Amy Roberts: Feminist views
June 16, 2015
The first time I was called a feminist, I was too young to know what it meant. I was also too young to be making any kind of political statement. I just saw boys being given special treatment and I inquired about it.
It was the summer I was 10 years old. Though not particularly religious, my parents sent me to Vacation Bible School for six hours Monday-Friday for two weeks. I don’t think they really cared about me finding Jesus as much as they needed a free and safe place to deposit me for a couple weeks that summer. I was hyperactive, stubborn, curious, and they couldn’t afford to send me to horse camp. So there I was at a church with a handful of other 5th graders whose parents were also looking for a free babysitter and/or to guarantee their kids a lifetime struggle with guilt.
On the first day we all met up in the morning and sang songs. In the afternoon, we were divided by gender and the boys got to go outside to dig for earthworms and go fishing, while the girls stayed inside to make crafts. Being a bit of a tomboy and having a limited desire to paint a wooden spoon, I asked to go outside with the boys and was promptly told "no." I had to stay inside and learn important life tasks, like how to glue fake eyeballs to wood.
When I pointed out this wasn’t fair, I was just as good at fishing as the boys were, I was told Jesus expects young ladies to be obedient. I was sent home with a note that cautioned my parents to watch out for my "feminist tendencies" and be careful to not encourage them.
My parents were not sure about sending me back. On one hand, they didn’t want to squash my spirit. On the other hand, the house was clean for the first time since Christmas break and I think my mom really wanted a few more days to herself. And so she sent me back the following day, but went inside with me first to talk to the minister’s wife about allowing all the kids to choose which activity they wanted to participate in and not divide us by gender.
I have no idea if that happened because as soon as morning songs were over, my mom returned to pick me up for good. I’d been kicked out of Vacation Bible School for answering a question posed by another child, who asked, "What does God wear?" I replied, "She wears a dress."
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Ever since then I’ve taken note of subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle cues from society that appear to seek division over equality. It pains me to walk into a store and see the boys’ toy aisle filled with plastic guns and army men and chemistry sets, while the girl aisle is usually stocked with princess sets and Barbie dolls. High school dress codes give much more freedom to boys than girls. In college I noticed how the male athletes had access to better equipment and better gym hours than their female counter parts. There was always money in the budget to charter a private plane for the football team, while the women’s soccer team took a bus to the national championship game. Throughout my career, I’ve been called "bossy" and "bitchy," while men with the same communication style I have are referred to as "leaders" and "assertive." I’ve never really declared myself a feminist, but it’s a label others have applied to me every time I point out that having a vagina doesn’t automatically invalidate me.
Given this, it’s probably not too surprising I now have a beef with a local restaurant. I went to dinner Saturday night with some friends and was irritated when I read a description on the menu. It said, "Ladies, this one’s for you" right next to the 4-ounce steak that came with a salad. My girlfriends were equally annoyed.
We pointed it out to our server and asked, "What if I want an 8-ounce steak? Can a man order this "ladies" entree?" Our server just sighed and said, "Yeah, a lot of people find that line sexist."
I’m sure the menu’s copywriter just needed to fill some white space and didn’t put much thought into the text. Trust me, I can relate. But I can’t help but wonder when we are going to put some thought into what our subtle actions and words really mean. Women shouldn’t be guilted into ordering a smaller filet because they’re women. Or buying pink dolls if they really want to play with Legos. Or making a craft if they’d rather be fishing.
Hopefully my next meal at this place isn’t served with a side of understated misogyny.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.