Friday, March 7, 2008

Choisnet: Interview

For as long as I’ve known Judy Logsdon, I’ve never really known how to explain my relationship to her to others. She met my grandfather a couple of years after my grandparents divorced, and they’ve been together ever since. So, “step-grandmother?” That just sounds weird, and it technically isn’t true, since they aren’t married. “Girlfriend” makes it sound like my grandpa is seeing someone half his age, which rarely conjures up pleasant mental images. “Partner” is more accurate, and I’ve seen it used to describe them in a newspaper clipping. But that word makes me think of homosexual couples first and foremost, as faulty as my reasoning is. So I usually end up digging out some old-fashioned terminology and referring to Judy as my grandpa’s “lady friend.”
Whatever I call her, Judy’s the kind of person I’d like to be when I hit 60, like she is now. She’s the type of woman you read about in novels, the cool, artsy supporting character who always impresses the protagonist with her unique spirit and offers advice from a creative viewpoint. Unfortunately, due to the emotional baggage caused by my grandparents’ divorce (in which Judy had no part), I have always been somewhat distant with her, despite my appreciation for her spirit.
I could claim that I decided to interview Judy as an opportunity to get to know her better and find some additional common ground for us, but in all honesty, that sort of thinking only came in hindsight. I did know that with a character like hers, Judy would be an ideal subject for this type of assignment. Aside from receiving further confirmation that she’s a truly interesting person, I did get to understand Judy’s experiences as a young woman and the way they helped shape her into the person I know today. And while it may not have been my first and foremost intention, I did realize that Judy and I both care about how being female affects a person’s life in this world, and that epiphany has helped me to be willing to open up to her a little more than I have before.
Ironically, considering how we’ve discussed and been tested on the different factions of feminism in class, Judy told me that she’s “still unclear after all these years as to what a feminist really is” when I asked her if she considered herself to be one.
We both developed our opinions on feminism fairly early on in our lives, although those opinions went in different directions. After a childhood spent cheering for the pink and yellow Power Rangers and wondering why there didn’t seem to be many fairy tales where the princess ended up saving the day instead of being a pretty damsel in distress (even to this day, that phrase makes me cringe a little), I was all for the idea of girls being every bit as tough and capable as the boys, even while they still looked pretty. Judy’s “first perception of feminism,” on the other hand, “was the radical behavior, like women in Chicago marching and burning their bras.” Despite her cautious opinion of the feminists of the 1960’s, Judy did support women having more reproductive rights and “opening the job market for women.”
I also discovered that we, in a way, shared opinions on The Feminine Mystique. My primary impression of the book, without getting a chance to read it in its entirety, was that Betty Friedan was taking an overly critical point of view toward housewives, claiming that every woman who was a wife and mother was secretly neurotic because of her life. Judy’s first reaction to The Feminine Mystique was much simpler: she had “bought it at Rexall’s Drugstore when [she] was about fifteen,” thinking that it was “a book of beauty tips.” Her early disappointment had prompted her to put the book down and never read it again, but when told about its subject matter, she said that she “never thought that being a wife and mother would be boring, but [she] always knew that [she] would have a job outside of being a wife and mother, […] so [she] wouldn’t feel bored or empty.”
That job first came in the form of working as a PR assistant for a major corporation. Shortly after Judy started working, her boss fell ill, and his duties passed on to her. When it became clear that her boss would not be coming back, Judy was irritated to find out that the higher-ups would not be giving her the job she had already been working on a permanent basis, because “a woman had never been a PR director before, and it was a man’s job.” It took another year of working both jobs to convince them that Judy was capable of doing the work she had already been in charge of. In doing such, she became both the first woman and the youngest person in that corporation to receive that position. “That’s one of my accomplishments that I go back to, when I talk about my career, that I was able to break ground there,” Judy told me. I was thoroughly impressed that she had accomplished such a thing in the days before such words from an employer would guarantee a lawsuit and a PR nightmare. Looking back on those times, Judy was “horrified” to realize that such practices were the norm, and that certain jobs were simply part of a “man’s world.” Knowing that women have come so far since then has put both our minds at ease, and we have hope for further improvements in the future.
Another thing that Judy and I talked about was women’s health care. I knew that, as someone who has been battling with breast cancer for years now, she would have strong opinions on the subject. Judy pointed out that while plenty of money and hours are being poured into breast cancer research, not as much attention is being paid to cancers that affect men more often than women. As a participant in multiple Relay For Life events, I have also noticed that there are usually more signs and booths dedicated to breast cancer and skin cancer awareness than prostrate cancer.
Judy and I wrapped up our interview by talking about where we think feminism stands today. As she had told me at the beginning, despite her uncertainty as to what a feminist was today, she “would say ‘yes’ rather than no’” regarding whether or not she would call herself one. She went on to explain that, as more options are available to women now than there were in the 1960’s, such as roles available in media or a singer’s choice to show off her sensuality without it being exploitative, things have improved for women today. “I think we have evolved, and it would be hard to find a woman, even one of my age, who does not agree with feminist principles today,” she explained. However, she was worried that women today may too easily “take for granted that women’s rights are always going to be upheld.” When I think about the horrors we hear on the news about women from foreign cultures being mutilated or murdered for daring to step beyond the boundaries a patriarchal society has set up for them, I can’t help but agree. The comment also made me think of The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel by Margaret Atwood that describes a disturbing society run by a fundamentalist Christian regime, in which women have been stripped of their civil rights and are reduced to living as “Wives” or “Handmaids,” whose role is solely to bear children in a world where most of the population is sterile. As Judy warns, we must always be “vigilant and focused,” ready to protect our rights as human beings should the need arise.

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