Friday, March 7, 2008

Interview: Williams

Evon Willams

Kristen McCauliff

WMST 2010

7 March 2008

Island Life Isn’t So Breezy

As she described a time when gender issues were rarely discussed, children frolicked in the sun freely, and women “knew their place,” I listen intently as she conveys the dynamics of life in Jamaica. Her island lilt is now commonplace to me, but I still enjoy listening to her speak. The woman telling her story is my mother, Jean Williams. As she talks about her youth, I zone off and remember mine. I’ve fostered fond memories of life as a jersey girl with two foreign parents, but this is the first time that I have truly heard her about the journey of my predecessor, my mother. Through her storytelling and scholarly sources this analysis shows that although she does not participate in marches or feminist rallies, Jean Williams is an example of a 2nd wave feminist. Not only does her life reinforce second wave feminism, but her experience is unique. She must deal with her own cultural differences as well as the pressures of assimilating into an all white culture where “white” equals “normal.” Any deviations from this track isolate a woman, especially a woman like Jean Williams, but she is a prime example of the silent woman who redefines what characterizes her sex.

According to, second wave feminism encourages women to recognize that they possess the power to achieve more than what the world deems suitable for them. It also promotes the idea that a woman’s life is not limited to staying home and motherhood, but rather, achievement and options for careers are all attainable goals. To illustrate how Jean Williams belongs to the second wave of feminism, we must begin with her youth. She lived a humble life in a small country parish, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. As the sixth child out of seven children, she was looked after by her older siblings. Especially after her father passed away at the age of three, the community and her extended family were responsible for her development. She acknowledges that her mother was the most influential person in her life because she took on the role of both parents. Nonetheless, my mother describes her childhood fondly and thanks her extended family for their involvement.

As the interview progressed, we talked about school and certain unacknowledged facets of sexism were outlined. She talked about wanting to play cricket as a child and how that was viewed as unacceptable for girls. Instead, she was encouraged to join girl scouts. But, she was determined to participate in athletics and so she began playing basketball in defiance of her community. This was the first instance in which she showed that she would not let societal chains prevent her from doing what she wanted to do. Although her school was highly populated with women, the school never had a female principal. Men dominated most of the positions in school. A prefect was a student that demonstrated leadership abilities and was responsible for helping the teacher. Even this small leadership position was highly populated by men. Despite her excellent grades, she was never selected to serve in this position.

As she continued her education she noticed that opportunities were limited for women. The corporate world was not inviting. She completed high school and then she decided to attend a teachers college near her hometown. But her studies were cut short when she became pregnant at 20 years old. Despite being involved in a committed relationship with the father of her child, she never felt pressured to get married. She and her partner discussed marriage as an option, but they decided to wait. At this time it was even less socially accepted to become pregnant out of wedlock. However, most women were forced by their family to get married. But, my mother’s refusal to let the pressures of her community influence how she lives is another testament of her role as a 2nd wave feminist.

Despite the political achievement that was happening in Jamaica, she felt isolated. According to the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, in 1974, Jamaica was a pioneer in becoming one the first countries world-wide to implement a national effort for the advancement of women. Also, Jamaica emerged as a political feeding ground for new ideas. Jamaica was even more advanced than other countries in that it had a Jamaica Women’s Bureau (Rhoda). However as a 24 year old woman with a child in 1977, she was not directly affected by the committee’s plans to create a “Women in Development Unit (Rhonda).” Instead she was faced with the daily struggles of providing security and food for her child. She worked more than 40 hours per week in order to make ends meet. At this point in her life Betty Freidan’s theory of “the problem that has no name” began to rear its ugly head. She was not satisfied with her life. At which point she decided to move to America. She was faced with a hard decision. In order to achieve all she wanted she must leave her daughter behind. Nonetheless, she made this decision with the hope that it will help her child later.

When she came to America, she realized that her limited schooling was not enough. In order to actively transform her life and participate in the movement of women’s liberation her involvement in the working class was important ( Unfortunately, not only did she have to deal with inequality in the workplace, but now her cultural identity became an issue. She described an incident when her teacher continuously made racist remarks and at the end of the course withheld her rightful grade. She refused to be victimized. Instead, she went to the dean of the college who reviewed her work and gave her the grade she earned, an A.

Now as a mother, grandmother, wife, supervisor, aunt, and head of the household, my mother, Jean Williams, continues to define herself however she wants. She values other people as equals and always treats them accordingly. Her struggles have enabled her to appreciate the struggle of others. She serves as a second wave feminist in that she understands that sexism, racism, and any other form of oppression is not tolerable. She left her home in a distant land in pursuit of liberation for herself and her child. As the product of such a courageous woman, her life is a source of knowledge and inspiration. She continues to encourage me to delve into whatever it is that interest me. I am a firm believer in the power of self-determination. William Ernest Henley wrote in Invictus, “It matters not how straight the gait how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This excerpt encourages the individual to press on despite obstacles. I firmly believe that if there are more women like Jean Williams, as I believe there are, than the future of feminism is very fruitful.

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