As I was pondering my encounters with feminism, my immediate response was that I encountered feminism as a first-year graduate student. I had not really expanded my thinking at that time, and I was often surprised by professors who seemingly brought up feminism all of the time in our class readings. Only once I had delved more into reading books from a wide range of authors, and listened to the ways that professionals viewed topics and events, was I able to begin to understand feminism. All of this was, as noted, my immediate response to our first question. However, once I started thinking more about how feminism can appear in subtle ways, and can often appear through anti-feminist remarks, I searched back for a time that I had really thought about my place in the world as a girl, and how we can experience gendered comments at a very young age:
I vividly remember my mother telling me and my sisters as young children (ages 7, 6, and 3): “Never marry a man that makes less money than you. You will end up supporting him, and then you will be responsible for all sorts of things.”
What is slightly laughable about this comment is that my mother’s words did not fall on deaf ears; she may have thought that a six-year old would not remember them. I still remember them, and have thought about her words since that day. Even then I understood her pedagogical lesson: my father made a much lower salary than my mother, and caused consistent strain on their marriage. As a self-proclaimed daddy’s girl, my inner response then was negative: How could you say that about someone I love more than anything? Does it really matter that he doesn’t make as much money as you? As a six-year old, what was I to do? The comment came to haunt me more and more over the years, as it both repulsed me and confused me. My mother was an extremely tough woman, and made a better living than my father–isn’t that a good example of how feminism has broadened opportunities for women? Would I consider my mom a feminist or at least someone that benefited from feminism? Her actions and her words did not seem to make sense with one another. Here she was, showing me that I could become a successful woman and even make more money than my husband, while at the same time denouncing the facts of her life.
Shaping myself into a more well-read person has allowed me to view her words from different angles, and to understand the surrounding factors of our family life. Just by looking at my family, outsiders would agree that we are more privileged than most. My family is white, both of my parents have had consistent jobs, all of us children attended private schooling, and we had a set of grandparents that provided childcare. There was an instance where I was personally discriminated against for my religion: a cashier at a novelty shop asked if I was Catholic and proceeded to add $5 to my purchase total when I responded “yes.” However, there are countless other examples that I could provide that deal with personal gender and sex discrimination: off-the-cuff remarks about women in general, the expectations that I stay home once I have children, as well as sexual assaults from strange men and even boyfriends who assume that style of dress and flirtations means openness to grabbing and forceful encounters. All of these instances have pushed me to study why feminism is important, and to continuously push other people’s opinions about feminism.
All of this is also what has brought me to a course on feminist critical theory. Even with a Master’s thesis under my belt, I do not think that I have succinctly understood feminist critical theory and the variations from different feminist authors. The expectations that I hold for my learning in this course is that I will read more from well-known feminists, and I can understand why there are great differences among women (both today, and decades ago). I predict that our studies and readings will influence not only how I teach American history to my students, but also how I view events and shape my frame of mind when I read. I hope that I will be better suited to create and argue a stance when faced with modern issues, and that we can also have an open and honest discussion about feminism in our world.