Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Women's Studies - Changing the World!

This semester I will be teaching my first college course: Introduction to Women's Studies, at the very university where I received my Bachelors and Masters degrees in that subject. When I got to Old Dominion University in 1999, I never dreamed that I would one day be teaching my own class. First of all, I came to ODU to study Photography. I grew up taking pictures of the beautiful countryside that surrounded me and my tiny town (Population 600) and had this dream that I'd one day be a photographer for National Geographic. I also thought I'd be a goalie for the U.S. Women's Olympic Field Hockey Team, but that's another story.

I enjoyed my photography classes, especially when I got to hand-develop my own photos. But when I stumbled on my first Women's Studies class when picking out a social science elective, my life took a drastic turn. I had no idea of the life-changing decision I had made when I chose that course. I had never heard of Women's Studies. My mom had raised me to be a feminist without ever telling me or even using that word. She taught me that I was brave, strong, smart and could be whatever I wanted to be. She never once said "hey, you should be a feminist". That's not how it works. I've learned that this tactic works well with raising my kids too. But I digress...

I have to admit I was super nervous the first class when we had to arrange our desks in a circle. Did I mention I was from a very tiny town and also super shy. I mean, the thought of all the other students facing me when I was encouraged to talk about what I thought/felt about the assigned readings? Gasp! I was used to never having to talk in class. Sure, I knew the answers and raised my hand to answer a few times, but I was hardly ever called on. Mostly the boys who were the intelligent class clown types or a few the super-duper smart girls did most of the talking. I was smart but sorta got lost in the shuffle. I could hide and get by. This wouldn't fly in Women's Studies. They wanted to know what I thought/felt and I both hated it and loved it at the same time.

This class taught me lots of things, but the most powerful thing I learned in Women's Studies was that my thoughts and opinions mattered and I have a voice that I could be using to enact change. What a concept! It still took me a little while to find a way to use my voice in a way that spoke to others. It wasn't until I wrote my first blog about my pregnancy experiences that I realized that my voice could help others. I had an ectopic pregnancy my first time around and through writing about that I not only helped myself to process the emotions, but found out that several of my friends had too experience similar losses and it helped them to see they weren't the only ones. In fact, I realized just how common miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are. Women had been made to feel that talking about those experiences were taboo so they kept it to themselves and suffered in silence. I made it my policy to always talk openly out my experiences so that others won't feel alone.

Another positive side-effect of majoring in Women's Studies (yes, I quickly switched majors) was that the people around me began to question society's gender rules just because they knew I probably would. For example, I became "the feminist" of my group and all the people in that group would tell me about what they saw or experience that they knew I would be pissed off by. That gave me the chance to explain to them why it was wrong or what I might have done in certain situations. In a sense, they were doing my work for me. LOL That was almost 10 years ago. Lately I've been in the book club with friends who are also my colleagues at work. I am amazed that I don't even have to point out sexism in the books we read. I can sit back and watch them discuss it. Now, granted, I they know I work in a women's center and several of these women would probably identify as feminist, but it's amazing to be in a group where feminism is not a dirty word and they all get what I get about sexism in our society. We don't always agree on everything, but we do on the big picture issues and the discussion is amazing.

Flashback to today and I just announced on Facebook (you know, that makes things official) about teaching my first Women's Studies college course. In an hour I've had 30 of my friends "like" my post and send me well wishes. This tells me two things, that I have awesome friends, and the direction I'm going is the right one. I've come a long way from that shy country girl and I'm excited to embark on this new adventure with teaching. I'm sure I'll have lots to talk about based on my experiences in the classroom (keeping confidentiality of course), so here's to getting back on track with this blog! I'm ready to open some eyes and minds and help my students learn to value their voice and find a way to change the world for the better.

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