During my fall semester at Douglass Residential College at Rutgers, I was a part of a Women’s Studies class that made me really change the way that I looked at the world. This class is actually what inspired me to change my major to that of Women’s Studies. As our final project, we were asked to interview a woman in a position that we admired, and who was considered to be ‘successful’ in her workplace as well as aware of the difficulties that she had to go through (if any) in order to get where she is. I decided to post up my final paper, seeing as I found it to be incredibly motivational. My mother, the woman who I chose to interview, is an extremely intellectual person who has a way with choosing her words so that they may resonate with everyone she speaks to.
This past semester has been really challenging for me in a number of ways. Being able to finally take part in the ISS Women’s Leadership course is something that I am, not only happy to have accomplished, but also extremely grateful to have challenged myself in many different aspects of life. One of the challenges that I took on was being able to not only learn about, but also to reach out to women, and genuinely engage in conversations with them about their legacies. I was lucky enough to have interviewed a woman whom I admire very much, though I did not know much about her. The woman I had the pleasure of speaking with for this interview project was Lynda, a 1988 Douglass College graduate. Lynda is a recently divorced, single mother of four, and an LSW (Licensed Social Worker) who works two full-time jobs. In the daytime, she works at a social services office in Newark, from 8:30am to 2:30pm, Monday-Friday, and also works in the Emergency Psychiatric Department at a Hospital (eliminated the names for her privacy) on Mondays through Wednesdays, and Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30pm until 12:00 midnight, sometimes later. I took the time to ask her all kinds of questions, many of which were formed based on what we have discussed in class, from experiencing discrimination in the classroom and workforce, to being a feminist, to even having to choose between being a mother or having a successful career, all to which she answered very genuinely. Lynda’s tenacity is something that resonated with me throughout the course of the interview, and I can honestly say that she is someone who I have grown to admire through all of her struggles and successes.
- Firstly, I wanted to get some background information about her; to find out exactly WHO Lynda is. After all, it would help to get a little bit of history on the person I would be interviewing. Lynda was born in Guyana, South America. She is the youngest of three children, and is the only girl. Her mother left for America when she was three years old with ambitions to create a better life for her children. While her mother was away, Lynda was separated from her two brothers, who stayed together, while she was alone with her aunts until she was reunited with her brothers upon meeting up with their mother in America. She stated, “I didn’t see my mother or brothers until I was seven years old. That is when she sent for all of us to go to America together, because she had established a stable environment for us to enter into from being in Guyana. To this day, I feel like because of the separation between me and my brothers at such a young age, they share a bond that I will never really be a part of.”
- Through hearing about Lynda’s background: where she came from, and what kind of a dynamic in which she grew up in, it made me think about a lot of things. Firstly, this made me think about, and attempt to understand, what kind of a place Guyana was while she was growing up. I wanted to know, better yet, understand what went on over there for her mother to want to leave and go to America for a better life. Upon personal research, I found out that Guyana was not a place where all were treated equal. In fact, at that time, no place in the world had equality in anything: gender, race, sexual preference, and etcetera. Guyana’s nickname is “Land of Six People”. Of course, this nickname is not reflective of the number of people who populate the country; but instead the types of people who populate it. Guyana is a unique country because it takes pride in the diversity of its people. ‘Land of Six People’ refers to the six different ethnic groups that make up the country: from the Chinese, to the Africans, the East Indians, Amerindians, Portuguese, and Europeans. For all of these different ethnicities, they took pride in sharing the Guyanese nationality. During the time between when Lynda was born and when she left for America, the nation of Guyana was undergoing a fight for independence from Britain.I also began to think about the role of women in Guyana during that time period. Guyana was granted independence from Britain in 1966. Six years prior, I found out, a woman by the name of Christina Ramjattan joined the People Progressive Party (PPP). She was the “first woman in Guyana’s politics” (horizonsguyana.com), and because of her tenacity, she was a part of the PPP for almost 40 years. Learning about this really surprised me, for I assumed that the role of women could not have been this great, so far back in time. I also found it to be interesting that not many speak about this woman, perhaps because of the fact that she was a female. In our class, we discussed the role of women in political positions. I feel like because this semester was focused more on how women are oppressed from the American perspective, we tend to ignore when women do well in other nations. I also think that other nations do not necessarily acknowledge women who have achieved something great, unless one takes the time to search for it, or ask about it.
