A few days ago I was having lunch with DrMrA and the BigA, while the BigA was on a break from testing out of the next grade level at math. We’ve been pushing her in math- because she is not challenged in math at school…and we know that eventually she needs to be better than the boys to just as well. This last is a sad fact that I wish weren’t the case, but it is.
During lunch us grown-ups thought we were talking over her head about recent events involving prominent women and feminist conversations that I’ve been eavesdropping on here in the blogosphere, but the BigA was actually paying quite careful attention. And she came out with the question:
Mommy, what is feminism?
This is an important conversation to have with my eleven year old daughter. I’ve been going through a lot of soul searching about my own particular brand of feminism lately. I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist- as someone who wishes for and works for equal rights and protections for women ( Ahem… ah- because I am one, a woman I mean), but I realize there are lots of different levels of this.
Maybe I don’t always go the distance that I should or could, and that’s been bugging me quite a bit. In some ways I’ve been trying to choose my battles, separate the major (i.e. she got a poor performance evaluation or no mentoring because she’s a woman) from those that feel less major (an insensitive joke, a sideways glance to the wrong place). And hell, sometimes, being a girl who was trained by society never to offend, I just plain don’t have a quick response to the insensitive jokes, or with someone carrying these just one step too far. But when I come to read about feminism, and maybe even feminism put to use to improve the lot of women in science, in the blogosphere- I always leave feeling like even the minor battles represent something major- and by prioritizing the battles that I fight for and the ones I let go- I’m somehow not a ‘real’ feminist. And boy oh boy that’s an uncomfortable feeling that I struggle with- especially because a) I am a girl and b) because I’m putting two daughters out there into the patriarchy world.
I’ve been so proud that there are women in prominent academic positions popping up here and here, and well here and here and there…(not academic but let’s not forget this one… because I cried watching her take the job as speaker). Seeing all of this, makes me believe that anything is possible, that feminism has done its’ job- or is doing its job and the playing field is becoming more level. But in recent weeks I’ve been confronted with some issues I had hoped no longer exist… that I just think we should be over with in 2009. For those of you that don’t know- the first woman and the first Hispanic to lead Texas A&M… in like… well, EVER, just lost her job. The reasons for this have been poorly elaborated but they don’t pass my smell test. I’m not sayin’ she lost her job because she is a girl, but in what I can only imagine is a hotbed of good ol’ boy-ism (remember A&M didn’t even admit women until the 1970s)… what were the 1000 small (or maybe not so small) cuts that contributed to her decision in the face of what appeared to be her imminent firing after only a short time on the job? What conglomeration of ‘less major’ incidents created the atmosphere that allowed this to happen?
I’m thinking I’m going to have to re-evaluate which battles I’m fighting with respect to my gender, because they all feel pretty major right now. And I’ve got an 11 year old daughter.