A Few Good Men, or: My Father, the Feminist

This post is an odd sort of throwback that is long overdue. It is largely based on an old (successful, to the extent that even matters) scholarship application for a wonderful organization called the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL). Check it out.

I stand by everything written in the now almost three year-old essay, but my understanding of some of the issues I address are deeper and more nuanced. More troublingly, my understanding of the issues facing young women is additionally deeper. Sadly, much of this understanding comes from unfortunate personal experience in the last year in particular. Happily, these experiences have expanded my world, enlightening me to new ways of thinking, strengthening my empathy, and bolstering the fervour with which I embrace some of the issues most important to me.

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Dad-o, myself and little sister back when we were all much more attractive.

I am now, incidentally, far more grateful in particular for the wonderful male role models I have had in my life. (Side note: this in no way diminishes the many amazing women I have in my life, but I feel as if I spend far more time talking about wonderful women, and need to acknowledge the wonderful men in my life).

The piece has been edited down to hide some of the shameless self aggrandisement so-often associated with such applications (with notes added by present me in italics). Some of the views on women’s issues and feminism are more than a bit naïve and perhaps trite, but this naivety comes from a (fading) youthful optimism that I readily forgive myself for. Indeed, I hope another generation may be able to embrace these optimistic worldviews and never discard them as simple youthful naivety.

Without further ado, a [truncated] ode to my father and the other brilliant male role models I have been lucky enough to have in my life:

I have been fortunate throughout my life to have been surrounded by strong and accomplished women who have endowed me with the grace and fortitude to successfully pioneer a path for myself in a male-dominated field. These women, including a mother who was among the first women in the United States to go to veterinary school, have taught and inspired me. The individual in my life who I credit most for confidence as a woman, however, is my father. Despite coming from a background with backwards views about women (and race and sexuality and many other things) and their role in society, at no point did my father ever indicate to either myself or my sister that our gender was a handicap. Only now, as I begin to navigate the legal professional market/continue to navigate a professional path for myself, do I appreciate my father’s incredible open-mindedness and the astonishing standards he set for both my sister and myself in how we treat ourselves and others.

Some of my parents’ own colleagues—from very different backgrounds than my own—have told me: “Law is not a place for a woman. You are a nice girl, you should find a nicer job.” Years in the future, I can say that this was not the last time I confronted such views (it seems the further I get in my career, the more I hear this). I consider myself profoundly fortunate that such incidents do not define me [present me here: not letting such incidents define me continues to be extremely challenging], but only further drive my resolve. I endeavour to use both my leadership and mentorship roles to confer the same mind-set on others, regardless of their identities.

My dedication to women’s advocacy and mentorship truly blossomed in my undergraduate institution, where I was a founding member of the College of Wooster’s first feminist advocacy group. These commitments continued in law school, as evidenced by my two-year membership in both UGA Law’s Womens Law Student Association and Law Students for Reproductive Justice. I have not only enjoyed my role as an active member in WLSA, but also now serve as LSRJ’s Secretary. These roles have allowed me to engage a variety of people in conversations relating to women’s issues. More importantly, however, these roles have helped me convince some of my peers that women’s issues affect everyone, not simply women.

Moreover, I have immensely enjoyed my leadership roles because these roles have allowed me to facilitate talent within various communities: as a leader, my role is not to direct people, but instead to put them in roles that best utilises their talents. This has allowed me the privilege of witnessing my peers employ and expand upon talents that they had perhaps previously overlooked. This has sometimes meant encouraging younger students to pursue certain interests or activities by putting them in contact with others, and other times it has meant taking a back seat to a peer who has greater knowledge on a particular issue.

Now approaching a decade of higher education, I am equally grateful for my male peers, supervisors, and professors for their roles in my life. While I have always been aware of the glass ceiling, due in no small part to their efforts I never saw the glass ceiling (or my gender) as an insurmountable obstacle. I am now keenly aware what an incredible boon this was.

I continue to be amazed at the open-mindedness and endurance of the girls and young women I encounter both through Children’s Services or the Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court System, and am daily humbled and reminded of my own good fortune in my opportunities. These experiences help motivate me to ensure I do my very best to help afford others the opportunities I have been given, a belief around which I plan to build a career.

I endeavour not only to follow in the footsteps of the incredible mentors and leaders that have touched my life, but also to follow in the footsteps of my father: to always be open-minded, even in situations that stretch beyond my own experience. I hope these goals will enable me to give others the chance to enjoy the same opportunities as I have been given, and to in turn better both help better the communities I am lucky enough to be a part of. Most importantly, an award from the GAWL Foundation would be a reflection on the amazing role models and communities who have made me the woman I am today (a person I aim to continue improving upon).

What I am listening to: Jamie’s Song, by the ever-fantastic Sylvan Esso. The song was written for an episode of the RadioLab podcast called “Elements.” While on its face the song is about elements (as in the Periodic Table of), I think it can speak to a great many things. Both the song and podcast are well worth a listen.

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