Friday, March 7, 2008

A true Second-Waver

This week, I was given the chance to learn about the life of an incredible woman whose life experiences I may never have understood or appreciated with enough respect, if it were not for this assignment or this class. Her name is Sharon Dreyfuss and she was born in 1959. She grew up in Rockville, Maryland and attended Pearly High School. Sharon later graduated at the University of Maryland with a degree in Political Science. The more I learned about my Aunt Sharon’s experiences as a second-wave feminist, the more I feel linked to her. Her enthusiasm and willingness to describe her experiences as a feminist makes me not only proud to be her niece, but proud to say that I can agree with many of the ideas she holds. Sharon’s experiences are evidence of the continuation and maturation of the second-wave of feminism. Growing up, Sharon believed she was always a little “different” from the rest of the kids. They talked about growing up and having the fairytale life. That is, a perfect wedding and a perfect husband followed by kids. Sharon just didn’t see that as a necessity. Feminism to her, gives her the option to not only take care of herself, but pave her own path in life. Sharon grew up close to Washington D.C. and enjoyed spending many nights talking currents events with her mother. Her mother, my grandmother Belle, worked as a legal secretary and held the family together. Sharon’s father was very ill and Belle provided for the family, giving Sharon an idealistic picture of a strong woman. Sharon and her mother loved to share their interests in politics and spent many nights talking current events. Living through the second wave of feminism, Sharon identifies herself as a “second waver”. Sharon tells me that she believes very strongly in birth control and although she was only fourteen when Roe Vs. Wade was passed, she believes the rights we have gained from this case, are the very rights we have to continue to fight for. When Sharon was just twenty years old, she experienced a situation in which her rights to birth control were somewhat threatened. She tells me, “I went to the gynecologist and asked for birth control and the gynecologist asked if my parents approved which was fine, but ultimately it was my decision.” During this time period, women were questioned more for their freedom of choice then they are today. I think what my aunt was trying to tell me was that although her parents may have approved, it bothered her that her gynecologist did not see it as her decision. (Today, I personally have felt that my gynecologist still takes the same bias. When asking for my right to birth control or switch to a new one, I always feel my mother has to call to give a more “authoritative” voice). Sharon believes birth control should be covered for women like Viagra is for men. My aunt and I can agree there is an ongoing struggle for approval for young women’s rights in society. As I moved through some of the topics I’ve discussed in class, I realized that I will have no trouble defining terms for my aunt because she is familiar with almost every single one. Impressed, I decide to move to the controversial issue of pro-life vs. pro-choice. This issue, I find is a debate Sharon knows well and has a strong stand on. Sharon identifies herself as pro-choice and tells me she has been involved in numerous pro-choice marches. She explains to me, with fierce words, how important the marches are and how much joy she has gotten out of them. She elaborates, “I have been trained to work at the clinics so that when the pro-life marches come to Washington D.C, which they do every January, I can be there for women who cannot gain access to the clinics because of pro-life picketers who block entry.” This is an extraordinarily task and I commend her for her bravery. Her clinic rescues, she tells me, give her a real sense of solidarity. Sharon’s college life is where her involvement in Feminism peaked. Sharon college years were full of new discoveries in both her political and environmental view. She even chose to switch to only organic food. Sharon began to attend meetings at the University’s food co-op where she experienced and became involved with consciousness raising. Sharon tells me that she can even remember the defining moment in her college life in which she made the decision to take a radical approach to feminism. As she typed up her paper for a class on rape, it occurred to her how real an issue it was in society and it impacted her in a way that other issues hadn’t at the time. To know that she could recall the moment her view changed from liberal to radical is truly inspiring. From here, I moved to the subject of sexism. I wanted to know if she had ever had a specific experience where she personally felt the affects of sexism. To my surprise or maybe curiosity, she had. Without a hint of hesitance, my aunt explained how she had taken a job at the dining hall. Sharon said, “I was washing dishes in the back when an older African-American worker started making inappropriate gestures toward me. He repeated to me that he was going to rape me and I ran out and later got him fired.” Without a doubt, I was astonished at her personal experience with sexism. I wondered, what could make a woman feel less empowering than a threat from a man on an issue that had turned her radical in the first place? Sharon to me is an ideal example of a second waver. Sharon dealt with sexism and spent much of her time in college forming opinions on the social issues of that time period. Unfortunately, as Sharon continued to strive for second wave achievement, The University of Maryland did not have an environmental college at the time, so she stuck with her interest in politics. Sharon had great hopes of attending a school for alternative energy in Vermont, but sadly Ronald Reagan had just reduced student aid, and her dream school folded into a military school. She had trouble finding a job in the political science field, but like many women of the second wave, would not settle for domesticity right out of college. After graduating, she quickly took a job at a Target-like store. Sharon met a man who needed a caller for the new community directory, but it was no-where near the ideal job. She felt enclosed from the world, “I was stuck in a tiny white room all by myself, making calls all day.” She faced another encounter of sexism when she was later hired at Public-Interest Communications for night-time work. When she took a different job, a man was hired for twice as much. Roiled up, she continued to search for a good fit, and I am happy to say she has found that. Now Sharon works for CELCO (Carol Enters List Company), a woman owned list-broker company. She acquires lists from non-profit companies so that other non-profit companies can obtain members. Sharon gives donations to Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America for their work and also for their “Action Fund” which uses those donations to elect Pro-Choice Candidates or defeat Anti-Abortion candidates. Sharon refuses to call them pro-life. Sharon’s job gives her the freedom to be herself, and she credits this to her college experiences’ leading her on a path to a direct marketing field.

