“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”
— Hillary Clinton
“If you’re beautiful, you’re led to believe that you can’t also be smart. But you can be fun and fit and social and be really smart. And the smarter you are, the more capable you’ll be to handle whatever challenges come up in life.”
— Danica McKellar
Monday Morning Musings
Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day 2015. I had intended to have this post ready then, but other projects and the change to Daylight Savings Time through off my schedule. (Can I just say how much I hate time changes? Forward or back, it makes me miserable and takes me days to adjust.) It is now March 9, but I don’t think the world has changed overnight.
While driving home from visiting my mother-in-law on Saturday, my husband and I listened to a program on the Baltimore NPR station. One segment of the show featured three female surgeons at different stages of their careers. All three had contributed to an anthology, Being a Woman Surgeon. All of them discussed their lack of role models as they began their studies, and even after they became physicians.
The story made me reminisce about my own graduate school days. When I started my graduate studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, there were only one or two female history professors in the department. (A few years later, a female history professor at a large Midwestern university would tell a group of women at a dinner meeting that I attended that when her department was finally about one-third female, some of the male professors started complaining about all the women in the department.) There were no women in my department who covered my fields of study when I began grad school. After I began work on my dissertation, there was a female professor who I asked to be on my dissertation committee. She was a wonderful scholar who always attempted “to prime the pump” as we discussed my work.
It’s funny, but when I first began grad school, I didn’t really think about the lack of women professors in the department or the lack of role models. My father had received his Ph.D. in history at Temple only a few years before. The same professor chaired both of our dissertation committees. There were other women grad students who became my friends, and there was a cohort of slightly older women who had successfully defended their dissertations and had jobs in the field, although some were temporary. I had role models in the generation of female historians who had written important articles and books that influenced the course of my work. These women dared to write about women in history, recognizing the obvious fact that both men and women lived in the past, as well as the present. They also wrote on social issues such as divorce and birth control.
Looking back, I think what I lacked were female role models who were professional scholars and parents. I remember one well-know historian, a brilliant scholar and someone I admire, saying that she arranged her pregnancies so that she gave birth in the summer during break. She seemed to imply that women who didn’t do so were somehow lacking in foresight. But delivering a baby during a break between terms only covers birth and the short time after that. What happens after that?
I held a one-year position at a nearby college. My younger daughter was about seven months old then, and I was still breastfeeding her. Fortunately, she began drinking from a cup at six months, so my daycare provider could give her a bit of formula and food. I would nurse her, take the girls to the sitter, and pick them up a few hours later, the benefits of an academic schedule. The two other women in the department had children, but they were older. The one time I called out sick because one of the children was sick, I realized I should have said I was sick. Being a mother was okay, but having childcare issues was not. And breastfeeding is still an issue. Female breasts can be seen in movies, but not when feeding infants. Breastfeeding is still something that must be hidden.
One of the female surgeons in the radio interview acknowledged the same problems of childcare and breastfeeding—although her schedule was much more grueling than mine had been. She described secretly pumping breast milk in a closet, her motherhood something that could not be acknowledged.
Of course, childcare is a parental issue. Mothers and fathers should be able to have parental leave to be with their children. Obtaining quality childcare should not be such a difficult issue.
Later, after my one-year position was over, I taught some courses here and there—always late in the afternoon or at night or weekends, when my husband could take care of the girls. One time a friend arranged for me to teach a course. He didn’t tell me in advance, but simply announced it to me as a fait accompli. I told him that it was too difficult for me to find someone to watch my younger daughter or pick up the older one from school. I had tried it the previous semester, and it was awful. All of the work to prepare for a course, the half-hour drive there and back, leaving my child unhappy, and the actual cost of the care—it wasn’t worth it. I don’t think he understood at all, and he was annoyed at me for turning down the offer.
I’ve been bothered lately by people who think feminism is a bad word, or a word that has to be qualified. Feminism means women and men should have the same rights. Do you believe women have the right to be educated? To get a job? To vote? If not, you probably don’t want to read my blog.
All over the world–including the United States–there are people who think women do not deserve to be educated. There are some who believe it is fine for girls as young as nine or ten to be married. There are many who believe that any woman who dresses in a way they do not consider appropriate or modest enough, or any woman who ventures outside her home unaccompanied by a man is asking to be raped. There are horrible reports of global sex trafficking, rape, and abuse of women. Rape is used as a tactic of war, as it has been for centuries. (For a brief report see this. Also see the Women Under Siege Project.)
I’m am fortunate to have had strong women as role models—my mother, my immigrant grandmothers, and my mother-in-law, among them. I also had a piano/music teacher who was a single mother and a singular free spirit. She helped to boost my confidence during my shaky, emotional teenage years, and then became a friend. Both of my parents believed I could do anything, be anything I wanted to be.
I have not been much of a marcher or organizer. I haven’t given speeches, or rallied the troops. I did not continue with an academic career. I’ve occasionally heard that my books have inspired others, and I’ve been asked to chair conference sessions and write letters of recommendation. But my husband and I have done something right. We have two strong, wonderful, brilliant, talented daughters. They are proud feminists, as am I.
“Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book.”
– Malala Yousafzai
I’ve never thought being a feminist means I can’t enjoy cooking. My gender has nothing to do with it. I don’t cook because I’m a woman and that’s my role. I cook because I want to cook. Here’s a recipe that I’ve written about before. I made these cookies for archivists while working on my dissertation, which became my first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. The cookies are called “Mommy Cookies” at my house because they are my favorite. Enjoy!