Saturday, May 19, 2012

Return to Old-Fashioned Values? No thanks.

At commencement last weekend, I was reminded yet again why I do not want to return to old-fashioned American values.
At least the cap is uni-sex.
Photo by SmugMug User Ed Sloat.

My chest tightens a little when I hear this commonplace plea because some of these values weren't all that great. Lots of separate but equal;  specific roles to be filled by mothers, by fathers, by women, by men; shunning otherness (even calling it otherness).
Take, for example, the academic regalia newly minted PhDs, JDs, and faculty wear for commencement ceremonies. The regalia comes with a "hood" and instructions to hook the hood onto one of the buttons on your shirt.

The hood is made of rich velvet and satin. Mine is red, commemorative of my Ph.D. from Texas Tech. I love wearing it. But, even if I owned a dress shirt with buttons down the front and even if I tucked it in, the hood is too heavy to stay in place unless the shirt is also secured with a belt unlike any that I own or wear. The result is that the hood rides up and chokes me. The "solution" to the no-button problem is to use a safety pin, but this only works if you remember to bring a safety pin to commencement.

Every year, the female faculty discuss easy redesigns of the regalia (buttons on the shoulders! Velcro! a button inside the robe!) So simple, yet, every year, there we are with regalia designed for men.

Ms.JD writes about the academic hood she wore during law school graduation:
The instruction sheet tells me to do the following:
"1. Put hood on over your head with velvet side up and with small tapered end in front." Great! I'm on board.

"2. Before closing gown, loop cord on front of hood over shirt/blouse button to keep hood from riding against wearer's neck." Wait, what now? What button? I'm confused, my graduation dress doesn't have a button.
Sure, some women wear Oxford style shirts to graduation; but most do not. So while my hood was sagging around my neck and strangling me, my male counterparts were comfortable and looking well put together. Nothing tells you that you are in a world that was not built for you quite like the graduation regalia literally being made for another gender. Thanks legal profession, I feel so welcome!
It's not just the legal profession, but I doubt that makes Ms. JD feel any better.

This year, after the annual choking of female professors/graduating PhDs commencement, my husband tossed in a load of laundry and held batting practice in the yard for the boy child and the girl child while I took a nap.

He also made breakfast so I could attend a very early-morning meeting with a colleague, took the kids to swimming lessons, and figured out a lunch plan. My colleague's husband also fed their children breakfast and started the day so we could meet.

I write this not to celebrate the amazing fete of two husbands able to manage children by themselves but to say that for our two families, this is our normal. I don't want to return to the time when the man's relationship to the washer/dryer was limited to installation and repair. I needed a nap and we needed clean socks.

But, even now, in 2012, some women do not have a dedicated women's restroom in a reasonable location at work because their work units were formerly male only. Someone might want to note that STEM education efforts are aimed at bringing women into engineering and science, and these women eventually will have to pee.

Two cousins finished college this year. I remember just a generation or two ago, college wasn't the destiny for members of our family. The women in our family changed this direction, and even the boy cousins need to be grateful.

There's always one moment every semester when I touch the lectern or the remote slide clicker or the white board and I remember that a lot of women had to act radically and seemingly erratically to make space for women to not just sit in a college classroom and take classes but to teach in one.

Dr. Gary Tate, a retired professor from TCU, was the first man I heard admit out loud that he was a feminist. My heart aches a little when I hear women claim to not be feminists. Don't you think it's fair that men and women receive the same pay for the same work? And that women should have a bathroom on the floor where she works? That is feminism. Nothing radical. Nothing outrageous. But, sometimes, it takes something radical or outrageous to achieve the mundane.

Or it takes a man. Shannon LC Cate explains that the "press has discovered the 'invisibility' of stay-at-home fathers and is making hay of same. Never mind that Betty Friedan already told us all about this, now it is real, now it is a problem, because now it is happening to men." The first feminists had to be outrageous to make it possible for us to do what now feels mundane for women: to go to college, build careers, choose to leave those careers to raise a family. Feminism made it possible for women to build careers that have enough substance that when women choose to leave to focus on family, they have enough skills, connections, and critical thinking skills to start home-based businesses (empires for some) or to freelance or to consult.

Feminists made it possible for men to be able to be at-home parents while women pursue work outside the home. 

And still, equal pay for equal work is so hard for us to achieve. Marion Syverson studies how women think about money and has some interesting answers on her blog, Finance with Chocolate Sauce.

So if we're going to return to old-fashioned American values, I'm going to need a list. Which values do we really want back?

Maybe this is why the commencement regalia hasn't been altered to fit men and women. People are waiting for the return to old-fashioned American values. Men will pursue law degrees and PhDs and wear shirts with buttons that hold the regalia in place. And women will stay home and wash socks and fry chicken because there's no bathroom at the office anyway.

[Photo of graduation hats by SmugMug User Ed Sloat. "Girls Heart Stem" image from an unknown source.]

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