I had my first feminist stirring, or “Hmmm” moment, in grade school when I noticed teachers always asked boys to help them carry boxes, move the mobile TV or assist with other physical chores. I accepted this at first because, I guess, I bought into the idea that I was just a weaker-than-the-boys girl. But I remember thinking, “Hey, I want to help, too!”
Then, in eighth grade, I had my first “Aha!” moment. One day, when we were studying World War II, a classmate insulted Eleanor Roosevelt by remarking that she was ugly. I replied, “No, she’s not! And, even if she were, why would it matter?” It was such an egregious example of a woman of substance and integrity being judged in such a shallow and incongruous way. A shrug was all I got for an answer, and for the rest of the class period I sat there wondering how this classmate could only see women superficially. Click!
Unfortunately, I recently encountered my first “Oh no!” moment. As we discussed women’s rights in my high school government class, my teacher asked if anyone believed women did not deserve the same rights as men. I laughed, because I could not imagine anyone agreeing to such a ridiculous statement. But, lo and behold, a girl in my row raised her hand. A girl! Not some boy thinking sexism is cool or joking around, but a girl, and a smart one, too!
I now realize I should have spoken to my grade-school teacher about both boys and girls being able to help her. And though I did speak up for Eleanor, I wish my words had more power to affect my classmate’s unconsciously perpetuated sexism. As for the idea that anyone could still think that women don’t deserve equal rights, it reminds me to keep speaking up, to resolve to find the right words to break through the thick, invisible-to-some barrier of sexism, and to learn how to gracefully pick my jaw up off the floor.