In other news, I have spent at least part of the afternoon thinking about careers and gender. When I was in high school there was one brilliant gal by the name of Anthea who occasionally mentioned this or that about women in business and how that it would be cool to have a woman as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I wasn't really thinking about that at the time, not because I wasn't thinking about having a career, but because I wasn't familiar with gender as a limiting factor.
I know, I know, I went to elementary school in the 1980s - surely I had heard of the glass ceiling and chauvinism and girls trailing boys in math and science - and I probably had. But I think I didn't frame those things in terms of things that had anything to do with me. My sense of self was pretty strong, and I think I sort of had this feeling that I could do anything I wanted, and gender limitations wouldn't apply.
For a few weeks at around age four I apparently told everyone I wanted to be a fighter tester pilot when I grew up. My dad had put this idea into my head - not as something he thought I would actually be great at, I don't think, but as a means to pay for college, namely, via military service. I suspect that he somehow knew that women were not allowed to serve in such a fashion at the time, but I think the possibility of a limitation being placed on me due to my gender didn't occur to him, either.
That's a pretty remarkable viewpoint for him to have had as somebody born in the 1950s and raised in a conservative nuclear family headed by a WWII Navy veteran and a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom. I don't know how it is that he came upon those particular beliefs. I know for sure that they didn't come from his father, because when I was in college his father said something to me about how it's a good idea for women to study teaching or nursing because they always need teachers and nurses wherever a woman's husband happens to get a job. Maybe he had come upon those ideas in college, or during the several years when he and my mom were married prior to my birth, or maybe he had met me, and concluded "Yep, no limitations for this one." Whatever it is, I'm grateful.
So when I think about gender and careers, the two subjects are completely separate for me. I saw the movie Baby Boom, where the yuppie protagonist was forced to leave her swank corporate life to live in the country and manufacture organic baby food after inheriting a child, and I also saw Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show making partner in her law firm while raising five kids with Cliff. I saw my dad's friend the ceramics engineer raising her son by herself, and I saw my mom's unemployed friend raising three kids with the help of public aid.
I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all assumption for gender or careers in my head. I think, as with lots of things, people make their own choices and have their own ambitions. There are surely societal limitations placed on individuals, but I don't experience them in any sort of real way, and my friends who sort of work here and there teaching fitness classes and editing, or waiting tables and acting, have made life choices just as valid as mine. So have the ones of any gender that have opted to either give up or temporarily suspend their careers while they raise children.
I sing with Amasong: Champaign-Urbana's Premiere Lesbian & Feminist Chorus. Not that I hope we forget our past, but I hope that if I do ever have a kid, there might be a moment where they ask me what a feminist is, and then I hope they look at me incredulously when I tell them. I hope the world progresses such that my kids will be unable to comprehend that there have been times, places, and people through whom the choices of women have been limited. Thanks be to God and to my dad, that mine haven't been.