|Sara Carlson Tavernise, Class of 1993 and Watson Fellow |
Gender studies are no longer theory in my life. They are no longer a set of ideas worth arguing about and dissecting late into the night. They are not a topic for letters to the editor, nor are they anything I express explicitly. Instead, gender studies have become the backbone of my actions, the lens through which I filter my daily life. Being a walking, breathing example of a feminist-principled life is my goal. The little bow-tied Presbyterian man who lives in my head says I'll never meet that goal sufficiently, but he also obliges me to try.
What does that mean on a practical level? Out of the academic environment, feminist studies atrophy unless practiced. My husband Peter and I apply them every day in our marriage. I am lucky, very lucky, to be married to a pro-feminist man. That doesn't mean he is content to place his goals behind mine. It doesn't mean he wants to be a househusband, or even that he cleans the bathroom. It means he doesn't take for granted the decisions that constitute marriage. He negotiates. We negotiate our lives so we can find balance, fairness, a just place. I clean the bathroom, he cleans the kitchen; we sell my car so we have no choice but to commute together in his, giving us forty minutes of uninterrupted conversation each day; I live with him in North Carolina, thousands of miles from my California home, because he has grandparents in Durham. Nothing negotiated is permanent. As situations change, so will we. It is more work to structure our marriage on negotiation, but the flexibility it provides is a goal we share. That was negotiated, too. So will be parenthood, job changes, housing moves and everything else.
We try to bring the spirit of partnership into our work lives and our communities of shared activity. At the office, we're both acutely aware of how many people lack any theoretical framework on which to hang their lives or choose frameworks that directly conflict with our own. When we first entered the work world we found ourselves surrounded by folks who defined success by salary and believed a beautiful house reflects a beautiful soul. Each of us worked to find work in a place where we could live our pro-feminist values openly and enthusiastically. Over the course of a few years, we both succeeded -- in the for-profit business sector, no less.
None of the quiet practice of feminism precludes its declaration; recently,Peter was interviewed for a North Carolina public radio talk show, "The State of Things," on what it means to be a man. He snuck many feminist-inspired statements into the broadcast. Last summer, I found myself at the state Junior Chamber of Commerce speech competition after winning local and regional competitions with a speech that directly criticized the sexism of the organization. But these public expressions of our private beliefs aren't the focus of our energy, simply another way to live the values we learned to articulate in gender studies courses.
When I was still at Davidson I couldn't fathom how different life would be after graduation. Nothing stayed the same. Major worries disappeared, only to be replaced with new demands. Intense friendships, based on hours and hours of conversation, were suddenly lifetime propositions, not possible to build in a semester JYA. On the flip side, I constantly meet people who never entered my college-limited radar. I learn from them, become inspired by them, and hope dearly that the regard and respect are reciprocated.
I love life now. It is a new challenge. It is simultaneously smaller in scope (after all, we no longer spend hours in class wrestling with abstract ideas and concepts) and more consistent (I know where I'll be at most any time during the week). Peter's and my interest in gender studies has expanded into related issues, especially death and dying. But underlying our lives today is a solid education in theory, the vocabulary for intelligent self-appraisal, and a model for right living inspired by the feminist movement. Gender studies didn't provide any ready answers, but they did provide something much more important: an excellent tool for finding the answers ourselves.