Friday, March 7, 2008

Mrs. Julie Annette Collins

Amber Alexander

WMST 10:10 MWF

Understanding the Words of Wisdom

When we were assigned this project, I started thinking about who I was going to interview. I didn’t think anyone in my family was feminist, I could not think of anyone starting pronoun debates at Thanksgiving or advocating women’s rights at Christmas. However, I was wrong; feminism isn’t that black and white. And how can I prejudge my family without even asking their opinion on feminism. So I decided to interview the female who means the most to me, my aunt Julie Annette Collins. I use the term “aunt” in biological terms, but she is more of a mother to me. Raising six children, two not even her own; she is the strongest woman I know. Now I want to delve into her background and see where her strength came from.

Julie was born on April 22, 1963 in Danville, Illinois. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio with her father who was a Colonel in the Air Force, her mother who is a very traditional and kind hearted woman, and her younger sister who is my mother. As I was interviewing her I was taken aback at how much I never knew about her struggles being a woman growing up. Until she was in the sixth grade, girls were absolutely forbidden to wear pants. They were only allowed to wear skirts and dresses. Being in Ohio where the weather is rather cold, children would walk to school in the snow. Seeing as girls couldn’t wear pants, girls could wear snow pants to keep warm only if they were under a dress and had to take them off in the bathroom before they could enter the classroom. While talking about her school days, I wanted to get an idea of the mentality adults had about the differences between boys and girls. My aunt said that girls were actually told that “they weren’t as smart as boys in math and girls could not do P.E.” To me it is almost comical how people back then really believed this. One concept Julie said was hard for her and other children her age to grasp was that girls were suppose to do and play with certain things, while boys had to do and play with separate things, but they weren’t allowed to play with each others toys or do things the other sex could do. For example, girls couldn’t join boys’ baseball teams or even play with them. Girls couldn’t play with hot wheels and boys couldn’t play with dolls.

One thing Julie hated was how girls had to dress so traditional and conservative. This is one thing I could sort of relate to with her. Parents are always trying to get girls to cover up and wear certain clothes, but my experience was nowhere near how serious as it was in the 60s and 70s for my aunt. Females had to wear long white gloves and hats to church. Everything was about etiquette; there was no “casual” dress. All clothes had to be a certain length, absolutely nothing revealing. Julie said her and her friends had to force their parents to let them wear bikinis or halter tops. My favorite comment during the whole interview was that Julie had to sneak out with her Dr. Scholl’s sandals if she wanted to wear them! Women weren’t even allowed to show their feet. Another example my aunt gave us about everything being old fashioned was that women were even restricted on what means of protection they were allowed to use during their menstrual period. Women were certainly not allowed to use tampons or pads that stuck to their underwear. They were only allowed to wear sanitary pad belts. They were big, thick belts women had to wear during their period and could only change the pad portion when necessary; they could never just wear the pad itself. This completely shocked me. I had never dreamed women could or couldn’t use certain sanitary means of protection during their periods. This just shows that women were controlled and oppressed in almost every way possible.

Back then, women were completely dependent on men. Moms relied on dads for income. Julie said that if a woman was divorced, “it was like they were abandoned. The only thing they could do was hope to get alimony. They couldn’t work because they didn’t have any job skills. It was pushed for women that college is not important, they just need to focus on getting married.” Women weren’t taught skills needed for work, they were only taught how to cook, clean, and take care of children. Today it is basically accepted for everyone to go to college. College is just taught to us to be the next step after high school. In my family, there is no question about not going to college or any other option; you are just simply expected to go. Me being a person so passionate and driven about my career and field of study, I cannot imagine just sitting here waiting for a guy to come along and marry me. Not having anything to look forward to except having kids and cleaning for the rest of my life is just scary and tragic to me.

Julie comments on how remarkable it is that it is now more acceptable to leave kids at home and go to work. This was never a possibility back when she was growing up, a woman would be terrified to even suggest such a thing. An observation my aunt made was that now women have to fight to stay at home. Many families do not have the luxury to not have both parents working to support the family. Julie is a brilliant woman, outstanding with computers and worked for many years. She is now thankful to have been able to stay at home and take care of her kids, which is a full-time job in itself. However she says she is dependent on her husband to bring in the money to support the family. Thankfully she does have the job skills to go back to work if necessary but wouldn’t trade staying at home with her family for anything. Continuing on the conversation about women having jobs, I asked my aunt what she thought about women being characterized by their sexuality and how that affected them succeeding in the business world. My aunt strongly believes that women should never be thought to be objects, especially sex objects. Men use these terms and ways of categorizing women to have control over women. My aunt says it is a huge step that we are now we are trying to see women for their brains, not their sexuality. However, Julie says we are still far from it because women get better jobs if they’re “pretty”. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Being a broadcast news major, appearance is a large portion of it because it is mainly about being on screen. A current senior in Grady I have worked with is passionate about doing TV news, but is changing her major to radio because she doesn’t believe she will be able to make it anywhere in the television industry without being “pretty”.

Julie grew up when women’s rights were just taking off. She remembers marches for women’s rights and bra burnings. She remembers talks of the Feminist Mystique, some women saw it revolutionary while some women saw it as scandalous. I was very interested about a television show my aunt use to watch called ‘Maude’. It was a show on air from 1972-1979. My aunt said it was a real controversy at the time. She described it as a spin-off of the show ‘All in the Family’. “It talked about things that were simply not talked about in that day in age. It was the first show where a female had an abortion. Things like that were simply just not talked about then”, Julie speculated. We have certainly come a long way in that aspect because there is nothing people won’t talk about or put on television.

Ever since I was little, I can remember my aunt giving my sister and I talks about men and never really understood them until I was older. She would tell us to never trust or rely on men. That they won’t provide for you and we need to have something to fall back on. She would tell us to be smart and as strong as men everyday and to believe in ourselves, no one is better than you and there is nothing only a man can do. The most important thing is to get an education. She said that women need to look out for themselves so they don’t get “screwed” by men. Taking this class I have been able to interpret these words of wisdom in a new way. She gave us this advice to protect us, because she has seen what happens to women who do not look out for themselves. She has seen the dangers of the traditional male dominant way of thinking. Julie does not believe in a gender-free world, nor do I. We are working to change men’s idea of women and for men respect them, but that must start with women learning to respect themselves and to change their own idea of women first. We cannot let anything stand in our way of achieving anything we want, especially men! I believe we don’t talk about women’s rights as much as we use to or as much as we should. I would never have thought my aunt to be a feminist or that her words of wisdom were due to her understanding on the oppression of women without taking this class. This in itself scares me that there needs to be a serious increase in consciousness raising or the women of generations to come will not carry on this legacy many women sacrificed for. In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”

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