From this information alone, my reaction was that of awe and confusion. So many questions were boiling inside of my mind. I wondered if Lynda had any feelings of resentment towards her mother for having left her children at such a young age in their lives. She then explained that she was not bitter, though when she was little, she was confused and scared, for she did not know, let alone understand why her mother left, or if she would be coming back to her. Lynda then told me that as she got older, she began to understand why her mother did what she did: it was all for the benefit of her children. I then asked Lynda if she considered her mother to be one of her role models, to which she answered, ‘Yes’. She then went on to explain that, though she and her mother disagree on many things to this day, all mothers eventually will clash with their daughters, just as she does with her own from time to time. Lynda’s mother would always push her and her siblings to do well in their studies, as well as in life. She told me that through her mother’s ‘pushy’ attitude, she and her two brothers each have Master’s degrees. “My mother has a ‘dress you down’ style, which made me very upset, but it did, in turn, help me to be who I am today.”
When I asked Lynda if she considered herself to be a feminist, she claimed that she did not necessarily see herself as a feminist, per say, but instead, as a womanist. I was confused, seeing as I didn’t really understand where she was coming from. She then continued to elaborate, by stating that she believes that people, or society in general, view feminists as extreme, with an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude and mentality. This reminded me of many discussions that our class would have throughout the course of the semester. The topic and idea of ‘feminism’ was something that was always viewed as taboo to society, especially to the younger generation. In fact, a piece that we have read, “Fear of Feminism: Why young women get the willies”, by Hogeland, specifically states that “The challenge to the public-private division that feminism represents is profoundly threatening to young women who just want to be left alone, to all women who believe they can hide from feminist issues by not being feminists” (Hogeland 20). Though Lynda did not necessarily admit to being a feminist, perhaps because of the negative outlook on the word, I believe that her rendition of the mindset of feminism through using the word ‘womanist’, did in fact prove that she does support the mission of feminism. Lynda took the time to explain her reasoning for the use of the word:
“Well, feminists can be extreme. But I do indeed embrace a lot of feminist values. Actually, I would like to even go one step further, and say I am a WOMANIST. Not so much a feminist. I just believe in women and the power of the woman. You know, throughout the ages, women have been abused, ignored, disrespected, and many, many limitations were placed on women. And in some cultures, at present, women are still struggling for equality. Even in America, we still have quite a disparity in terms of pay, and that is something that I am glad is finally being addressed. Because it really bothers me that women earn less in the workplace, simply because they are women.”
Lynda prides herself on being very passionate about equality. She told me that when she sees unjust practices and any form of inequality, it makes her angry. In fact, she told me that throughout her undergraduate and graduate school years, she witnessed a lot of unfair acts. She stated, “…I did witness a lot of unfair things: in the dorm, or perhaps with professors who didn’t necessarily realize their own biases, other students, even fellow social workers who were in the School of Social Work, were placed in various field assignments, and were definitely insensitive to certain vulnerable populations: speaking very disrespectfully about some of the client populations, and who they want to work with, and who they did not want to work with, and all of those experiences really, really, REALLY bothered me to the point where I became QUITE outspoken, because I found it, actually pretty disgusting.” It was that passion that made her want to help out and advocate for others who were being disrespected, and that is something that I truly related to.
Another topic that we discussed in class was the idea of women having to choose between being successful and having a family. In class, we touched on many different women who chose their career over having children. For instance, one woman that we spent significant time focusing on a woman named Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. We read her autobiography, entitled, “My Beloved World”, and in this book, she mentions her choice to pursue her career, and to not have children. She admits that she regrets not having children, but also admits that she is still very happy with her life as it is. When I asked Lynda if she agreed with women having to make a choice between having a successful career, and having and raising four children, this particular question seemed to irk her pretty deeply. She stated that she could not identify with that thought process. Though I agreed with the idea that a woman can have both a successful job and a family I was curious as to why she did not identify with the idea that other women in successful fields had.
