I attended a very enlightening career exploration class last week that I've been wanting to write about ever since. It's not one of my typical topics, but I feel that it deserves some focus.
At the beginning of the class the students were divided by gender. Men sat on the left, women sat on the right. Our professor sat on a desk at the front of the classroom and faced the women. He initiated a discussion about gender roles and forbid the men to participate.
I took two things away from that discussion. First, feeling that your voice isn't wanted is an awful feeling. It has been shown that the large majority of female college students keep their mouths closed during classroom discussions. There are different reasons for this, but in class it was suggested that perhaps the student feels like her comments are undervalued, or perhaps the professor subconsciously prefers to call on males. I found this hard to believe, so I asked several women from my class as well as outside my class how they felt about the issue. Although a few said that they felt comfortable making comments in class, the majority said that they did indeed feel some degree of anxiety.
The second realization came to me by listening carefully to the discussion at the other side of the classroom. Before coming to class, each of us read an article written by a professor of then-Ricks college. In the article, she says that many young women, influenced by mormon subculture, plan their futures according to an as yet unrealized life with some husband. In other words, they do not plan for careers, but married life. But what about the large number of unmarried/divorced/widowed women? What are they to do when they must join the workforce to support themselves? What about the women are married, but still have to help support a family, along with their husbands? The author suggests that women prepare for careers, and by doing so, they will be better prepared for life ahead. If a man indeed comes along, plans can change accordingly. If a man doesn't come along or is lost to some tragedy, then she will still be capable of supporting herself.
My purpose here is not to argue one point or another. That was the purpose of the in-class discussion. What I want to point out here is that for the first time, I was able to see the real issue that women and mothers struggle with their whole lives. Women seek education and prepare for a career, and yet keep in mind the possibility that they might never reach their professional goals because of motherhood. Those mothers are satisfied with their choice, but every now and then, perhaps they wish to have been able to do more. I gained a lot of respect for young women preparing for the future, as well as single women and mothers who had to make difficult and decisions.
Even though I grew up with four sisters and a mother, I am starting to understand that there is a whole lot more to womanhood than I ever imagined, hidden in the supressed voices of its own.
As a man, I say that such understanding is humbling.