Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Downey: Interview

There is no Cookie-Cutter Feminism

I met Faye many years ago. I have heard many stories about her growing up with 6 sisters and 3 brothers in a big catholic family in Louisville, Kentucky. She has told me many stories about raising her three kids, moving all over the country while the love of her life was stationed overseas for the Marine Corps. Today she works at Chattahoochee Technical College as a campus manager and, as she told me in our interview, struggles daily with issues that are central to women. I was somewhat concerned about our interview because Faye had a very conservative upbringing and I was unsure how she would feel about me asking her about sexuality and various other important issues. From the experiences of a conservative, catholic, southern white woman, you will see that even she can be a feminist.
Faye was born in 1954 making her 15 years old when Betty Freidan wrote The Feminine Mystique. A day in the life of a typical 15 year old girl does not involve equal pay picketing, reading about housewives, or fighting for women’s liberation. She does remember The Feminine Mystique coming out but she could not recall hearing about Betty Freidan. Two women that have stuck out in Faye’s mind were the actress Jane Fonda and Billie Jean King, a tennis player who changed women’s sports forever. Because Faye has a background in the military, with her father being in the Navy and her husband in the Marine Corps, its no wonder that Jane Fonda stands out. Fonda did not fight for women’s rights but she was a key player in the anti-Vietnam War protests making her an enemy to almost all veterans.
Being with a husband who is at the country’s call was hard on Faye. She not only had to raise kids but she had to constantly move, make new friends along the way and find the time to take care of herself. It made me wonder if being in that situation shaped her feminist views. After taking a minute to think about this question she explained to me that being in that atmosphere made her the strongest woman she could be today, allowing her to fight for what she wants in life. I found this very inspiring, that in the most difficult situation she found her strength.
When you think about feminists you would not picture a conservative catholic woman, which is why I was very interested in Faye’s upbringing. She told me that her mother “probably thought that women’s lib was a bunch of crap,” when I asked her if her mother was interested in women’s issues. “My mother was too busy trying to raise a family of 10 to care about what women were fighting for” Faye explained to me. Even though her mother was “too busy to notice,” she always pushed her girls the same, if not more than the boys to get involved in sports and to get an education. She did not just push Faye’s brothers she wanted the girls to be just as great. Being very traditional, with her values grounded in her catholic faith, Faye’s mother may have been appalled by the new found women’s strength; these values of course were passed to Faye, which explain her current conservative views about abortion, sexuality, and privilege
Three very taboo subjects to talk about in today’s society would have to be sex, privilege, and abortion, and I will admit that it was not easy to discuss these issues with Faye. I was almost positive about her stances on these issues but my curiosity begged me to ask her. Can you be pro-life and still be a feminist? There was no need for me to ask whether she was pro-choice or pro-life because I already know that she is pro-life. Her answer to this pressing question is yes. You can be both pro-life and feminist because there is no cookie-cutter definition of feminism. She believes that different types of feminists exist, some are more conservative than others, and that is okay. Somewhat expecting to hear her say no, It surprised me to hear her outline a point we have been talking about in class all year.
So what did Faye have to say about modern feminists trying to reclaim their sexuality? Through the awkward air she managed to find an answer, which also surprised me. “Everyone needs to find their own comfort zone,” she explains to me. Not every girl will want to reclaim her own sexual being, but Faye agrees that women who choose to have open sex are treated differently than men who choose to do the same. I think she had a really hard time with this question mainly because she was picturing her two daughters having open sexual relationships. The thought of this inclined Faye to disagree with the modern feminists; “I have conservative views because I am a mother,” she kept repeating.
Peggy McIntosh talks about privilege in her piece “The Invisible Knapsack.” She writes about how people often recognize that they are underprivileged but they hardly ever see that they are over-privileged. Explaining this to Faye she caught on immediately. I invited her to tell me something that makes her feel over-privileged. “Feeling safe,” she told me. She hesitated when talking about race and socio-economic status for fear of sounding racist or rude. She explained to me that she feels lucky because she lives in a rich, predominantly white area, and she has feelings of guilt for feeling so safe. She does not have to worry about what is going to happen when she leaves the house, and that makes her feel very privileged.
During my interview the subject that came up the most, and that Faye told me was the most important issue to her, was equality in the workplace and home. The modern woman often goes to work and then is expected to come home to more responsibilities than a man would. Faye works on a college campus, as the campus manager, basically running the campus and its day to day functions. She feels women should be able to go to work and be looked at as a professional and an equal; not just as a pretty woman. The women of the second wave of feminism have made a difference according to Faye, stating “It has taken until the 21st century to achieve the things they fought for, but they have made their impact.” Things like equal pay for equal work are still not up to par, but she believes that we have almost made it there.
Hearing her experience in the workplace I was not surprised to find out that she had been caught in a double-bind at her job. After I explained what a double-bind was, she immediately recalled a specific situation. She told me that at work she has to be very professional because she has to make everyone happy. The women in her office often think she is not friendly because she does not sit and gossip with them all day, but if she did the older people in the office would not take her seriously. So she is caught in the middle; she is damned if she is social and she is damned if she is not. Despite the problems in her office and her concern with issues in the work place, ultimately, Faye believes that it is the woman’s choice whether or not she wants to stay at home and take care of her children or go to work outside of her home. Although being a mom is the most important job a woman will ever have, if she chooses to have kids, a woman can and should be able to do both. This answer surprised me as well. After hearing about her experiences at work I expected her to encourage women to work outside of the home, but she kept insisting that a woman should choose what makes her feel fulfilled.
Faye finds her inspiration through her family. She is content as a woman knowing that her family is happy and that she was strong enough to raise 3 children who have grown up to be smart and independent. To her, the most important thing about being a woman in modern society is being fulfilled with her job, family, and economic status. Faye is a very inspiring woman and I am proud to call her my mother. That’s right, she is my mother. I interviewed my mom because, honestly these are issues I had never really talked to her about. I was most shocked during my interview to find out that my mom identified as a feminist! Her personal working definition of feminism, as it means to her is this: Woman: has inner beauty and outer strength allowing her to be respected, admired, and valued by her peers so that she is seen as an equal. This definition is hopeful and uplifting. The way my mother has been raised, and has raised me and my sister, we have the ability to achieve the things listed in her definition. My mom also made some very good points about the struggle of women; she says “Some women will never really achieve what they want because they may not know exactly what they can fight and fight for what you think you want but you will never stop fighting.” What I think she means by this is that the struggle for women will never be over. There will always be something to want. So what advice can a mother who is a conservative, catholic, pro-life feminist give to young women today? “Persevere in your convictions, don’t back down from anything you believe in, stay strong, and work hard for what you want because the fight will never end.”

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