When I Am Old, I Will Still Be a Feminist

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
I have to do something rather unusual for a woman of my cumulative years: I have to select a college major. It is surprisingly difficult, despite my having taken that fabulous community college introduction to myself, Counseling 115, or more accurately titled, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

Lucky me, I already am what I want to be, although I intend to get better with age, so I don’t need the definition the course offered. However, I was forced to take it to fulfill California State University general education requirements, because my 35-year-old east coast credits are worth about as much as a chunk of funky-smelling tofu out here. I dislike tofu, almost as much as I’ve disliked most of the GE courses.

So, like — I learned that versatile segue from my fellow students, the 18-to-22-year-olds who are now my classmates. And my daughter’s peers. So, like, having just about completed the lower division requirements, the time has come to declare my intent. I have to pick a course of study I can stomach and get on with it.

You see, my reason for pursuing the degree is not to establish a career platform — I’ve already had plenty of them — but to qualify for the Peace Corps so my husband and I can spend our twilight years leaving sweet-smelling pooties in our do-gooder wake. Basically, I just need the damn sheepskin — which is now probably something more akin to a petroleum product, but I need it nonetheless — so my initial consideration has been speed: I want to find the most direct path from my eclectic assortment of credits to a degree, any degree.

Bummer, though — I don’t recall where I learned that nifty term, probably because I’m getting old and forgetful. But, bummer: As I consider the list of majors on the Cal State San Marcos website, it occurs to me my seemingly pragmatic choice is a little bit of a big idealistic deal. Other than my writing, the major will define the largest percentage of my waking hours for many, many moons. Yet the decision comes with no pomp and circumstance, no drum roll, no fanfare. Maybe there would be a parade if I had enough white hair for folks to twitter about the cute little-old-lady college student — which is so damn sexist — but I don’t.

And, BTW, by “twitter” I do not mean posting cryptic messages with weird-ass abbreviations for folks to read while astride public toilets. I mean “twitter” the transitive verb, as in to chatter about something.

But this is no time to twitter. I need to make a decision, so I peruse the list of majors with determination and a keen analytical eye.

Russian border marker
Having learned from Sarah Palin that Communication is the easiest undergraduate degree to acquire, I shamefully admit to giving it half a thought, but it turns out it is an “impacted major,” a term new to me. Maybe it’s akin to an impacted wisdom tooth, one that fails to fully emerge through the gum, which would explain Palin’s limited view of the world. But, no, it means there are more Palins out there after easy majors than there are slots in the easy major department. Besides, I’ve actually set foot in Russia (sort of by mistake, while exploring a winding road in eastern Estonia), yet I acknowledge the visit did nothing to enhance my understanding of international relations, and I’d prefer to actually learn something than to claim knowledge by virtue of my proximity to it.

Onward, then, to Literature and Writing Studies. As a writer, this one appears at first glance a slam-dunk, which is a very handy sports metaphor, even for those of us who played badminton in college — some of my few 35-year-old credits that transferred. Unfortunately, the more I read about the program the tighter my sphincter constricts.

–  I already practice the belief that “effective thinking and writing about texts must be informed by knowledge about relevant local, global, and disciplinary contexts” — like those insightful email messages forwarded from various and sundry folks whom I’ll never invite home for dinner.

–  I spurned “non-canonical texts” long ago, along with weed.

–  The program description fails to demonstrate informed use of the infinitive, a disturbing sight on a university Literature and Writing Studies Department website. Or maybe it’s just a typo. Still bad.

–  And, as for poetry, I’ve spent more than my share of late nights making love to a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and writing soulful free verse bullshit. I gave it all up for Lent one year, the same year I professed my atheism, which I then followed with a period of agnosticism. I now flip between the two, depending on the day’s news.

Next, I skip through Mathematics and the Sciences because, although I know in my heart of hearts I could be successful in either of these realms, I am not a masochist.

Then I land on Visual Arts, a course of study I found wonderfully entertaining in my youth. But images of the many starving artists who attracted my juvenile affections send me running from the memory of neglected dental hygiene, unwashed underthings and abandoned expectations.

This leaves me with one final option, and what a surprise it is see to it there at the bottom of the list of academic offerings: Women’s Studies!

Who knew? I surely didn’t. I figured Women’s Studies had gone the way of the dial telephone, mercury thermometers and women who proudly claimed the title feminist without contorting its definition to accommodate mama grizzly bears, patriarchal institutions and flirtatious stump speeches.

But, lo and behold, Women’s Studies has survived onslaughts of antifeminism, budget slashing and the ignorant disregard of youthful beneficiaries of feminist advocacy. My aging heart goes pitter-patter at the thought that enough people still perceive the subject adequately relevant to fund a Women’s Studies Department in the conservative bowels of San Diego North County — and it can be pretty darn stinky rightwingy up here. Indeed, I am so excited that I contact the department chair and blather on about the wonderment of the major’s continued existence.

The chair says, with even more enthusiasm and significantly less blathering, “It was clear in the 1960s that women needed to be brought to the forefront, equivalent to men as social actors, but with needs different from men. Women have been left out — of healthcare studies, of guaranteed equality, of history books. … Around the country, Women’s Studies programs were created to give women their due as the subject of study. That need hasn’t gone away. … Women continue to be understudied, and the study of women continues to be a peripheral thing for people.

"I think one of the reasons Women’s Studies is still needed is that we offer a different way of doing academic work. Having feminist perspective in our scholarship opens up new ways of thinking about our social problems. Bringing women to the light, it’s not just a question of adding women in and stirring up the stew, it’s a question of seeing what role gendered differences play in creating the world and creating our ability to know that world.”

And there is certainly plenty of fascinating gender difference stuff out there to know.

For example, did you know that of the more than 13,000 members of Congress we’ve had in the United States, only 2 percent have been women? In fact, we currently rank seventy-third of 186 countries in the percentage of women in Congress, behind Rwanda, Cuba and Iraq, among other nations — yes, Iraq! And due to the recent midterm elections, we’ll have fewer women in Congress come January.

Did you know that in South Africa, lesbians have been raped in a supposed effort to convert them to heterosexuality? It’s called “corrective rape.” And now a part-time judge in Tennessee has suggested that allowing lesbians to serve openly in the military would give male personnel the opportunity to attempt their conversions as well. That the judge was reportedly fired from his assistant district attorney position for sexual harassment does put his suggestion in an instructive context.

And, did you know that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the United States? More women (approximately 455,000) die of heart disease each year than do men (approximately 410,000). Yet women’s treatment has been based on research done predominantly on men — despite the fact that heart attacks often present differently in women.

Such sample tidbits of the excess of equally annoying data suggest Women’s Studies programs could keep going for generations if they were powered by inequity. Perhaps they are.

So, like, screw the most direct path to a degree. I have decided I am going to do something not so unusual for a woman of my cumulative years, I’m going to do what makes me happy, what plucks my heartstrings, what stokes the feminist fires. I’m going to major in Women’s Studies, and it is going to be really cool.

Love, K-B

©2010 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Crossposted at The Progressive Post and San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.