Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A belated Women's Day Post

A first discovered Women's Day living in Uganda back in 2012, a country that in my opinion has a long ways to go when it comes to fully recognizing the full worth of women as equal human beings. I am reminded on a daily basis how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born a woman in the US and in my particular family. I was encouraged and had the opportunity to get an education without any pressure or obligation to marry and start a family at a young age. I could pursue my goals, wear what I want, earn money for myself, and speak my mind. And when I get frustrated with the way we still have to come as a world when it comes to women's rights, I have to remind myself that I am one of the extremely fortunate ones. I did not have to worry about being married at 15, exchanging sexual favors to pay for school fees, missing school due to menstruation, or the burden of having no control over when or how many kids I want to have.

However, I was still born a woman in a largely man's world. I grew up in a family of four boys which perhaps shaped my choices and development in both positive and negative ways. For the first years of my life, I was a "typical"girl: wearing dresses, pink, playing with dolls. But doing all this while stubbornly determined to keep up with the boys, play in the mud, and exert my strong will whenever possible. I remember getting angry when I discovered that realistically most of the boys I played with would someday be stronger and faster than me due to simple biological differences. I grew up in many ways a very traditional home environment. My mother stayed at home after having kids and my dad was the provider. All of our close family friends had a similar family structure. I recall wondering if this was my destiny and if it was I wanted no part of it. I went through a phase saying I would never get married or have kids if it meant losing my identity (as I perceived the tradition of changing my family name to that of my husbands). I also made a pact with myself to never get married before 25. Fortunately, my parents never pushed or expected me to follow this "traditional" trajectory and eventually I discovered that there were other alternatives.

I remember the happy surprise I felt when I discovered my track coach in high school was a very happy stay at home dad. I was happy to meet women who didn't change their names when they got married and it was a relief to meet women who had both careers and families. However, so many other small incidences shaped my perception of what it meant to be a woman. Discussions in high school English class about literature and assumptions made by teacher that women are not good at math, are more emotional and therefore can write better. Taking stupid online quizzes about how "masculine" or "feminine" you are and being informed that I am more masculine simply because I am not afraid of spiders, don't enjoy spending all my free time shopping, and generally take less than 15 minutes to get ready in the morning. This stupid quiz then earned me the reputation of being a "man". Being told my last year of my bachelor by the dean of engineering that I should go to grad school right away before I start having kids and have to stay at home. Being told that if I dressed a certain way guys would notice me more.

Now my initial reaction to these experiences was a stubborn determination to do what I want and break as many stereotypes as possible in the process. I bull headed charged forward with my professional and academic goals, ignoring any men who wanted to do "gentlemanly" things for me, getting angry with people who were following the stereotypes, dressing how I wanted to and ignoring how this might affect positively or negatively the way I was perceived by men. If a woman chooses to be a stay at home, I think her choice should be validated and affirmed. If a woman chooses to never have children. her choice should be validated and affirmed. I realize now sometime in the not so distant future I would like to have a kid and sacrifice some of my goals to raise this kid. I realize now that maybe I can be accomplished and independent but also let someone else into my life to do things together.

However, whether you're a woman born in the US, Uganda, South Korea, or Egypt our world has a long ways to go in validating women AND men as individuals with different interests, goals, skills and talents. So yes, I will still claim the title of feminist because I want to see a world where women are not viewed as a risk to a company since there is mandated paternity and maternity leave, where women can feel confirmed as stay at home moms or working full time engineers. A world where men can feel validated as stay at home dads not just CEOs of big businesses. A world where boys can play with dolls and not be called "girly". A world women and men can choose when and who they marry. A world where everyone has the option to get an education. Ultimately a world where men and women can make the choices that allow them to be fully themselves and contribute to society in that they are best suited for.

Happy Women's Day!