Wednesday, March 5, 2008

McGee: Interview

Like most people, my initial opinions on numerous topics (i.e. politics, religion, etc.) were shaped by my upbringing. When my twin brother and I were younger, struggling to comprehend the convoluted world in which we live, we deferred to our conservative mother on such issues. However, as we grew older and our knowledge base expanded, we began to deviate from her conservative point of view. In recent years, my brother Andy and his liberal beliefs have been the cause of grief for my mother, and today, it is rare for a conversation concerning politics not to end with my mother declaring, “I have failed and raised a liberal.” Now, before I continue, I would like to stress that my mother loves Andy a great deal, but just like any other family, opinions do differ. But now I’m getting off topic.

In the past, I can recall my mother making certain comments concerning feminism and feminists that were not particularly favorable. For many years, I took these comments and foolishly allowed for them to serve as the basis for my own opinion, never seeking to learn more about feminism. So naturally, this women’s studies course proved to be extremely enlightening, leading me to spend this semester reflecting on those comments I can remember my mother making. And once presented with this assignment, it became clear that this would be my opportunity to have her elaborate on her own opinion. I wanted to understand why she held these opinions, and while I had some ideas, what I learned far exceeded what I had expected.

It is my belief that a great deal of women base their opinion of feminism on numerous misconceptions that, unfortunately, are furthered by the media. When asked to provide a definition of feminism, the answer my mother gave me started off correctly (“women unsatisfied with treatment in life”), but as she continued, her definition began to sound more like that of the radical camp of feminists (“blamed men for everything”). This means that many women believe they understand feminism and disapprove of it, when in reality, what feminism means today could be something they support. As I began to learn about feminism, I became confused over why my mother didn’t agree with the movement, because she has reaped many of the benefits in both her personal and professional life.

Michele (my mother) has led a fascinating life up to this point. While conforming to some of the social standards of the early 1960s, she defied others. At the age of seventeen, she became engaged and would marry six months later. However, rather than settling down and having children, Michele wanted to pursue her career. Deciding against a traditional four-year college (much to her own parents’ chagrin), she went to business school to learn about the first computers. This gave her an edge over older men who chose not to use the technology. And while she can remember the publication of The Feminine Mystique, she believes that because she was not at a traditional college, Friedan’s ideas took longer to reach her. Instead, Michele listened to her college-going friends preach Friedan’s message of “the problem that has no name.” Believing that Friedan and the feminist movement disapproved of her decision to marry, Michele felt that she could not support a movement that was against the life she chose.

Instead, Michele believes that feminism’s in-roads to business were the first instances of the women’s movement to reach her, and while she was not a crusader for the movement, she firmly believes that she reaped the benefits. When it came to women in the workplace, she states that in the 1960s and 1970s it was believed that “for a woman to be as successful as a man, she had to be one and a half or twice as good as the average man at their job.” And while she had many stories, perhaps the most inspiring was her account of working at a real estate office in Marco Island, Florida. Newly divorced (a move that many disapproved of), Michele was hired as the first female realtor at the office. Ever. All of the men were older and staunch in their belief that the office was no place for a woman, and they made every effort to get this point across. When she first started, she naively would ask her male coworkers questions, only to discover that they had purposely provided her with the incorrect answer. However, she quickly learned the key to surpassing them. All the men kept a strict 9 to 5 schedule so as to get home to their families in time for dinner. Michele opted to start later in the morning, keeping the office open to those who wanted to look at real estate after work. Within a few months, she was taking home the largest commission checks of all the agents in the office.

In terms of Michele’s personal life, she chose to go against the grain. When she was married, she opted not to have children, but in 1989, Michele found herself pregnant. It was at this point in the interview that I chose to bring up the topic of abortion. Now, like I mentioned earlier, Michele is conservative in terms of politics, but that is not what led to her hold her opinion. For years, she supported Roe v. Wade and to this day in some instances, she believes that abortion can be the better move, but after watching two of her close friends have abortions, she realized that the decision is hard to make, but even harder to go through. When asked about whether she had considered abortion when she learned she was pregnant, she quickly answered, “While the thought had crossed my mind once, when I went to the ultrasound and learned that I was having twins, at that point it was out of the question.”

Instead, Michele chose to be a single mother, a decision that not too long before was looked down upon. She believes that because of feminism, her choices were now socially acceptable. As a single forty-something woman who was now pregnant, she was pleased to find that her bosses, the Vice President of Marketing and even the head of the company, were extremely supportive of her decisions. However, once having her children, she realized that because she was a single mother, she was put at a disadvantage. Her bosses knew that if something came up, she would have to go take care of her children, while for those who were married, this was not as big a concern.

As mentioned earlier, I believed that my mother, Michele, had some misconceptions about feminism, and I believe that she might have gotten caught up in the backlash against feminism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Looking to address this, I asked her to read “Blame It on Feminism” by Susan Faludie, and once finished, asked her what she thought of the article. I chose this article because this was the first time I questioned what my mother thought. She conceded that it was probably true that “the media is only confusing the situation and that backlash as a whole is a myth.” She stressed that there is a especially a backlash against women who identify as feminists, and the result is that certain stereotypes are promoted.

Next, we discussed the feminist movement as a whole and identified one aspect she disagreed with - sex positive feminism. Michele explained that this is where she thinks women went wrong, because “While women may feel empowered, the concept backfired in a way.” She believes that as a whole, the concept still works more in men’s favor, and today, women are dealing with the consequences. Michele believes that women used to have more power over men in that instance, but today, men subscribe to the whole “why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?” mindset.

When we discussed the feminist movement today, she stated that feminism, in general, is no longer as obvious. Today, women expect opportunity, yet when Michele first entered the workforce, those same opportunities were questioned. She also realizes how much progress has been made in healthcare for women. Currently five months into her own battle against breast cancer, she finds herself constantly amazed at how far the technology has come. Still, she believes that there is more the feminism can do. In particular, she mentioned a question in the Faludie article, “Why are there only three female governors, two female U.S. senators, and two Fortune 500 chief executives?” (579). Michele surmises that “women have not gotten their piece of the pie yet.”

Reflecting back on the interview, I think that both my mother and I learned something. By the time we finished, it appeared that her understanding of feminism was altered, but for the better. I, also, was able to get my mother’s answers to many of my own questions. For the past few months, I had wondered why she was so opposed to feminism, when she had benefited so much, and now I understand that she is fully aware of what feminism has done for her. From women’s healthcare to women in the workplace, she is aware of feminisms influence, but like so many women, she is wary of taking on that label and the stigma that comes with it. Hopefully, she and many other women can overcome their guarded approach to feminism, and understand the many fallacies championed by the media are just that - fallacies.

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