Monday, July 17, 2006

The making of a feminist

I don't think my father would be pleased if he thought that I turned out to be a feminist.

I suppose he would be less pleased if he thought that he was directly involved in a positive way.

Nevertheless, I'm beginning to realize that both are true. How did it happen?

My dad's philosophy on women, based on his behavior, is that a woman, specifically a wife or daughter, should never talk back, should listen attentively and intelligently to what the man says, should ask permission before doing anything, should cook the food, wash the dishes, wash the clothes, keep the house, go to church, pray, read the Bible, be good to everyone, and look nice while doing it all without benefit of makeup. I'm sure there are other things in there that I missed.

So how does that make me a feminist? Well, the little part in there where she has to think. Maybe it sprang from the fact that his own mother ran a farm, raised five children, kept a house, and basically paid the bills by teaching calculus to high schoolers. She received her master's degree from Penn State University at the same time as Dad did. I grew up afraid to speak in her presence for fear that I would say something stupid.

Oddly enough, that magical day that I turned eighteen years old, although I didn't realize it at the time, he stopped telling me what to do. It went from complete control to suggestion, and sometimes only opinion when asked for. I didn't practice my new decision making power for a while. My first rash act was cutting my hair short. I was never allowed to do that in high school. In the twenties bobbing your hair was very feminist.

Dad always hoped that all three of his girls would marry good Christian young men, hopefully pastors or missionaries. He still doesn't know it, but he ruined us for that. Most of those conservatives are as shovenistic as anyone, more than most. They want to see the barn painted if it needs it, frilly dresses, and pantyhose. They want to hear "yes, sir", no matter how stupid what they're saying is. Matter of fact, the dumber it is, the louder you better say it, since no one else will. My older sister is the equivalent of a nun, and the other two of us married heathens. So much for Dad's dream.

At college I idly wondered why the fat, ugly girls had dates and I didn't. I knew I was pretty. Dad told me so. Aside from the fact that I got real nervous when I had to talk to boys, the "natural" look just wasn't in at all in 1992. The journey began. Instead of dating, I became friends with boys. At summer camp and around my brother's friends, I was just one of the boys. The truth is, I grew up acting simply like a person, not a girl or a tomboy or anything else.

Now I understand that lipstick and rouge give a man a preview of what a woman looks like in a sexually excited state. Since that's all many men think of anyway, you can see why that's a big selling point. Going without makeup makes a woman look asexual. It makes her a person. I've worn makeup. I used to let my roommates give me a makeover sometimes. People would do a double take and say, "Is that really you? You look so nice." Unspoken is the statement that you needed to do something with yourself. How is it feminist not to wear makeup? Ask any woman who spends an hour putting her face on in the morning and 30 minutes taking it off at night what else she would like to do with that time. Look at your picture next to whoever is on the cover of Glamour magazine. See how strangers treat you all dolled up compared to when you're wearing your painting jeans.

Try this scenario. On a first date with the average man, bring up some topic that you know more about than he does. Lots of men will listen and participate. Many will change the subject. Some will just act uncomfortable. A very select few will ask for a second date. After all, it's a basic law of nature. Women choose men because they look strong and virile. Men choose women because they have child-bearing hips. Or derivations thereof. You don't have to be smart to have babies. Statistics show us that professional women have fewer children at a later age. That image doesn't push the biological imperative. The result: when it comes to men, society teaches women to act like bait to catch a man who can pay the mortgage.

Dad, thanks for the biggest favor of my life. All the men that I didn't want bypassed me while I learned how to think for myself. The most special man in the world bypassed all the girls in makeup and skin tight Levi's and waited around for me to get old enough. He's seventeen years older than me, a true gentlemen like they don't make anymore, and he loves my mind. He has no preconceived notion of my role. A true feminist man, and you prepared me for him.

I always say everything in life happens for a reason.



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