I’ve been taking a Materialist Feminism class and have been reworking where I stand as a feminist and what I believe in. What I love about this class is that it’s not a women versus men. It’s the oppressed versus the oppressive. We discuss race, class, and gender altogether because it’s necessary to understand that oppression can’t be separated and categorized.
We had an assignment to write a narrative where we discuss a pressure we feel. This is something that doesn’t let us be who we want to be and something we succumb to. In writing, it was hoped that we began to see the root of the problem in the capitalistic society. Unfortunately, I already realized I forgot a very important part of my narrative after I sent it in (and I had until midnight to turn it, but I got over-excited). What I would have liked to add is how by succumbing to this pressure, I have brought my resume down in the major and the career path I have chosen by not being selfish. Also, this seems to be more about the language used on me and I hope it comes off as something different. I’m realizing the ending isn’t what I wanted. (It’s always after you submit work, you realize all of this)
Anyway, to the assignment. I’m posting it here if you’re interested in reading some of the struggle I’ve experienced. If you’d like to write a response in where you experience a pressure, I’d love to read it.
“It’s Time to Be Selfish”
I am reminded to be selfless every day and am made aware of what people don’t have. I am white and therefore, do not have to deal with racism. I am the daughter of a working class family and therefore, have a roof over my head. I am a girl and therefore, I can cry to get out of things. I am reminded that when I’m stressed out at school, that some don’t have rights to education. I am reminded that I need to have time for my family, boyfriend, and future children when I tell my family I want to go to Grad school. I am scolded for saying that I’m happier reading or writing. I am scolded for saying I like to spend time by myself. I am expected to be selfless in every way. I am expected to give up my identity to become an Elementary teacher even though I know that’s not who I am. When I assert myself, I am reminded I have no reason to do that. I am never told that I am a woman and need to stay in a job where I work with children though it sits below every word that’s said to me. I am never told to do what makes me happy.
In fourth grade, I was placed as a reading buddy with a first grader like the rest of the class. What made me different was that another fourth grader who struggled in reading was added to our group. Jon was a nice kid and we were friends out of default on account of not having any other friends. Jon was a good friend nevertheless. He always listened to me and liked to play the games I wanted to play.
Ms. O’Rourke came to me after my reading buddy placement to ask if I was okay with the situation. “I just wanted to make sure it was okay with you to help Jon because you’re so good at reading.”
I was quick to agree. I didn’t want to make her find somebody else and most of all, I liked feeling important.
“Thank you, Kelsey. I thought you’d say yes because you’re helpful.”
That was my earliest, clearest memory of somebody calling me helpful. I was important in my ability to say yes. Of course, I did help out, but I wouldn’t be helpful or important if I went so far to say no. I was a good girl when I said yes and was agreeable. These were all the aspects of being selfless. If I had decided that struggling along with a fourth grader and a first grader who read at the same level while I was one to skip ahead and grow bored of a lesson that kept going and going, I would be more of a pain than it was worth. I didn’t dwell on it. I was helpful and selfless. That was who I was.
I understood myself as this and I could do my best in this place. I might be seen as a teacher’s pet, but I never went that far to bother the teacher after fourth grade, being told I was being annoying. Sure, I talked too much and made up a lot of stories then presented them as truth (some would call this lying), but I was a good girl and would walk away shame-faced if a teacher told me to leave. I was good in this domestic field though it was much more minor than the one my mom was in, but I was good at taking care of people. I was told by many family members that I’d be a good mother and maybe a good wife if I could shut-up once in a while.
Through Middle school and High school, I built up a resume of selfless activities. I was a Girl Scout and participated in the community service quietly while my best friend would complain about the thought of waking up before ten on a Saturday to clean up the roads. I was in Big Brother-Big Sister and persevered through despite my first year being with a boy who refused to say a word to me. I struggled through that program since I didn’t always go, but I was still told I was patient despite knowing I couldn’t stand to sit in that room anymore. I tutored a fourth grader in math my Senior year when I was told going into Education might be a good path for me. I always politely, but firmly, told them that Creative Writing was what I would major in. They would shake their head, but accept what I said.
I had a secret through all of this. I didn’t enjoy working with the kids. They said I was patient, but I could never see why when my fists were clenched when a child wouldn’t talk to me or when I purposefully skipped out because I wanted to spend time with people my own age or with a good book. They said I was selfless in the way I gave up time, but I never felt like I was doing enough, that I could do enough. Maybe it meant I strived to be even more selfless than where I was at, but either way, I didn’t like where I was.
As a college freshman, I loved taking classes and felt happy with what I was doing. I wasn’t living up the college life and never attended an Oswego party, but I was the average college student worrying over exams and papers with complaining about professors thrown into the mix.
Yet, I was faced with the same problem as before college. I didn’t know what to do with this major. It’s something you actually have to feel confident about. I went through a Creative Writing class, but these classes don’t just tell you if you’re a good writer or not. They give you critiques and you have to sit there and decipher what they’re trying to say. If you’re not good, then there’s four years of college down the drain (some people would say it’s still down the drain whether you’re bad or good).
