Wednesday, March 5, 2008


The woman I chose to interview has been, and is, an extremely important figure in my life. Her name is Able Rae. She was a teacher, friend, companion, mentor, playmate and stand in parent for me from about the ages of eleven to fourteen. Although she was supposed to just simply help me with my home schooling and teach me English, math, and science, she ended up teaching me more than I ever learned from any book. We would take breaks from our regular studies to read books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jane Austen, and many other interesting historical and cultural things. She taught me to open my mind and expand my consciousness by taking in every bit of information I was faced with and learn from it. What I never had thought of before, until prompted by this project, was what her stance was on women and feminism. Through my interview with Able I learned how her upbringing has shaped her belief of what feminism truly is and how she identifies. What I learned from her opened my eyes to a new side of feminism that involves much more of the whole population rather than just women who feel oppressed and that it is self-realization that truly empowers women.

Able Rae was born on June 7, 1956 in the small town of Perry, Georgia. The time and place that she was born into was not one where women were extremely empowered and
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the main focus was not on the oppression of women, but on the oppression of black people. During her the beginning of her high school years her school and the neighboring black school were integrated. For her this was an extremely trying time because of the tension that was created by combining these two schools. The atmosphere was not one that she felt comfortable in, not because of the new students that were now at her school, but because of the violence that she dealt with daily because of the integration. She decided to speed up her time in high school and graduated early to get away from all of the conflict. After graduation she left her small hometown to attend Berry College in Georgia. It wasn’t the things that happened after her high school years that formed her opinion of women, but the people and things she was surrounded by during her childhood.

For girls, mothers are usually the biggest influences on them during their childhood years. No matter how much we all, as girls and women, want to deny it, we are like are mothers in at least some ways. When asked about her childhood Able reiterated many times how influential her mother was. She described her mother as “the stronger figure in my family. I always thought about women as powerful when I was younger because my grandmother was the stronger figure also. The men (my father and grandfather) were both strong and huge (physically) but the women ruled the roost. I saw that my mother felt herself limited to being a schoolteacher. But, she went back to school and got even more degrees when I was a child. She was a superwoman figure before this was even a character. She went back to UGA to get her degrees yet never missed one of her
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children’s sporting events or recitals. Even though she was empowered, she still felt herself limited. When I was younger I hardly knew she was even in school except when she wasn’t around. I didn’t really think about women as powerful at the time but for the powerful women I felt that their options were limited to being nurses and teachers.” Our conversation progressed and moved from Able’s childhood to the topic of when she first truly ever felt that there was an inequality between women and men.

She proceeded to tell me a fascinating story about her time spent as a secretary at a prominently male law firm in Atlanta. The description of the work environment she was subject to was completely dominated by arrogant, sexist and sexually harassing young wealthy lawyers. She said that it was while working for these men that she first began to see the problem between men and women in our society. But, she added in a most interesting comment after this story, “I much preferred working for male lawyers rather than females because the female lawyers at the time were basically trying to be males. They dressed, acted and tried to emanate maleness. One of the women I worked for even wore loafers and smoked a pipe. She was married, but yet tried with every fiber of her being to be male.” From this story I began to get a sense from Able that yes of course she is interested in the empowerment of women but she is more interested in it coming from inside themselves and being for themselves rather than for their image in a sense.

During her years at Berry College Able told me that it wasn’t a time that she thought very much at all about feminism or the oppression of women because she was
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“…disenfranchised from the society as a whole. I was so self-absorbed and trying to find myself because I had been under the thumb of this serious controlling woman (my mother) my whole life. I was mainly just rebelling against her and not even thinking about feminism.” I asked her a few final questions and ended my interview with a question that we were all asked on the first day of Women’s Studies, what is your definition of Feminism? She admitted to having looked it up in the dictionary prior to our interview just to be ready for this question and that she found the definition good, but not exactly what she would say. To her, feminism is about being “self-realized” as both a female and a human being. She elaborated further by saying, “It is not simply the opposition of my males or that we all should be equal. It is when you become self-realized, male or female, and then there is no glass ceiling and you can truly be yourself. Women and men both have their own issues to deal with, and we all just scoot along in our own little world. One problem for women is that males suppress us, but guess what, they always will. The sooner you figure this out the better off you will be. I liken this to my brother sending his children to a private school with no black people. I don’t think that sending them to a school where they don’t interact with black people will help them to overcome the problems that exist in the world. My view of constructive feminism is becoming fully self-realized as a woman and as a person. Women have been given a huge power, just by the natural fact that they are women and that they are more intuitive and have all of these natural talents that aren’t valued by society or even themselves.” Hearing her view on feminism really actually helped me to concrete my view on the place of feminism in our world.
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Feminism to me is still very prevalent in our society, but as Able reiterated for me, it is a fight that is never ending. Once a group of people get an idea in their head it is hard for them to see that they are making good progress and in a sense they almost become hard headed and just keep on fighting for the sake of it. Able related the insignificance of the oppression of woman on a global scale to the real problems of oppression such as the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you sit down and think about feminism, yes it is a good thing and has made some major progress, but there are so many other conflicts that we could put our energy into solving rather than in a sense focusing on ourselves. What Able was trying to get at by telling me about the other conflicts was that we must realize our inner selves to truly become empowered and aware people.
As we continued to speak for some time on her feelings of why she always rebelled from her oppressive mother and world conflicts, she stopped and said to me something that she had probably said to me everyday that we spent together in my younger years, “Had, has anyone told you today that you can do anything you want to and put your mind to?” I answered “no”, and she continued with her thought, “I always told you everyday when I was teaching you that you could do anything because I wanted to empower you and not oppress you like my mother did to me. I know that what had happened to me had not worked so I thought something else might. I really wanted that to be your experience so I tried to make it that way as much as I could. And I felt really, really gifted to have you in my life like and it was almost as if the universe came to me and said ‘here is a way that you can make it right’ by helping someone else. I guess it is almost karma in a sense.”
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After she told me this it really took me back and made me think about all the times she had said this to me and I had simply shrugged it off and kept on going with what I was doing. Now, it meant something completely different to me. Being older, I know see what she was trying to do by always assuring me of myself. She was setting me up to be what I am today, a UGA athlete and educated human being who is self-realized (as much as I can be at nineteen) and who is aware that I am not the most important thing in the world. Able has taught me math, science and English, and now after this interview she has showed me how to apply the life lessons she threw in there during our schooling.

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