A Tale of Ambush by Sexist Feminists
I am tired of hearing that, because I am a woman, I must think a certain way or vote for a particular candidate. The notion that women should be allowed to think for themselves is certainly foundational to the feminist movement, but you would never know that listening to heads of various women’s organizations, prattling on about how women do not support Romney.
They don’t speak for me, and they certainly do not think for me.
These “women’s leaders” claim that one candidate is anti-woman because he does not want to force all employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. Does caring about women require the religious freedom of some to be infringed to provide a financial benefit to others? Cheaper gas would free up a lot of money for contraceptives or whatever else a woman might decide she values most.
They claim Obama is a stronger champion of equal pay for equal work, but that has little value when you have no job and the equal pay equals zero.
They even took issue with Romney’s debate language of “binders full of women” claiming it was offensive. Really? Funny, yes, but not offensive. Women who are that sensitive need a little more time on the elementary school playground!
I’ve always thought that women, just like men, were entitled to hold a variety of political opinions as to what is best for America. I’ve thought that many factors influence those opinions, and that a woman’s political journey is not set the moment the doctor says “It’s a girl!” I have found, in the most unlikely of places, that some do not agree.
Growing up Southern
I grew up in one of the most conservative, traditional parts of the country, but I never had anyone tell me that I, because I was a woman, should think a certain way about anything. It was not until I got to Harvard Law School in 1985 that I learned that, because of my gender, there were certain expectations for what I was to think.
As a young person, I received a level of indoctrination into the belief systems of those who cared for me. I was taught that there were choices to be made between good and evil, truth and falsehood, the sensible and the impractical, and that I was to choose the good, the true, and the sensible. But there was not any special pressure on me to think a certain way about anything because I was a woman.
I grew up in a place where people knew each other intimately and families had ties for generations. I was Dan and Kate’s daughter, Daniel’s sister, Ollie B’s granddaughter, a Methodist, a student, a volunteer at Nellie Burge Community Center, and finally, I was going off to Harvard to become “a lady lawyer.” I was known as an individual: talkative, scatter-brained, messy, compassionate and opinionated. A lot was known about me – but there was room for surprises too. No one ever insulted me by assuming that, just because I was a woman, I would necessarily hold certain political positions.
I did not personally experience anything I would call sexism. It never occurred to me to consider whether my choices in life as to career would be limited because I was a woman. In my world, my gender just was not an issue. Men opened doors for me. I thanked them. I did not regard it as condescending or degrading. It was just nice.
All my family lived in Alabama, and my female relatives provided a rich variety of role models. One great-aunt had been a federal bankruptcy judge, another a missionary to Korea, another a concert pianist, and another the post-mistress of her town. My paternal grandmother was a single mom and an entrepreneur starting restaurants and a dry cleaning business. My maternal grandmother worked alongside her husband in the family pharmacy business. My mother quit her job when I was born to care for me – and whomever else in her world needed her care. My dad encouraged me to go to law school and flew to Texas for my swearing-in. But he was also supportive when I left the practice of law to care for my children.
Coming of Age
While at Harvard I, like all women students, was invited to join the Women’s Law Association. I wondered what the benefit was of a group where the only thing we built a sense of community around was merely being women, like half the population. But, I went a few times to see what it was all about. Maybe I just hit it at the wrong times but it seemed to me to be a place for women to gather and rile each other up to be upset about things. Granted, many of them had not had the same positive life experiences that I had had. In many, mistreatment had engendered a sense of powerlessness they sought to address. But they took it too far.
One memorable meeting involved a strident discussion of the lack of women receiving tenured faculty appointments at the Law School. I hesitantly pointed out that Mary Ann Glendon had just been granted tenure. Professor Glendon was a favorite of mine. Conservative and pro-life, a devout Catholic, a feminine and gracious woman, and a most eminent scholar, she brought true and needed diversity to the Harvard faculty – and not just because she was a woman. The response from the woman leading the discussion was harsh and immediate: “She’s not a woman; she is a man in a woman’s body!” And her withering look said “You must be too.” Yikes.
Ironically, this was my first exposure to sexism, and it came from those claiming most ardently to be fighting it.
It made me realize how wrong it is to assume, just because of one immutable characteristic, that a person should think or behave a certain way.
When it is a label I choose that reflects a belief system I adhere to, you can claim to be my leader or to expect that I will think and act a certain way.
You can tell me I am not a real Christian if I don’t believe the Bible.
You can tell me I am not a real Republican if I disagree with most of the party platform.
You can tell me I am not a real Auburn fan if I boo the team.
But to tell me I am a not a real woman because I am not a liberal, pro-choice feminist is itself an invidious form of sexism. And it is not just a matter of hurt feelings. That sexism once cost me a job I thought I wanted.
“I know your kind!”
In law school I especially enjoyed studying constitutional law. Only one firm in Austin, Texas, where I planned to live, had much of a practice in that area. I was very interested in the firm, and they were interested in me. I interviewed with them one morning and was invited to attend an elegant luncheon with 7 of the firms’ lawyers at a private dining club in town. Everything was going very well.
I had attended a number of these interview lunches in several states. I always enjoyed them. This gathering started with the typical “getting to know you” light-hearted conversation, this time about family, food, and travel. One of the lawyers was a writer, and he shared some about how he balanced that with the practice of law. It was a diverse and interesting group of people. Lawyers, especially litigators, are often brilliant conversationalists.
