As mentioned in a previous blogpost about visiting Ecuador, last week’s meeting was rather thought provoking. It triggered poignant memories for me as well regarding my own family and the equality of women, especially – as was also mentioned – because everything is seen differently once you are a WomanStats coder.
My grandma has impacted my life specifically through her public service. In the course of her life she has served in the state legislature, as Lt. Governor, and as Governor for Utah. She was highly involved in the student body government during college at BYU, and she then pursued her education through various other degrees beyond that. To be honest, with her as my grandmother it never occurred to me that I wasn’t capable or “allowed” to dream big and go for those dreams for any reason. The idea that I couldn’t be successful because I was a girl wasn’t even fathomable.
I remember my mom telling me funny stories about when my grandmother was younger. Hopefully unembellished from time and my own memory, one of my favorites has always been when my grandma went with my grandpa to an evening event at Harvard University where my grandpa was pursuing a master’s degree in business. The room was full of the new students and their wives/significant others; at the time, women couldn’t receive an MBA at Harvard. As the event got started, the director of the program stood at the podium and began to talk about the business program. He asked a difficult question regarding business procedure and the room grew quiet as the director scanned the crowd. And then, there was a hand in the air to answer the question – and it wasn’t a student. It wasn’t even a man. It was none other than my grandmother! She answered the question confidently and accurately and then continued to look up at the director for his response. I love to imagine the room’s reaction! The director later came up to my grandparents and laughed as he said, “I hope we’ve accepted the right person!”
That’s the kind of woman my grandma is.
I’ve carried that image of my grandmother with me all these years – and ironically, it wasn’t until an evening class discussing state and local government at BYU that that ideal was challenged. As an attempt to liven up the two and half hour night class, our teacher had invited a guest lecturer to come speak to us. Our attention became riveted upon the women who stood at the front of the classroom as she began to tell us about currently serving on the state legislature. As she ran through her qualifications and experiences, she mentioned that she had had the privilege of serving with four different governors in Utah. She lifted her hand up in the air to give her next sentence more emphasis.
“Each of them had very different styles.”
I casually cracked open my textbook and tried to look nonchalant as she began telling small anecdotes about the first governor she worked with; I knew eventually she would mention working with my grandmother and I didn’t want to seem too interested and thus exude some level of arrogance by the association. I snickered under my breath as she began listing endearing qualities she admired about one particular fellow she worked with. Some of my relatives weren’t as gracious as my grandma and therefore had a much different version of the qualities this woman found so endearing. On she went through the personnel until at last she came to my grandmother. I ducked my head a little further, undeniably curious at what she might say.
“Well, she was the only woman governor Utah has had thus far. And to be honest, I did not like her style. She ran things like a woman.”
Anything else she might have added after that fell on deaf ears. I was glad my head was down because I could feel my eyes flash with anger. That was all she had to say?! My grandma had years of service and experience and defying the odds of gender and then this guest woman was going to insidiously reduce all that to her gender? I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t believe that it was a woman putting down another woman for something such as that. As if it made her more legitimate to discuss government and the state after distancing herself. Or something. And I may not be in politics – yet – but it still seems like mistake number one is to speak ill of someone in public. I couldn’t figure out the woman’s reasoning for her remarks. I’m fairly sure I spent the rest of the class trying to analyze where this woman was coming from.
I took away from that experience a couple of things, namely that being a woman and running things like a woman is an honor, never an insult, and those who see it as an insult have quite a few things to learn. How often is it the planning and organization of a woman that really bring a huge event together? Or that really get things done? And second of all, how important it is to speak up! I could have raised my hand and corrected that guest speaker, but the thought of contention steered me away from the thought. Yet, what kind of message did the rest of the class take away with only the guest’s analysis hanging in the air? I’ve realized that everything we have to add can make a difference, especially the knowledge and courage we gain through WomanStats.
And in the end, I’m left wondering, what if my grandmother had never risen her hand decades earlier at Harvard? It might not have changed the moment, but it’s moments like that that have made her who she is, regardless of anyone’s opinion. And I don’t care who you are, that’s style.