I'm a first generation feminist. Granted, I'm on the tail end of the first generation and women ten or more years older than I am are truly the first generation. My older sister gave me "Our Bodies, Our Selves" when I graduated high school, a truly ground-breaking book at the time, just published. But I was one of the first women at Amherst College, a transfer, not a freshman, one of what they called 'the pioneers,' the first women in. When I worked at a law firm in my twenties, women hadn't become partners yet, except in a few NY or CA firms. And when I worked at Arthur Andersen at thirty, no women had been made partners yet in the big public accounting firms. In my first years there, a woman made partner at Price Waterhouse and it was a Very Big Deal. There was no maternity leave program. By the time I left, they had what they called a "Mommy Track" but only for managers, not for staff. And the Atlanta office, one of the largest in the world, hadn't made a woman full partner yet. In fact, Arthur Andersen U.S. created a special category of partner to keep women from being full partners in the worldwide partnership, called a U.S. partner. So yes, I count myself as a first generation feminist. (It's a different discussion about what a second and third generation feminist is.)
Miss E asked me in the car the other day if I believed boys and girls had equal opportunities now. I said that girls can do almost anything now, but the opportunities aren't equal. For example, I've been told by college admissions people that in Miss E's time, boys will have a definite advantage in admissions. Because the colleges want fairly equal boy/girl enrollment and the girls are far better students. So they'll be favoring boys, admitting boys who are scoring lower, have poorer academic records, than the girls. And I still see, all around me, women having to be better at what they do, women getting paid less for the same work, and assumptions being made about what our goals are, what we think is important.
In fact, I hear sexism in the school system regularly, stuff that curls my toes. A mother saying to her son in kindergarten or first grade "You're being beaten by a GIRL! Are you going to let her do that?" And other mothers making assumptions that boys and girls should be split up for class party games because "the boys can do more." My own mother was disgusted watching a birthday party where none of the little girls seemed to know how to swing a bat with force at a pinata. (My mother, now 89, was an athlete. Her father was a sports professor and she played sports back when girls didn't.) A number of girls I see now in Eloise's class are into sports, into outdoor activities and I love seeing their nonchalant attitude toward it, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
So there I was last night, listening to Miss E's future middle school principal telling us that it's ok that she has a male dean and a male counselor running the sixth grade. Because, you see, both men have had daughters and are good fathers, so we mustn't worry about our little girls being in their care. And telling us, jokingly of course, that she has 'more crying mothers on the first day of school than crying sixth graders.' A male principal would have been called on the carpet if he'd made that remark. She gets away with it. Again and again, she poked at the mothers, not the fathers. She said that there's a house (that's what they call the entire grade) secretary who will be their 'mother' and will let them call home if they've forgotten to bring their lunch. She suggested that we make sure there's cafeteria money on deposit because back when her kids were growing up "she couldn't drop everything to bring her kids their lunch." Which was a not-too-subtle poke at how she had been a career woman and a mom at the same time. Bully for her. She didn't have my daughter as her child.
So end of rant that feminism is strongly affected by women like her tearing other women down. I'm sure she's an effective principal, this is an excellent school system. But I became more and more aware as the hour wore on of her aiming barbs at other women and never at the men, including members of her own staff.
Among other things that set me off was the principal's comment that my child will change more in the next three years than she has up to this time. She doesn't know my child. I had a child who couldn't speak, who had a tiny vocabulary of code words, who couldn't identify rooms of the house by what occurred in them, who had one name for both parents, one name for all childcare providers. I had a child who tested with an IQ of 70, when most of her family tests at twice that score. That's not the child who just completed that science project several years later. She still struggles, it's not going to be easy for her academically. But she's being recommended for honors courses by her current teacher, a man who refuses to label her. She's articulate, she can organize her thoughts speaking and writing, most of the time. The young girl whose first independent written complete sentence at the END of first grade was "Put your cat down." wrote a four page (typed) essay on a book she read just because it was what she wanted to do. She had to do some sort of book report activity, but a lengthy essay was never on the list of suggestions. It was her idea. And she typed it all herself, probably with her left hand.
Hey, if you can make that change look like nothing over the next three years, Ms. Principal, more power to you. But I seriously doubt it.