to participate in discriminating against women.” What made it so difficult for me to accept the “sheer cruelty” of my fourth-grade music teacher was that I had never before encountered gender discrimination.
The values my parents taught me at a very young age were progressive and open. The combination of the lifestyles they led and the values I learned made it difficult to deal with sexual discrimination growing up. My parents told me that I would encounter discrimination; I was unwilling to accept it.. Instead I chose to prove myself, therebye being branded a tomboy and encountering further discrimination. Gloria Steinem, in her testimony in support of the ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment of 1972, said, “the most damaged children were not those whose mothers worked, but those whose mothers preferred to work but stayed at home out of role-playing desire to be a ‘good mother'”(Primis, 24).
I was fortunate enough to have a mother who worked and made it clear that her life consisted of much more than my sister and I. My mom worked and went to graduate school, leaving my father to play Mr. Mom. From the very beginning of my life, I did not have a typical concept of how a mother and father were “supposed” to be. My mother was not the homemaker; my father was not the only breadwinner. My parents did not fit a gender stereotype and they never asked or taught me to fit the stereotype of a girl.
I played soccer and basketball and helped with all the typical chores of a rural household. My parents did not expect me to refrain from “moving folding tables,” so to speak, so when my teacher did I was utterly confused and angry. My parents had embodied a sense of total gender equality and my educational institution expected me to abandon that. Dorothy Bromley, in her 1927 essay “Feminist- New Style,” made a very progressive and true statement: “Love may die, and children may grow up, but one’s work goes on forever.” Both of my parents, through working, made it clear to me that there was much more to a person than mother or father, woman or man.
They both sought to be appreciated as mother and father, man and woman, but not at the cost of individualism. It is a lesson that I have been eternally grateful for learning. It is a lesson that I have held on to, despite the confining stereotypes that others have expected me to live up to.I found the readings by Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Steinem, Bromley, and others to be truly reaffirming of my values. They took me back to my childhood and early formative years when my mother and father placed great importance on teaching me that I was just as good as any boy.
They taught me that I was equally, if not smarter, than a boy. They taught me that I was equally as capable of playing sports and building forts and hiking and being clever. The readings reaffirmed everything that my parents taught me, as well as made me extremely appreciative for having such progressive-thinking individuals as role models in a time when so many parents still adhere to the societal gender stereotypes of old. Miscellaneous