Friday, March 7, 2008


My father and LL married over the summer, and some of the things that had brought them together were their very conservative values and morals. My own views on feminism had changed dramatically since I was a child—to the point that I am shocked to rediscover some of my more conservative opinions from long ago. I was so far removed from the notion of conservatism and devotion to religion that I had a rather unclear understanding of why those who proudly wear these labels think the way they do. LL was the perfect conduit through which I could gain that understanding.

My heart jumped as the porch door opened. With a smile, LL led me upstairs to her young son’s room where we wouldn’t be disturbed by the rest of our rather large family. Among the scatter of toy cars and large stuffed animals sat a quiet shrine to the Virgin Mary and a large portrait of Jesus, adorned with his crown of thorns and silently imploring the onlooker with tear-filled eyes, the likes of which could evoke a reaction from even the firmest of atheists. Sitting across from one another, I first asked LL to tell me a little about herself. She explained her educational and professional background, that she is a 4th grade school teacher, and has received a Bachelors in Business and Administration as well as her Masters in Education. She told me that she was a very devout Catholic and has been so by choice all her life. Well spoken and charismatic, it was obvious that LL is a very educated and intelligent woman.

Without missing a beat, I cut to the chase of my interview: I wanted to know how LL defined feminism. “You can do what anyone else can do,” she told me. I asked her if she considered herself a feminist, and she replied that by her definition, she definitely was. I was very surprised by her immediate acceptance of the word “feminist”; many men and women tend to shy away from the term because of the stereotypical baggage attached to it. She never once used the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but” and owned the term from the start. She agreed with me that there was a negative connotation with the phrase. When I asked about her reasoning behind her definition, she used her past job as Vice President for Human Resources at a bank as an example: LL told me that she was often the only woman working among several men, and it never crossed her mind that she was inferior to them. She never felt like she had to prove herself or that there were any power struggles among her coworkers. Then she told me how a lot of women do tend to feel like they need to prove themselves and end up creating tension and power struggles on their own. When I asked her why, she speculated that these women were probably “scared to be seen as inferior” and that maybe some of the persecution was self-created. LL added that of course there are places that exist that do look down on women.

Moving on, I decided to see what LL thought of the feminist movement in the United States. I first brought up the infamous court case Roe v. Wade that occurred in 1973. Although LL was eleven years old when the court decision had been reached, I nevertheless asked her if she remembered her family’s reaction to it; unfortunately, she couldn’t recall. So I asked when she really became aware of Roe v. Wade; LL placed herself in college in the 1980s. When I asked for her opinion of it, she reminded me that she was a devout Catholic and thus she is opposed to abortion. After a moment, she told me that she only “waffles” when the woman has been raped, that she can understand why it would be difficult to carry such a child to term. However, LL still believed that there were better alternatives such as adoption and that it is not right to take the life of a baby, that “God has a reason for that life to be created.” Time has led her to believe this even more strongly than she has in the past. Curious, I asked LL if she thought abortion was a woman’s rights issue—she immediately answered that it wasn’t. Abortion was not about a woman’s body, she explained. It was about a baby, a life, that it was a life at the moment of conception created by two people.

Aware of LL’s stance on one of feminism’s core values, I asked her if she had ever participated in any feminist protest in college. She replied that she hadn’t, so I asked if she knew anyone who had. When that received a negative, I tried one more time, asking if she had seen any feminist demonstrations while in college. Once again, LL told me no. Her answers left me feeling a bit puzzled; why in such a liberal place as a public university, had she never been aware of any feminist movement happening on campus? Upon further reflection I noted that she had gone to college in the 1980s, a time when feminism was experiencing a serious backlash in society and the Second Wave was not nearly as active as it had been in the past. LL expressed to me that she thought the “bra-burning” was ridiculous and a lot of the demonstrations of the past were unnecessary. When I asked her to explain her reasoning, she told me that if a woman had a personal grievance, or an injustice had been done against her personally, then she had a reason to protest. She told me that most protesters in the past were more on a power trip without their own personal experiences to validate their claims. LL went on to say that these extreme demonstrations such as the bra-burning were almost more degrading to women because it draws negative attention and does not help women gain more power. She explained that the extremes of the women’s rights movement—as well as the extreme discrimination against women—were wrong, and that she disagreed with both of them. I asked her what women should do in order to be respected in society; LL replied that it is necessary for women to act responsible to be apart of the norm. She considered the “norm” as being functional and successful in society, “based on your definition of success.”

Now that we had established LL’s stance on the women’s rights movement, I wanted to get a clearer picture of her perspective on activism. I began by asking her if she believed feminism has changed any over the years—if it is any different now from what it was “back then.” LL believed that things had changed dramatically, that the women’s rights movement doesn’t use such extreme “rallies and tactics” as they used to. She explained that women as a whole are more professional than they were back then and proven themselves more in society by being functional and successful. I asked her why she thinks such a change occurred, and she believed that education was a huge factor. More women stayed at home in the past, but now more women are getting an education and obtaining very respectful jobs; she referenced women such as Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton (although LL disagrees with her views), and her own doctor. Smiling, she said “It’s a totally different ballgame today.”

Finally, I asked her a question I was dying to know her answer for: did she think that feminism is still necessary in today’s world? LL sat back in her chair, thinking for a moment. Finally, she told me that sexism is so outside her world that she doesn’t really think about it. “In my world,” she said, “it’s not [necessary].” She adds that feminism is still important for those parts of the world that need it. When I asked her to define her world, she explained that it was her career field, that there were plenty more female teachers than male, and she doesn’t see discrimination every day. She wasn’t sure of which fields need it, but she said that there were some that do, like restaurants such as Hooter’s. Women apply for these jobs that objectify them and thus put themselves in these situations. LL explains that the discrimination in places such as Hooter’s is a self-fulfilling prophecy because women intentionally work there and are thus objectified. I asked her whether she thinks women are forced into certain situations such as stripping because of their living circumstances, but she disagreed. “I don’t think anyone has to strip for a living,” she said, adding that it takes very little education to become a bank teller, which is “a very respectable job.”

I thanked LL for her time and let her return to the living room downstairs. Many of the answers she had given me fit my expectations of a conservative Christian, such as her stance on abortion and lack of feminist activism. However, I was completely caught off guard by her concept and proud ownership of the term “feminist.” It evokes the question Third Wave feminists often face today: is identifying as a feminist without participating in activism enough? According to LL’s definition, it would appear that activism is a personal endeavor to accomplish your goals and refusing to allow anyone to discourage you from achieving them. In a perfect world, everyone could adhere to that philosophy, but as society stands today I feel it is necessary for everyone to actively take a stand against discrimination, rather than only those who have faced personal challenges. LL had also told me that she sees very little discrimination in her world, which reminds me how important it is for information about sexism today to be widely available and accessible to the public. Perhaps in this way everyone can be more aware of the daily battles thousands of women face in our society that either refuses to acknowledge or is just not aware of the discrimination that occurs.

Turning off my computer, I put it away and returned to my family downstairs. I’ve always had a respect for LL—for her lovely personality, her intelligence, her devotion to her beliefs. We will probably never see eye-to-eye on some subjects, but my respect for her has deepened as a result of this interview. Her courage to proudly don the term feminist, in spite of its negative stereotypes among the conservative movement, is nothing to sneeze at, and for that I am happy to call her my step mother.

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