Why We Still Need Feminists

We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.

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typing-pool
Typing pool, circa 1950’s. (Photo: Wikipedia.com)

I graduated high school in 1995, having never taken one elective class I’d really wanted to take. Every year I asked my mom, and every year she told me she would refuse to sign off on any schedule in which I tried to register for the class.

 

Keyboarding.
This was just before the advent of the internet, when everyone was on a computer, mobile or otherwise, at all times. Keyboarding, at that time, was a legitimate endeavor. Mainly, you were taught how to type without looking at all at your hands, with your fingers in set positions on a QWERTY keyboard. You were taught to type with decreasing typos and increasing speed.
She flat out refused to let me take it.
For me, the class was a chance to hang out with a different set of kids. I was always in Honors classes, which meant I generally moved through my day surrounded by the same group of classmates. Electives were my chance to maybe sit next to a new guy or see my best friend who didn’t take any Honors classes.
My mom wasn’t having it.
Sure, there were other electives. But orchestra, which I took every year, tended to have mostly those same Honors students in it. Art was a good mix of kids, until I ran out of art classes to take and took an AP Studio Art class that allowed me to take photography as an independent study.
There were five kids in that class.
I’d ask her why and she always answered that there were so many electives available to me. Pick another one.
Within a year of my graduation, the internet exploded with dial up and AOL and chat rooms.
I was working part time for my mom and her friend the summer after graduation. They’d started their own benefits consulting firm. My dad had left the previous year and my mom needed to earn more money in order to support us alone, so her and her friend figured that was their best shot at higher salaries. Paying themselves.
She’d give me a document or letter to type up and I’d tease her.
I could be typing this way quicker if you’d have let me take keyboarding.
She’d give me a smartass reply and move on.
That fall I started college at a private, four-year university nearby to which I earned a partial scholarship. Two weeks later, without discussing it with my mother, I went down to the registrar and signed myself out.
She’d had to declare bankruptcy and sell our home after my dad left. We were living in an apartment, her and my brother and I, and she was trying to make her new business work so she could better support us. It felt like, at the time, the best thing I could do was not strap her with more debt. Not be another source of worry for her. I felt it was best if I got out and got myself a full time job and supported myself. So I found one and quit school before we were responsible for any tuition.
That night we sat at our kitchen table discussing what I’d done.
She looked tired.
You always said you wanted to be a lawyer.
I shrugged. Yeah, well I’m not really feeling that anyway. I’d be racking up all this debt when I don’t really know what I even want to do.
My mom wasn’t having it. She begged and cried and I was stubborn and cried. Then she finally told me.
I never let you take that stupid keyboarding class because I wanted you to have all the opportunities I never had. When I went to school, all the girls were told to take keyboarding. Because if you weren’t going to be a teacher or a nurse, you were going to be a secretary somewhere until you found a guy to marry you. Which is exactly what I did. I never let you take that class because I wanted you to be in a position where you could hire your own fucking secretary if you needed something typed.
 
___________________________________________
Men, and often women, comment on my writing about feminism.
You want equal rights? You got ’em. Shut up already.
What are you even marching for?
I have never felt inferior to men. I earn the same as them. I don’t know what you people are talking about.
It doesn’t seem to matter to these people what our national statistics say. Or that the statistics are even worse for some minorities.
I am a feminist because we are not treated as equals.
 
Our pay is not equal. Our representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect my health and body, and that is not equal.
I am a feminist because minority men and women are not treated as equals.
 
Their pay is not equal. Their representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect their health and bodies, and that is not equal.

Putting aside all of that, I am a feminist because our hold on these freedoms you claim we have feels tenuous, at best.

We’re not talking about generations of freedom. One generation ago my mother had to take a keyboarding class in order to graduate high school because that, typing out letters, was considered her best option for employment until she got married.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she was legally allowed to have a credit card in her name. And that was only because a female congresswoman, unbeknownst to her colleagues, added the language banning discrimination based on sex and marriage. The law was going to be passed without it.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother and could legally be fired from her job for getting pregnant.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she could even report sexual harassment. Actually, make that less than a generation ago. Because sexual harassment wasn’t legally defined until I was three years old. 
Less than a generation ago? In MY lifetime, my mother still could be excluded from being on a jury because she was a woman. Still could legally be discriminated against in regards to housing and credit because she was a woman. Still had her husband considered “head and master” by many states in regards to jointly owned property. Still could be legally passed up for promotion in a law firm for being a woman. Until I was 16 years old, it was still legal in some states to rape your spouse. Until I was 16, a woman had to prove she’d been physically or psychologically harmed in order to claim she’d been sexually harassed. (Click here for a quick reference to all the claims made in this paragraph.)
Just because you personally are not experiencing something, doesn’t mean others, elsewhere, aren’t experiencing it. Women across the country are earning less than their male counterparts. We are severely underrepresented in government. That includes local and state representation, not just federal. We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.
So I’m a feminist. You don’t have to agree with me, but it would be nice if you stopped trying to tell me to give it up.
Either way, I’ll still be a feminist. For all of us.

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