“This is because I have both. I have two jobs, and you know what? They happen to be two FULL-time jobs. But, with decreased hours because of my luck and creativity. I work around any and all challenges, and so I will just say, I don’t know what these women are talking about; but I cannot relate at all…What I ended up doing was just prioritizing, praying, and just made changes…necessary changes. In fact, in my Women’s Studies Program, undergraduate, I came across a book that was assigned reading, by Judith Viorst, called Necessary Losses. And that book inspired me, and shaped my escape from this challenging marriage that I had; because in life, one must go through necessary losses…”
This idea of undergoing ‘necessary’ losses made me think of what women must do in order to climb up the invisible ladder that is the road to success. Women constantly must make sacrifices in order to keep a balance in their lives. Whether or not it is through making the choice to acquire an education so that they can get a good job, so that they can support their children, if they so choose to have them, there is always a greater amount of effort needed on the woman’s part, rather than for their male counterparts.
I then thought about why some women would think that one has to make the choice between having children and having a successful career. What caused this thought process to occur? Who decided that women couldn’t have both? Just as motherhood is expected to present many challenges, having a career should present just as many, though different, challenges. Because Lynda is a mother of four children, I asked her if she experienced any difficulties with working and raising her kids, that of which she admitted was difficult. She stated,
“I experience challenges with my children. Having children can be very painful at times; because you want the best for them… there are parental challenges…but the kids did not come with instructions. So yes, being a parent is definitely difficult. But, it is so rewarding at the same time: and once again, assessment wise, the joy and joys far outweigh the negativity and misery…so, I’ll keep them. I’ll keep all four of them. My youngest child is Autistic, and I love how understanding and empathetic the older siblings are. They are so loving, and so nurturing towards my youngest Autistic child, so, again, we are a complex family, but even with the challenge of having a special needs child, I turned it into a part of my career! Social work, certification, and began working with special populations: Helping other parents who were lost, and sad, and helpless, and hopeless with early intervention, and understanding and deciphering IEPs (individual education plans) for special needs kids. Even at the hospital, when DDP (Developmentally Disabled Patients) come in, I would advocate for them, because I have a special needs child with very limited vocabulary. He uses augmentative devices. So, I turned my personal challenges into positive things. Into positivity, into incorporating all of the skills I learned on a personal level into my career. So…I have nothing negative to say…I am a happy person, and I am telling you the truth.”
Lynda then left me some final words that I simply could not leave out, for they really stayed with me, even after the interview was over. She told me,
“… Remember; do not set up road blocks for yourself. Think positively. Set a goal. Continue to assess where you are, and if you are not happy, then change the plan. Approach it from a different angle. Be open. Make every day a learning day…Don’t act like you know it all. Everyone can be taught something. And every day, live with meaning and purpose. And that’s how you’re going to be able to achieve your goals.”
Those words resonated with me, the most, because the idea of ‘setting a goal and achieving it’ has been a recurring theme throughout not only this semester, but throughout my life. This mentality is something that truly breeds leaders, and quite frankly, I think that the world needs more female ones. Which leads me to another realization: throughout the course of taking this class, and through completing this interview, I realized that I, too, am someone who does not accept nor like any form of inequality at all. The time spent on complaining about what is wrong with the world, and what is wrong with our society is time wasted that could be spent on taking affirmative action. The only way that change can be made has to begin with making moves and taking steps that not only challenge the social norms, but also leave a mark. This class has inspired me to speak up about what I may not agree with—because in my mind, thoughts can only go so far if no action is taken to make them a reality.
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed my reaction to our conversation~She truly does inspire me everyday, and I am so blessed to have her in my life as my mother. I am too lucky. ❤