17 November 2009

Women Unbound Start-of-Challenge Meme

For inquiring minds:

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

I think that none of us should be limited as to life choice by simple virtue of chromosome assortment.  I have two X chromosomes - meaning I am biochemically and physically capable of bearing children and displaying female sex characteristics - but that doesn't mean I can't learn complex tasks or do physically exacting tasks (being estrogen-positive I don't have the testosterone level capable of building bulk muscle so I can't quite match up to the XY assortment on sheer strength).  If I so choose I can be an aerospace engineer, a firefighter, or a stay-at-home mom.  However, on the flip side I also feel a male should have just as much choice even to the point of being the stay-at-home parent (which is still a socially discouraged role in the twenty-first century).  I have very often delighted at being the smartest person in the room particularly when that room is full of boys who think I don't have a brain because I have a heavy-duty bra size and working ovaries. 

I think feminism applies to all aspects of life from the boardroom to the home.  Aside from the biological imperative, there shouldn't be "boys jobs" and "girls jobs" - if neither partner wants to stay home and take care of the kids then they need a sitter rather than assume that one partner will stay home simply because one of them happens to be female (or male, for that matter).  Being a feminist means that I want to be respected for who I am.  I personally don't dress promiscuously, and I'm not ever going to burn my bras because I need them, but no one ever died because they saw a woman wearing a short skirt or sans lingerie (it might be aesthetically revolting but it is a free country).  Ditto on the social life; I do not sleep around because that's pretty much inviting either an STD or a pregnancy, neither of which I want, but if you're going to call a girl a slut for having multiple partners the guys can partake of that appellation, too.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Yes.  I give a lot of credit for my attitude to my father who always thought that his first-born child should be able to do anything she wants, period (which is why I know how to play baseball not softball).  He kicked my butt for not getting good grades (giving me enough rope to get a taste of failure through procrastination - thanks, Dad) but let me choose my own hobbies (I was on the dance team, band, choir, drama, show choir, jazz band, etc).  When I wanted to be a doctor my parents were behind me one hundred percent without pressure to get married and have kids rather than spend my days studying and taking care of sick people.  I didn't go to medical school (stupid admissions committee) but my parents always made it clear that nothing was "too hard" for me because I was a girl.

I'm a member of the co-ed professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma - right now, I serve as a district counselor - and I joined when I was in undergrad.  No one was ever valued more or less because they happened to be a girl and many of us also helped out with WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).  AXS also hosts Merit Badge days for Boy and Girl Scouts.  I had a pretty sad day at one Merit Badge program.  Another (female) member of AXS and I were taking a group of Girl Scouts through a laboratory tour, showing off all the cool lab toys, and at the end of the tour we asked who wanted to learn chemistry - all the girls in the group declined, it was "too hard" and, according to one 11-ish year old girl, for boys.  We were floored; the majority of the presenters that day were women and we had just finished off with flame-testing where the girls oohed-and-aaahhhed over the colors...too hard? For boys?  The scientist-women in the 1950s and 1960s had to endure a lot, often as the only woman in an entire lecture, to give me the opportunity to learn in an environment that's approximately 50-50 on gender and I worked my butt off to prove that I belonged in that classroom.  Now these girls are ready to just throw it away because someone told them it was too hard or for boys?  Where do these girls go to school?  I decided to throw them a curve ball and asked this group of middle-school girls who wanted to be a doctor or veterinarian (I noticed several of the girls wearing old riding boots) - and nearly every girl raised their hand.  I then pointed out that veterinarians and doctors have to take at least four semesters of college chemistry before taking entrance exams....the girls looked very thoughtful at that point and I further made the point that every "girl" they met that day posted excellent grades in chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics, that nothing was too hard.  I hope I changed a few minds that day.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

I think prejudice against education and choice are the two biggest problems women face (as evidenced by my above example).  A lot of barriers have been broken as far as workplace, benefits, education, etc., but there's still an attitude that persists that women just aren't worthy of education or high-level employment.  The prejudice that an inherent "femaleness" prevents one from performing serious intellectual work or working while bearing children still exists even in the United States; I've occasionally run into that myself (most noteably in the form of a cocky red-neck frat-boy in my organic chemistry class who boasted about being soooo smart, so much smarter than any girl, and four of us "chicks" pasted his butt on our final).  It takes culture change and while there are still males who feel threatened by intelligent, strong women that prejudice will still propagate.


  1. These are all really good responses- I like how you give examples to back up your opinions as well. Clearly, your dad has taught you well :-)
    Thanks for participating!

  2. I'm glad I re-read the challenge post again - I would have been kicking myself later in the year :)