Saturday, October 08, 2011

Call Me a Feminist

Today I helped sort through the ashes of two houses that were destroyed in the Texas Wildfires this summer. We separated metal and cement from the ashes. My understanding is that both materials could be recycled, and the leftover ashes and glass could be taken to landfills.

I spent the morning sorting metal and cement from ashes. When I first got there, I mainly stuck to the detailed work of finding pieces of metal. There was a lot of bending, squatting, ashes blowing in my eyes -- that kind of thing. After a while, I was tired and bored of doing that, so I did what any normal person would do and changed things up a bit. I began to pick up the cement blocks. I found that the small, crumbled blocks were difficult to carry in my arms, so I decided to go for the big blocks. As soon as I picked a heavy one up, a guy friend said, "Oh, let me get that for you." I think I shook my head no, and he responded with something like, "Or are you gonna be stubborn and do it yourself? Okay -- be stubborn." Other people watched me carry my large loads and said things like, "Ohhhh, look at Sara showing off!" Or "Whoa! Watch out!" Once, one of the men took a block from me when I was about four feet from where it needed to be set down.

In the moment, I laughed and shrugged, but after a while of those kind of comments, I wanted to roll my eyes and give the offending parties a lesson in equality. Why is it that because I don't want help lifting a heavy object, I am stubborn? And why isn't a girl supposed to lift a heavy object, anyway? Part of the reason I like volunteering is because often, it involves manual labor. At least half the volunteer projects I've helped with in the past have been about sheer manpower -- projects that just needed more people in order to get the job done. When a volunteer activity has the word "cleanup" in it -- as in "Texas Wildfire Cleanup" -- I immediately recognize that all these people need help with is manual labor. They need able bodies to lift and move things.

I happen to have an able body. I am healthy and strong, and I can perform physical labor for people who need help. And I like it. I like using my muscles as much as men do sometimes, and when I sign up for something I know will involve me using my muscles, I don't mind using them. Also, I doubt all the men there would've wanted to sort through metal for the entirety of the project. Neither did I! I was bored, so I wanted to break things up and see what my body was capable of. I wanted to strengthen my arms a bit and burn some calories.

I don't understand why it was such a big deal for me to move a heavy object. There are things I could never move on my own, and I wouldn't hesitate asking someone -- male or female -- for help. There are things I know men are often better at, and I don't mind admitting it. But when a women is truly equal to a man for a particular job, then I will gladly take on the job!

I was just a bit stupefied this morning at obvious displays of sexism. It made me really feel for the suffragettes of the early 20th Century. What an awful road they walked. I am grateful for them and hope I live my life in ways that would make them proud.

Thing I'm thankful for: chicken noodle soup


Blogger Krisanne said...

Amen, sister. Furthermore, amen.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Lexia said...

Sheer manpower? You mean WOMANpower!!!

8:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Eh, as a Southern chick, I recognize this not as sexism (at all) but as respect and as the dreaded c-word -- chivalry. It's not that men are attempting to make you feel inferior or less strong physically (though you are, physically, less strong, She-Ra).

I've always felt that, HEY!, I can open that door myself. But it's become increasingly apparent to me since becoming pregnant that men actually want to show respect for women by helping them. It's not that men are insinuating that you CAN'T pick up the concrete brick; they're just willing to help you.

Feminism scheminism. Just tell 'em you're working on your triceps and not to mock you. They'll understand. They're men.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

i'm totally not a feminist but that still would have bothered me. i have no problem with guys telling me how strong i am or how impressed they are with my muscles (this never happens). and i especially have no problem with a guy offering to help me carry something heavy or whatever. but if a guy called me stubborn just because i respectfully declined his offer of help... well that's just wrong. and especially because it's a situation of your choosing. unlike sometimes when i'm in public trying to juggle my baby and a diaper bag and an armful of who knows what and i just dropped something on the ground and i can't manage my way through a doorway or up the stairs. y'know... then it would be a okay and obvious.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I agree with you. If you are a feminist, he should not have offered to help you.

8:33 PM  

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