From childhood, I just always had this desire to accomplish much (I think all kids are like that…!) and the epitome of success, in every sphere that interested me, seemed always to come in the male gender. Name the profession, and the most successful in the field seemed always to be a man. To be successful, I unwittingly concluded, you had to be a man.
So intense was my desire to succeed, that I determined to integrate as much of the male socialization into my self-guided enculturation as possible. I’d hang out around the car with Daddy as soon as I could get out of the kitchen, watching closely to absorb how a “real man” behaves.
It came to the point where my mother and two older sisters had to organize an intervention of sorts… “It’s ok to cry” was their clarion appeal. Not that I never cried. But I was careful to mask my tears, mimicking the behavior of the men I had observed in situations that might elicit tears. The message had reached me loud and clear that shedding tears was a sign of weakness. And the weak never succeed…
Wellesley was the first time I remember seeing women of intellect, with drive, passion and vision being celebrated. My science professors were women. The university administrators were women. Of course there were men too. But it was just inspiring to see women in roles that I had grown up associating with maleness.
Conversations with my Wellesley sisters were also of a different caliber. Before, female discourse seemed, of necessity, to center around men, family and, friendship. At Wellesley we talked about faith, politics, philosophy, social justice issues, food… 🙂 Not that we NEVER talked about men… But boy-talk was not the conversational highlight that really got a lunch table going.
The appreciation I gained for women’s contribution to the world is inestimable. In a nutshell, I guess you could say that I experienced the breadth of a woman’s intellectual capabilities. And discovered that women, as women, are capable of critically engaging their world for its betterment.
Probably the chiefest lesson gleaned through my Wellesley experience and moreso, in the friendships nurtured thereafter, is that you don’t have to be a man to be successful. But that statement requires a bit of unpacking.
You see, there are successes that society celebrates, then there are those that go unnoticed. A father who is involved in his children’s rearing, for instance, is not celebrated in the same way that a workaholic man climbing the corporate ladder is. The organizational skills of a mother who runs an orderly household are not as highly celebrated as those of an event planner.
So in my childhood, I only counted those things as successes that I saw being celebrated as such. It took me seeing women in the roles I had come to associate with success to believe that it was even possible for a woman to attain to such a thing as success. But time has taught me that society does not necessarily celebrate true success. And that the successes of women often fall into those categories that go uncelebrated.
So I wonder out loud (or out write)… What if, rather than trying to attain to what the world calls success, we worked to redefine success. Instead of trying to fit women into the mold of success concocted by a deluded society, what if we set a new agenda. Interacting with Wellesley women taught me that women are capable of not only attaining to those benchmarks society calls success, but of taking it a step further and shaping the world they are a part of.
This challenge, especially behooves upon Christian women who actually believe in a Creator God who designs with purpose in mind. Success, inasmuch as it devolves upon accomplishing set goals, would be defined by the goals God has in mind for women to attain to. We need a new standard for success (which is actually the old standard if we’re talking about God’s ideal). Dare I say that this redefinition is as much needed for men as for women!
I’m dissatisfied with the status quo. We can do so much better. We must. And by God’s grace, if we are willing, at least within the culture of the church, we shall. And the development of this dissatisfaction is precisely why I’m glad I attended a women’s college.