I went to an advisor and thought it out and finally, changed my major to Childhood Education. My mom was thrilled, my grandparents were thrilled, those people on Facebook were thrilled, and I was hoping that it wouldn’t take everything I loved away from me.
Two years later, I was back to Creative Writing and this was that move. It’s the move that everybody stares at you and judges you for. It’s the move that makes it so you suddenly have to answer every question to prove you’re not spiraling out of control.
This was the start of when I realized something’s wrong with the expectations people have of me. Frigga Haug writes that women are socialist by nature in the aspects that they have such as “maternal love, the gratification of needs independently of achievement, love, care, domesticity…” (Haug 130). This is true, but those aspects are also an expectation of women. If a woman steps out and takes on a career path that’s seen as independent (such as writing), they are seen as Other than woman or man.
It was my second cousin who told me I was selfish. He’s thirty-something and in the Marines, so I couldn’t quite say he was being selfish. I did tell him that in Creative Writing I was happier. I even went so far to tell him I felt like I was losing who I was in Childhood Education. I didn’t feel like it was mentally stimulating, I saw the teachers looking like they’d rather be anywhere than in the school, and I was already looking for kids to yell at than to praise. I knew I needed to get out as quickly as possible and made my escape when I saw it. While I saw something in teaching, I knew it wasn’t the type of change I wanted to make. If I was going to influence minds, I didn’t want to have a filter. I knew that if I was to teach, it would be in a college setting. If I wasn’t going to teach, I wanted to write books that changed people or speak, to move people or do anything but sit behind a desk and receive too many dandelions from too many kids I secretly hated.
Still, my cousin went on. His overall claim that it didn’t matter what I wanted. It didn’t matter what made me happy. If I gave enough of myself, I would be happy because those who received what I gave would be happy. This is an idea that reflected the ones I learned early on in church. If I gave so much, I would get so much. There was something to say about having the satisfaction of giving. I whole-heartedly believe this, but I didn’t see any value in giving my whole self away without considering my needs. I told him that I was losing myself and that I didn’t know how I would be considered selfless if I stayed in teaching where I would give up and not do anything good for those kids. Despite my arguments, he stayed stuck in his opinion and refused to even consider mine. I lost my identity once again, this time to being selfish.
All of these stories have mounted up and I began to see connections and they’re still forming. I based my life around my family and am swayed by their thoughts. But where do their thoughts come from? Church reinforced them in the expectations they had of me being a part of the Christian family. When I changed back from Childhood Education, they think it’s my mother’s influence. My mother, who was the bad wife. She divorced my father and claimed unhappiness. They openly complained about her and only asked how bad it was. They never wanted to hear about what a release it was to not have to hear the shouting and the arguing, so I stayed silent. School even told me that working with kids was the best idea there was for me, but those were the only opportunities I had in High School. They weren’t giving out community service for writing.
I stayed silent through my family and my school’s critique of my life. I was expected to stay in the domestic sphere, to want to stay at home and cook and provide for my family. They put the blame mostly on my mother and that I talked too much. There was no reason for book writing or getting into that mess. Why couldn’t I be like my cousin, Hayley who wanted to work in a salon one day? Why couldn’t I be like my cousin, Kayla who wanted to work with babies? Hayley would be working in a job that wouldn’t be giving back, but she never stepped into childcare, so that was fine. And plus, she loves babysitting and is already engaged at seventeen. Or Kayla? Kayla will be working with kids and has already said she wants five of her own. Why couldn’t I be like any of them?
I never knew what to say, but now I’ve become more confident. They want me to work in this sphere that gives me time to be a mother. Supposedly, for my best interest though they don’t ask what I might be interested in. I am told to be selfless in all that I do, but the men of my family are okay to go out and drink and never get jobs. I need to be the rock when I meet that type of man and to whip them into shape so they can provide for me and my future children. They say I will control the family though it will look like he does. This is supposed to satisfy me. Why? Why should I feel okay knowing that I’m seen as a weak woman? Why can’t I put my words out for the world to see? To raise my voice and make connections? To be a part of a group that all have the same root of oppression and know that to take it back, they can’t be selfless anymore?
I’m expected to give my identity up as a writer and instead, become a teacher, to become another woman who found where her place is. Teaching is important as is being a housewife. As what Ehrenreich says, housewives are at the very heart of the working class; without them, there is no working class (Ehrenreich 68). Teachers are paid, but they are consistently overlooked and told that they shouldn’t want to be paid because they should love their job and love working with children. After two years of just getting a taste of teaching, I can definitely argue that teachers aren’t paid enough. I don’t’ plan to sit in this domestic sphere. It’s not out of a desire to break away from the expectations that people have of me because of my gender, but because of my own needs and desires. This pressure to be selfless is still one I’ll continue to struggle with, but I plan to do my best to understand that there’s a line I have to make for myself to understand when I’m being selfish and when I’m doing what’s necessary to be who I am. If I’m told I’m selfish because I stand up for what I want, I can accept that word.