Graduate school is all I had hoped it would be… and despite my urge to complain about the amount of reading and the frequency with which I am required to turn in papers, I am enjoying it immensely (so far).
My very first graduate level class is also my very first class to discuss feminism in an academic context, and that has been really eye-opening. As a girl growing up with a conservative father, listening to Rush Limbaugh on every road trip and snickering at the image of “Feminazi’s” -I had no idea what feminism truly was. It wasn’t something we talked about candidly. I discovered my mother’s copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” on a bookshelf in our basement and I remember feeling as if I had found something mysterious and forbidden. I cracked open it’s pages as a 10 year old kid with no interest in sexuality and even less belief in the realities of sexual oppression in our culture. It talked about nakedness and female reproductive organs and that’s about all I can remember. I put it back and pulled down my father’s books on nude photography instead -the nakedness in them was much more artistic.
I enjoyed looking at (lusting to look like?) the female forms of the models, and felt that it was an innocent appreciation based on aesthetics and not societal coding. Unfortunately for my young self, the models in the book all fit within a certain narrowly defined standard of attractiveness that was not, would never be, my destiny. I grew into a full figured woman very early, and two ten-pound babies later I’ve abandoned any hope that I’ll ever be a waifish nude model.
Flash forward about 23 years and I’m just beginning to realize the scope of the battle being fought for equality -and the even larger media campaign that saturates us with the belief that our sexuality is our power and that shopping comes in at a close second. We’ve been programmed to roll our eyes at the word “Feminist” and tell our daughters that we got the vote over 90 years ago so there’s no more need to make a fuss. Worse yet, our daughters are being encoded with these same values and pursuing partnership with the opposite sex at younger and younger ages. I watch the daughters of my friends and neighbors as they gravitate toward boyfriends and makeup and fashion as social currency and it breaks my heart. Worse yet, I engage in discussions with other adults (sometimes the mothers of girls like this) and they don’t believe there’s a problem.
As if to punctuate my current course of study, I had an experience last week that sealed my belief in the need for strident feminists to speak up and integrate themselves into the popular dialogue of today’s global village.
Our washing machine had been broken for several months, and my husband works full time while I bounce between school and child-rearing and working several independent contract-based jobs. I took the time to google it and decided I’d try and repair the machine myself. Using forums and online instruction manuals, I got the washer taken apart and pulled off the motor to check the coupling -which I had tentatively diagnosed as the problem. As it turned out, the coupling looked just fine but the motor clips were badly rusted and after a few hours of tinkering I wound up frustrated and bruised and ready to just replace the damn thing.
I shopped around to find the best price, and at one used appliance store I had a dialogue that sort of blew my mind. Walking in, I was approached by a salesman who asked if he could help me, and I explained that I was looking for a good deal on a washer. He led me to a few, I found one that I sort of liked (but it was a hundred bucks more than another one I’d spotted at another store) and I asked a few questions about it. His responses to my questions started with him reading the sticker to me and got progressively more condescending. Eventually, after spending a full couple of minutes explaining to me how a Downy ball works, he just tapped on the top of the machine and said, “these things are just full of twiddlydinks”.
It was one of those moments that you relive, over and over again, coming up with a better comeback each time. What actually happened at that point was that I told him I’d have to look around and consult with my husband before making a purchase. In hindsight -that was probably a language he understood and would explain why he left me the hell alone for the rest of my visit. I don’t consider that a cop out -because my husband would not make a purchase that large without consulting me either -our finances are something we both have to agree upon.
Still… if I could go back in time, there are a number of really great responses I’ve come up with in the theater of my own memory. What would you have said in my situation?