After college, Sharon returned to a more liberalist view on feminism and has met many successful women in her field market. Sharon stayed true to her second-wave feminist ideals, but gave me insight to her thoughts on the third-wave. Sharon, like many of the second-wavers we read about, believes third wavers take for granted what many women of the second-wave fight for. With enthusiasm Sharon exclaimed, “we are still fighting equality and the glass ceiling, the fight is not over.” Sharon does however, believe that through both the second and third wave, we have achieved less racism and sexism, and the world has become more of melting pot. To her, “things are more set-oriented sexually, especially with the media in their focus on sex…a lot of women feel they have to show off their bodies and that is not what makes them sexy; they are gorgeous human beings.” She continued, “as sexual experimentation came to a halt with AIDS, things are a lot more clear. We still need to make improvements and the United States still has a long way to go.” I believe Sharon has great insight into what the Feminism wave needs overall. Sharon did not have shared the dream of motherhood and marriage as a child with her classmates, but has now taken on both roles. As a married woman, she feels capable to raise a family because of the equality she holds with her husband. It was not always this way for Sharon. With her first husband, Sharon was the one doing the work. She feels she could not have had a family with her first husband because she would not have been able to rely on him to take care of the kids or provide. With her current husband, Sharon says, “I don’t have to worry, he will give the kids baths, take them to the park, or do the dishes; he cleans the kitchen floor!” Sharon is a second waver who is comfortable with sharing her rights and has nothing against women who choose to stay at home. One of her closest friends is a stay-at-home mother and she tells me if that’s what works for her, she is happy for her.

Sharon is happy with the rights the feminism movement has brought, but believes the United States still has ways to go. There are many necessities we, as a country, need. She clarifies, “in many countries there are women whose jobs allow them three years of maternity leave and allow women to have a great balance. The United States has not and we need help on child-care, we need help on running our families and balancing work and family.” Soon Sharon and her husband will be faced with the difficult task of running a family. Her husband’s former wife will be returning the kids from Ireland and Sharon will have to find to deal with the complexity of finding health care for her family and balancing family life with work. She is up for the challenge though, and leads me with a lasting lesson. I ask her to tell me what she thinks holds for the future of feminism and I know this will be vital to the understanding of feminism as a whole. Sharon leaves me with this short and simple principle, “we need to fight for our rights or we won’t have any, people will always try and take away what we have earned if we do not continue to fight. This goes for the feminist movement and anything else worth fighting for like civil liberties.” Spoken as a true second wave feminist, my aunt Sharon is still fighting for feminism and still fighting to make our world a better place.

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