The talk eventually turned to what I was doing during the current January term. I explained that my fiancé lived in Austin, and I had sought out a January internship with a local public interest lobbying group. I was circumspect in my description of my work, not trying to hide anything but expecting that the political perspective of the group, the Texas Grassroots Coalition, might not have great support among all those present.
It was a small coalition, perhaps a bit more conservative in its ideology than I was, but not radical or notorious. I explained, in a politically neutral way, what a great experience I was having, reviewing all the proposed Texas state legislation to see if there was anything of interest to the supporters of the coalition, doing informative radio spots on political issues, and meeting with legislators to express the opinions of those of their constituents that our coalition represented.
A couple of the lawyers present, both women litigators, pressed on. I answered their questions for several minutes. Yes, legislation dealing with abortion was of special interest to our members. No, it was not an abortion rights group. The orientation of the coalition was decidedly in favor of laws that would tend to reduce the number of abortions performed. I spoke carefully, answering more questions, not even using the common appellations “pro-life” or “pro-choice” but more neutral and precise language. I did not talk about killing babies but instead of terminating pregnancies.
I was firm in my convictions but as civilized, polite, and non-inflammatory as I could possibly be. I really wanted to be offered a job at this firm. The conversation was tense, but as a law student I was accustomed to tense.
Then things deteriorated further. As dessert was served a rage began to simmer in the two inquisitors.
“But you are a woman at Harvard Law School. How can you think like that?” the first one said.
“Well it is a minority position I can assure you, but there are a few of us who think like I do at Harvard, and a lot more in Texas,” I answered laughing a bit. The others at the table laughed along with me, but a bit nervously.
“You want to impose your view of morality on everyone else!” said the second one. Another of the lawyers made some soft comment to her, his colleague, along the lines of “OK, that’s probably enough.” Woman One made a quick side comment about me to Woman Two, rolling her eyes. I did not hear it all but it started “I bet she . . .” I tried to ignore it.
“Fair enough,” I answered, “It is the political process at work, and I guess it does quite often involve one group trying to advance their agenda of what they think is right,” I smiled, trying to “be sweet” as I had been told to be from my earliest days.
At that, the second woman lurched forward in her chair, bumping the table and sloshing iced tea out of the glasses. She shook her finger at me – I kid you not – and said in a truly menacing voice “I know your kind. You are a disgrace.”
Her momma must not have told her to be sweet.
I decided that working at that firm was not so appealing after all. I dispensed with trying to carry on a civil conversation.
“You may think you know ‘my kind’ but you hardly know me at all, and I’d like to keep it that way.” I replied with as much dignity and control as I could muster, speaking slowly and softly.
I turned to the gentleman on my right, the coordinator of the gathering, who was sitting there looking like he just witnessed a train wreck. I thanked him for a “lovely lunch” and said my good-byes to the rest of the table. He said, “We will be in touch.” I smiled again but did not respond with the usual “I look forward to hearing from you.” I walked away, calmly, to the car. By the time I arrived my hands were shaking so that I could barely put the key in the lock. I had even forgotten to eat my dessert, and if you know me, that is significant!
In a Box
What had just happened? Why the outrage? Maybe they were just angry women. (Based on recent videos I have seen of one of them, she seems even angrier now.) Maybe they were just making a scene to run me off. If so, it worked! Surely these women had civil relationships with other pro-life friends and colleagues. But my best guess is that before meeting me they must have expected that a woman from Harvard Law School would share their political views. Most of the time they would have been right. But when they found out that they were wrong about me, they were outraged. Reality interfered with their view of the world.
Some people have a pattern of leaving a football game that appears to be decided, even when a few minutes remain on the clock. By doing so, they ensure that they will always miss the most thrilling and exciting finishes. Some people have a habit of putting others in a box, thinking that because of a few features, or even a single feature, that they know all there is to know about that person. I have done it myself. But in so doing, we are sure to miss out on knowing the most interesting and unique people in our lives.
Great people are often those that are enigmas, whose lives burst stereotypes: The business tycoon that actually does have a heart for the poor and oppressed; the pro-choice feminist that provides foster care for handicapped babies; the All-American football center with a 4.0 GPA who plays the violin; the rock star in a long and happy marriage; the 19-year-old homecoming queen who eschews the fun of college sorority life to move to Uganda, found a ministry, and adopt 13 daughters, giving them a sisterhood of another sort altogether; and the African-American mom who has the courage to leave her comfort zone and send her son to an elite, predominately white school so that he can have the best education possible.
Many of us, in the course of this presidential campaign, have allowed others to put the candidates in boxes for us and not opened the boxes to really see the men themselves. Obama has a strange name. I bet he is a Muslim. Into the box he goes. Romney is rich and successful. Therefore, he wants to hurt the little guy. Into the box he goes.
In everything from electing a president to making a new friend, we miss out when we fail to see people as creatures fearfully and wonderfully made, reflecting the image of God. When we look only at one immutable characteristic, such as gender, race, or national origin, or even something like wealth, and assume that it alone defines a person, we are seeing people not as precious and unique individuals but just as caricatures…like the cartoonish line drawings that emphasize one feature disproportionately.
We aren’t being sweet.
We aren’t being respectful.
It may be easier than thinking, but it is wrong.
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