Last night while doing some late night driving, I was catching up on Fresh Air podcasts. I’ve shared my love for podcasts in the past but it’s worth reiterating. It’s like DVR for my TV… Discovering the joy of podcasts has been life changing for me. I don’t enjoy listening to music while driving (mostly because it puts me to sleep and that’s a terrible idea when I’m behind the wheel) so podcasts are a perfect solution. I feel much more informed about the world I’m living in and learn so many interesting things.
One of the episodes I listened to last night was an interview with Gloria Steinem. I actually wasn’t looking forward to it because I heard Steinem speak while I was in college and couldn’t stand her. I remember her coming across as self-righteous and angry. It just rubbed me the wrong way.
Even if I don’t get behind some of the feminist leaders, I do consider myself a feminist. I truly believe women and men should be treated equally… but, and I won’t get into it now, I hold the unpopular opinion that there shouldn’t be special treatment for either gender.
Anyway… back to the actual topic at hand. Although that last paragraph wasn’t completely irrelevant.
As I listened to the interview, I found myself not hating her but not really feeling I could relate to her either. The interview was about how she spent much of her childhood traveling around the country in a trailer because that’s what her father wanted to do. She didn’t attend school most of the year until she was 10, doesn’t really remember how she learned how to read, and never learned basic math skills.
I felt sorry for her because it was clear her father didn’t support success, at least for her.
Whether that was because she was a girl or because he just kinda sucked, I don’t know. She clearly thinks it’s because she was a girl. I just didn’t get it. I mean, I recognize that’s how she feels. But – lucky for me – I simply couldn’t imagine a childhood like that.
I found myself being so incredibly thankful for my dad as I listened to Steinem talk.
Some of my fondest memories of him and I are of us laying on the floor as he used homemade flashcards to teach me to read. I was 3. And I vividly remember the cardboard squares where he had written word parts. We’d lay there and rearrange them. He allowed me to ask endless questions and learn how to find the answers. We tried putting word parts together that just didn’t work and giggled as we came up with the “correct” answers. There is no doubt in my mind that those hours we spent together were the single most influential part of my childhood. I have grown into someone who questions everything, always looking for a better answer. I know there aren’t always right or wrong answers and that it’s ok to experiment until you find something that fits. Nevermind that I’ve been reading almost a book a day as long as I could remember.
Steinem also feels that her mom’s mental health issues were just a case of “patriarchy” – being held down by a husband (and society) who didn’t support her goals and dreams and only thought of himself. Again, I am so lucky to not understand that at all.
My dad never once told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. He never held me back because I wasn’t going to be good enough. Never. Not once. In fact, the only thing I can really remember him putting his foot down and telling me I couldn’t ever do was get my belly button pierced when I was 16.
If anything, I’ve struggled to live up to him for most of my life… not because he expected too much and pushed me too hard. Not in the least. He has 100% supported me to make the right decisions for myself. I always knew he’d support those decisions, whether it was to quit a great paying job to go back to school because I was miserable or it was to move halfway across the country to a new town where I knew no one (twice) or it was to buy a house all by myself.
Because I knew he knew I could do anything I put my mind to, I’ve never wanted to let him down. He taught me so many things that many of my girl friends “can’t” do and never let me use being a girl as an excuse.
And that is why I am a feminist. Not because I’ve been held back and have to fight against that. Not because I feel some sort of oppression that must be overcome.
But because I was raised in a loving environment where I knew I would be supported when I set out to accomplish my dreams. I always knew the sky was the limit as long as the sky was what I was aiming for.
And boy, have I reached for the moon and found myself among the stars.
It sounds vain to say I’m proud of myself but I am. I am proud of the woman I’ve become. I have encountered successful women who get there by holding others back and climbing on top of them. And – seriously… correct me if I’m wrong – I am proud to not be one of them. I like to think I find my success in boosting others up and helping them realize their potential.
That’s because I have learned from the best.
My parents weren’t always perfect but they were pretty darn close. And while I’m incredibly close to my mom (who I know is reading this so please don’t take any of this the wrong way because you did all of the same things as Dad!), I’m so grateful to have been raised by a father who always made me feel like I could do anything.
If there were more dad’s out there like mine the women’s movement wouldn’t be a thing… it wouldn’t need to be.