Thursday, March 6, 2008

Helveston: Interview

Feminism: Working, Raising a Family, or Both?
I drove home this weekend to see my grandmother, Sally Helveston. She is seventy-eight years old and while at home, I realized that she has lived a long life and might know some very interesting information about Feminism. However, I wondered just how much insight she would give me into what the Feminist movement was like while she was growing up, and then while raising her own children. At the end of our discussion I realized that I had learned so much more then I had dreamed I would. My grandmother has lived through the first, second, and third wave of Feminism and has experienced many of the joys associated with being a woman.
Since my grandmother has lived through all three waves, I decided that it would be interesting to hear her definition of feminism, due to the fact that is has changed throughout the years. She said, “ women who strive to make it in the professional world that are not interested in homemaking.” This was actually the definition I was expecting to hear because she lived most of her life during the second wave, which is when women were pushing for the same rights as men in the workplace. My grandmother was not one of these women though and I think this has to do with where and how she was raised.
My grandmother was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her family owned and worked farms around Dike, Iowa. Each summer, she would go to her uncle’s farm where she fed the pigs and cows daily. She said that her time spent there influenced her likeness of the outdoors and the value that she had for family and hard work. When she was 18, she moved to Mobile, Alabama where she met my grandfather; she married him the following February. That December, my Aunt Cindy was born, soon followed by my father, and then my Aunt Debbie. Her experiences on the farm helped her decide to stay at home and raise her kids. All her life, family was highly valued, so when she had children, she wanted to raise them to have those same values.
My father and his two sisters were raised during the 1950’s when two thirds of women were not part of the work force. Feminists claimed that those choosing not to work were clearly being “duped” into that choice. Many women, including my grandmother, did not feel this way at all. In fact, my grandmother was thrilled to be able to stay at home and raise her children. When I asked her what she remembered about feminism at that time, she said, “not much.” She remembered going to PTA functions, Church meetings, and lunches with friends. Along with those activities mentioned above, she was also busy making sure that her children were taken care of and that dinner was on the table when her husband came home from work.
Jackie Kennedy once said, “If you fail at raising your children, what else matters in life.” My grandmother agrees with this quote, which is why she felt it was so important to be at home, having a positive influence on how her own children would turn out. After all, the actions performed and the things that are said around children are what they learn and repeat. Feminists felt it was critical to have an influence on the business world, but many women during this era realized that their children would be the next generation to join the workforce.
After my dad and his siblings had moved out of the house, my grandmother decided she needed to have something to keep her occupied during the day. She went to work as a manufacturer representative for a man that owned a gift company. Her job was to travel around to local stores and convince them that they should let her boss help them sell their product to other retail stores, such as Hallmark or Target. My grandmother hit it off with the people at the stores she visited and decided to branch off and open her own company. This was during the 1980’s when women were still not of equal status as men were in the workforce. Yet, my grandmother felt she had all the rights she needed as a woman because she was allowed to open a business without any trouble. However, my grandfather had a slightly different feeling. He supported her because she wanted the chance to prove to herself that she could do this, but he was still in the mindset that women should stay at home. He thought he should be the only breadwinner in the house. It was a hard adjustment for him to deal with, but luckily he loved her enough to sacrifice what he wanted so she could be happy.
Now women were allowed in the business world, but it was still a male-dominated industry and a male-dominated world. Many men still considered women to be under-qualified to do the work that men did and to handle the pressure that came with those responsibilities. During this time, men and women were paid very different wages for doing the same jobs. However, my grandmother overcame that struggle and her business, Team Helveston, grew and made a very decent amount of money. In fact, when my grandmother decided to retire, my father took over the business and made it into a multi-million dollar company. The success of Team Helveston proved that a woman could open a successful business without the help of a man.
My grandmother sold the company to my dad in the late 1980’s and went back to being a homemaker. When I asked her if she thought she was a feminist of today, she said that she did not. She is not knowledgeable about the Feminist movement of today, or what is being fought for at this moment. For example, when I asked her if she knew who the Pussycat Dolls were, she gave me a blank look. I described that they were a group of women who wore revealing clothing and danced on stages, while saying that their actions were supporting the feminist movement of the day. After she knew who they were and what they were about, she agreed that while they might be in support of the movement, it did not to seem to be in a very serious way. She is not alone in holding this opinion. When my Women Studies class had a discussion about the article, many of us felt that the Pussycat Dolls do not advocate women’s rights. However, third wave feminism is all about the right to decide how you portray Feminism. Thus, in the eyes of a third-wave feminist, the Pussycat Dolls could be considered Feminist group acting on behalf of women’s rights.
After hearing my grandmother talk about her life, the majority of which she lived during the second wave, I came to the conclusion that my grandmother has had her priorities straight. Her family is the most important thing to her in this world and she has always done whatever is required of her in order to ensure that they are loved and taken care of. The love of her family has always been enough for her to feel content. Even after my grandmother’s children had left and she went to work, she still felt blessed just to have the opportunity to join the workforce. Feminists were pushing for more rights in the workforce, while she was simply happy to take part. My grandmother has been content with what she did, in not pushing for more rights. Personally, I think this is the attitude we should all strive for. Every woman should rely on her own morals and standards to develop a set of rights she feels are necessary for her well being, instead of the morals and standards set by a stranger. I think my grandmother is a perfect role model for the Feminist movement. She is a strong woman who balanced a loving family and demanding job; she has always lived life by her own rules, rather than someone else’s. I hope to live my life the way my grandmother has lived her’s, as a good mother, a good worker, but most of all, as a good woman.

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