Friday, March 7, 2008


Same Town, Different Life

I chose to interview my grandmother, Mrs. Dorothy Parrish, to find out information on instances in her life when she has had experience with feminist issues. Although my grandmother has never considered herself a feminist, she fully supports equality for all citizens. She has lived through the three waves of feminism and witnessed the changing of such issues pertaining to oppression, sexual inequality, race, and class.
My grandmother was born in 1932, during the first wave of feminism. She was born in Augusta, Georgia and has lived there all her life. While describing her childhood, she explained that her family lived the “typical life back then, the father of the household was expected to go to work everyday to support his family, while the mother would stay at home and care for her children.” All her close friends in the neighborhood lived a similar lifestyle. She told me “my father was a physician at the Lenwood Veterans Hospital.” Her mother’s role was to cook, sew, and do all the housework, though, she said “housework took much more effort than it does today, we didn’t have a dishwasher.” She reminisced on helping her mother with chores around the house and making biscuits everyday for their dinner while her father was at work. Being a physician required a “great deal of effort so he was always working.” Considering her childhood, all I could think of was The Problem That Has No Name, by Betty Friedan. Her mother married young, had children, and was a stay-at-home mom, the exact lifestyle Betty Friedan describes in her writing that caused many women to experience unsatisfied lives. As I told my grandmother of the writing, which she was unfamiliar with, I asked if she had any memories of her mother being sad and tired. To her knowledge, her mother “never complained” and was a “strong woman.” My grandmother explained that a reason may be because “women were expected to behave a certain way.” Her mother taught both her sister and her at a young age that they were supposed to be “very quiet and lady-like” so it would not have been appropriate to complain. My grandmother, known for loving to talk to anyone and everyone, joked on the difficulty she had with the role. I wondered if the writing had been published in the 1930’s how woman would have responded and whether some of the housewives would have had the courage then to speak out on the issue. I would love to have the ability to talk to my great grandmother today to ask her such questions.
My grandmother and I then discussed her childhood while attending elementary school; or rather “grammar school” as it was called. Grammar school was from the first grade until the seventh grade. My grandmother attended William Robinson grammar school in the late 1930’s until the middle 1940’s. While discussing her education, I realized sex segregation was a prominent issue. William Robinson was “an all girl school” consisting of all female teachers. When the time came for high school, my grandmother said, “the girls attended Tubman High School, while the boys went to school at Richmond Academy, little did I know that one day I would have daughters that would attend the once all boy high school.” Looking back, my grandmother does not understand the reasoning behind the segregation, stating, “girls were taught the same lessons in school as boys.” She compared her high school experience to mine and explained that she “did not have the same opportunities” as I did. Students were limited in their options of clubs and organizations to join since schools were segregated. Though, since she was accustomed to attending school with all females, she chose to attend Wesleyan College, a women’s college in Macon, Georgia. My grandmother then chose to transfer to the University of Georgia after two years in Macon. While a student at Georgia, the amount of female students was greatly outnumbered by males. She explained that “not as many women attended college compared to today.” Just like when her mother was young, most women chose to get married at a young age. Her college roommate at Georgia did not complete her degree because she chose to get married. Now, the University of Georgia has more female than male students enrolled, a change from her years of college. My grandmother said, “one goal my father instilled in my sister and I and that was we were not through with all our schooling until we finished college, we both knew and did finish that goal.” He knew how beneficial an education would be for their future. My grandmother graduated magna cum laude with a degree in education from the University of Georgia. As we continued discussing, A Problem That Has No Name, my grandmother acknowledged the appreciation of her degree even more as we reviewed the section explaining the desire for many educators to not admit woman to universities because of the unnecessary education of housewives.
Most of my grandmother’s friends became stay-at-home mothers, just like their mothers had done. My grandmother chose to have a career for herself. Though she married a physician and had two daughters of her own like her mother, she instead chose to work. My grandmother was a first grade teacher at Fleming Elementary School, where she taught girls and boys, much different from her school days. My grandmother loved her role as a mother, but believes “women deserve to receive an education and have a career just like men.” She enjoyed working and could not imagine being “stuck at home everyday." After teaching, my grandmother spent time directing weddings and eventually writing a book, Planning and Directing a Wedding. To this day she is involved in marketing and selling her book. Also, she has been actively involved in the community, serving as the president of the local garden club for many years and currently serving on many committees in the church. My grandmother has always signified the importance of having a career and being able “to depend on yourself.” My grandmother discussed how fortunate she is to be involved in the community and to have the chance to express personal opinions within committees. Due to her involvement, my grandmother can say she has never taken for granted the rights woman have received.
I then asked my grandmother of her experiences with racial issues. She explained that along with sex segregation, her schools were racially segregated. Back then, “there were certain restaurants, bathrooms, and water fountains that were not allowed for colored people.” I, having also grown up in Augusta, Georgia, found it so interesting to hear the parts of town that were once racially segregated. She went back to discussing her childhood and told me that “a colored lady would come and iron every Monday, having a maid was very common in that time.” I began explaining Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege and discussing the privileges white individuals receive with my grandmother. My grandmother, who has never been racist, believes that the inequalities between the different races is “not nearly as bad as it was in the past” but agrees that white people are not fully aware of the extent of their privileges. Reading a list puts the privileges of white individuals into perspective.
I discussed with my grandmother her views on class privilege. She believed that differences in class have an impact on the opportunities individuals are given, such as her ability to attend college. My grandmother discussed how grateful she was her father provided her with the financial opportunity to attend college. Though her family lived a somewhat comfortable life, she emphasized that her father “worked hard and sacrificed a great deal to allow for my sister and I to attend college.” I related this to our class discussion about some of the challenges of twenty-first century feminists. In order to have access to the public spear, it takes a lot of money; therefore, an individual is privileged if they have such access.
Although my grandmother is unaware of many key issues and terms of feminism, she supports the changes feminists fight for. My grandmother has always exercised her rights as a citizen by being involved and by voting, I consider that her form of activism. She believes in men and women having the same rights, therefore, she earned an education and a career, just like any other man. She believes our public education system is better by attending school with males and other races because students are able to be more culturally aware. She values the changes that allow all citizens to live more equal and hopes equality will only get better in the years to come. I value my grandmother’s decision to be different from the normal expectations of women during that time. I feel as if the interview was a form of consciousness raising by discussing my grandmother’s childhood, job, and motherhood. As we sat in the hometown that my grandmother has seen change so much over the years, I think our interview made both of us realize how thankful and supportive we are of women’s rights.

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