I have always been a very classically feminine person. I grew up in a smaller coastal southern town and was raised by a mother and grandmothers that didn’t work outside of the home and elevated homemaking and raising children to fine art. I guess I saw traditional values and gender roles at their very best and most high functioning…standing by the door looking up at the handle waiting for my dad to get home from work while my mom was finishing another healthy dinner from scratch, my Meme picking me up from school in time to go paint nails and watch her afternoon soaps, my Grammy rushing up from south Florida to take care of us all when my mother got very sick. Women in my family baked cookies and had tea parties, and would not have been caught dead in pant suits. Feminism then seemed like an unrelatable or just unnecessary concept to me, or at worst maybe an affront to so many things I held dear. But then, I grew up.
As a twenty-something I worked(briefly) at an office job. One afternoon the owner of the company brought me into his office and asked if I could lower the pitch of my voice when I took calls, make myself sound a little stronger and more professional. Apparently, my voice was a bit too girly and sweet, and we were conducting big businessy business here after all. However, this same boss and his colleagues seemed wholly unbothered by my voice and feminine ways after 5pm, where my presence was constantly requested at cocktail hours and long dinners where clients were being entertained or courted. One of these super fun events was ending one evening and I was trying to politely slip away after a 15 hour work day, just as the higher-ups were discussing how well the evening had gone and just how lucrative it would be. As I walked(or kind of jogged) away, I heard one of the owners drunkenly say, “Well insurance aint sexy, but Lauren is”. I just kind of laughed this off of course, surely he didn’t mean any harm. No big deal. I guess it would have been a lot funnier though, if I had been paid for all of those “social” events and funnier still if I had been paid an actual living wage at that job.
Around the same time, I was talking to an older male family member who said something like, “Well, now that you are graduated from college what do you want to be, a nurse or a teacher?” I was totally confused as I had never expressed any interest in either of those professions, and anyone who really knows me knows that I detest early mornings and germs. I explained that I would actually love to continue on in school and get my doctorate. He just stared at me blankly. I’m obsessed with a Hallmark series that is set in the early 1900’s and I realized when I was watching it the other day that all of the women who work outside the home are…nurses or teachers. We may not have come as far as we think.
To be very clear, I think that both nursing and teaching are noble professions. So noble, in fact and so important that they should be filled by those who are most inclined or even called towards them. This may sound utopian, but isn’t that true of nearly all work? Anyone who has felt the drudgery of doing a job they despise for endless days or years, which sadly is most of us, would agree that there are few things more soul draining. Conversely, anyone who has felt the synergy between doing something they were made to do and having it enhance the world in some way would wish this on anyone and everyone. It is life-giving. My OBGYN and my dermatologist are both women and have both made decisions or caught mistakes that have quite literally saved my life. My favorite teacher in high school was a man and hardly a week goes by where I don’t think of his funny one-liners that were full of wisdom about the world. I would also be willing to bet that if more men entered the teaching profession, that whole issue with teachers being grossly underpaid would just work itself right out.
Also, I adore men. I have probably had more doors opened for me than I have opened for myself, have never stowed my own carry on bag, and have been taken on more lovely elaborate dates than I can count. Feminism, or maybe the clankier polyester-clad nineties version of it, didn’t seem to leave any room for this. Chivalry, the gentlemen(southern or otherwise)-these don’t have to be lost. A man can open the door to the board room for a woman and then treat her respectfully as a colleague once inside. And more or perhaps most importantly, respect should be shown to women in the work force in the main way that we show respect in the work force; pay. Earlier points in the feminist movement supported women being able to work outside of the home if they wanted to. At some point there was a change from having the option to, to just having to. This is the point where equal pay should have been addressed, and any man that has ever had any interest in his daughter or wife holding gainful employment should realize that not championing equal pay is in fact going against his own interests. Good men should be fighting for this alongside women, holding the door for the fairer, not the lesser, sex.
I guess my kind of feminism is one where society recognizes what has always been true; classical femininity is inherently powerful. The same sweet voice that was maybe made to comfort a crying baby could also be the one that will save you in the operating room or the cockpit or even the oval office. Instead of asking us to deepen our voices, it’s maybe time to lean in and listen a little more closely.