I am a feminist who still stares in wide-eyed amazement at so many of the women in this community in which she is now living. 90% of them, if they are professionals, are either nurses or teachers (or retired teachers or nurses). Even more mystifying to me, though, is the fact that I've met quite a few female teenagers and early-twenty-somethings who plan to follow these career paths (one having thought, when she "was young and didn't know better" that she wanted to be President of The United States and who now wants to be a nurse, so she can care for others).
Don't get me wrong. God knows, nursing and teaching are valiant careers. I admire anyone who can stick needles into others and who doesn't mind cleaning up puke. You could offer me AIG-like bonuses, and I'd still turn down a job that required me to do those things. And teaching is truly the most noble of professions, one that is so under-appreciated that it's laughable. Not only is it noble, but it gets harder and harder all the time as teachers are required not only to make sure students score within an acceptable range on stupid standardized tests that prove nothing, but are also expected to be parents, psychologists, nutritionists, and personal trainers while being completely up-to-date on all child welfare policies, lest they find themselves being sued.
You see, I am not against young women choosing either one of these professions. I just have a problem when these are the only choices they think they have. I'll never forget one day when I was out walking with the three neighbors I join for a walk every morning, and we were discussing the need for kids to be better informed when it comes to career choices. So often, young people's talents seem to get ignored when thinking about their futures. They're not always encouraged to think about how best to use their talents to ensure job satisfaction. I laughed and said,
"I had no idea at age sixteen that there were these people called "acquisitions editors" at publishing companies. As a matter of fact, I went to college planning to be an accountant."
One of my friends immediately replied, "At least accounting was seen as an option for girls when you were in high school and college."
I nearly stopped in my tracks. I'd never before considered the fact that these three women, all between the ages of 60 and 65, had never thought that they, not being drawn to nursing, could ever be anything other than teachers. (Yes, I can be very dense sometimes until someone finally points out the obvious to me.) Here I'd been marveling about how many teachers I seem to know around here without questioning why. My own mother, twelve years these women's senior, had worked in the museum field and eventually wound up a curator. She had never gotten the message that, if she wanted to be anything other than a wife and a mother, her only choices were nursing and teaching.
All this is to say that we feminists still have quite a lot of work to do. The message has certainly gotten out over the past forty years that, yes, women can be whatever they want. However, there are pockets of this country where that message has just been buried, it seems. This sort of evidence is why, as I once told everyone, you will never hear me say, "I think women should have equal rights and all, but I'm not a feminist." I hate to burst your bubble, but if you think women should have equal rights, that they should be encouraged to pursue whatever career paths for which they are suited, then you are a feminist. Despite my feminism, however, I still find myself saying, "damn biology." One of these times occurred in the Barton household while Bob was so sick.
When either Bob or I is sick, I prefer to sleep in the guest bedroom that's down the hall. This keeps the one who is sick from being woken up by the one who is well, and I like to think (although, judging from the evidence, it doesn't seem to work too well) it helps keep the well one from catching whatever afflicts the sick one. This is no real sacrifice on my part. I love our cozy little guest bedroom and would be perfectly content to make it a "room of one's own." Also, it's closer to the bathroom than our bedroom is (yes, we live in a house that was built in the pre-master-bath era).
One night, in the midst of Bob's illness, I was slightly conscious of being dragged out of a deep sleep to hear Bob come stumbling into the room in the dark. He put his hand on my head and then stumbled back out, thus indicating to me that he didn't seem to be in need of anything. The next morning, I wasn't sure if it had really happened or not, so I asked him about it.
"Oh yeah. I heard some strange noises, and I was looking in on you to see if you were okay."
Later, when he was feeling much better, he told me he'd checked on me several nights when we were sleeping apart. He admitted it was funny, because he's not usually so aware of noises in the house, but he seemed to hear every odd knock and creak when I was down the hall. He supposed that when I'm in the same room with him, he feels he can "protect" me, but that when I'm down the hall, something could happen, and he might never know.
Although ready to "pooh-pooh" this notion (especially since I don't know how much "protecting" a man doubled over in pain with a kidney stone and a 101.7 degree temperature can do), I had to admit that I'm the same way. As much as I'd like to think I don't need protection, I've experienced many a night when I've not been able to sleep, have taken a book off to some other room in the house, and been sent scurrying back to the safety of the bedroom and Bob when I've heard some strange noise I can't immediately identify. I've often laughed at myself, knowing full well that if Hannibal Lecter is about to come through a back window, armed with weapons and a carefully pre-meditated plan, Bob would be no better protection for me than the stuffed panda I slept with as a child that was meant to defend me from any giant who crossed the threshold of my bedroom. I told him this, and he agreed, laughing,
"Must be our biology," he said.
"Our biology?" I asked.
"Yeah, you're so much smaller than I am, and we're programmed to protect what's smaller than we are." He had a point. We humans are not exactly chihuahua-like in our ambitions to attack and fight those who are 100 times our size, so those who are bigger tend to want to help those who are chihuahua-sized.
"So you're programmed to protect me, and I'm programmed to seek protection? Is it just because of size, or because I'm a woman?"
"Let's put it this way. If you were M, I'd be turning to you for protection." (M is a woman we know who is about 6'6" tall and very athletic. I was quite amused by the notion of Bob running to her for protection.) If truth be told, though, I think my natural instinct would still be to run to Bob for protection and not to M. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I really do think it's more nature than nurture.
Maybe I need to take a self-defense course for both our sakes. In the meantime, I will continue to be amused by the way biology often interferes with my feminist ideals. However, I will not be amused when society's ideals interfere with feminism, when bright and talented young women are not encouraged to be doctors, if they want to care for the ill or principals and college deans if they're interested in educating young minds. That is called "believing in equal rights and all" for women, and it's what feminism is all about.