Home » Feminism » my first step toward feminism

my first step toward feminism

woman orchestra

My freshman year of undergrad, my very first piano teacher was a fiery, passionate Brazilian man who forced the very best out of his students. Every lesson with him felt like going through a wringer, but I improved by leaps and bounds that year. I made more progress than I ever had before– even though I dreaded those lessons where he would scrawl Mozart is rolling over in his grave across the top of my sheet music, or throw me out of his office yelling, “come back when you’ve practiced!”

So, halfway through my second year, when I was re-assigned to another teacher, my first thought was that he’d grown too frustrated with me, or didn’t think that I was learning enough. In conversations over the next few days, though, I made the connection that all of his students had been re-assigned. So, in one of my courageous fits, I marched up to his office on the sixth floor and asked why I’d been re-assigned, and his answer felt incredibly scripted: that I would get more out of lessons with my new teacher. I looked at him cross-ways, realizing that was not really the true answer. He let out one of his exasperated sighs (he knew I wasn’t just going to be dismissed with a non-answer. I’m tenacious like that), and patted the usual spot on his piano bench.

“Please do not tell, but I am leaving the college.”

“I thought maybe that’s why . . . why are you going?”

His answer included a bunch of different reasons: he didn’t agree with the school’s conservative music standards, he felt that their music program was losing credibility, and he thought the college was wasting a music student’s time by forcing them to take too many general education courses. But, his last reason floored me:

“And they do not treat women with respect.” At this point, he grew heated, with Portuguese phrases peppering his speech. “They have incredible faculty, but they do not use them properly, because they are women. Many of the women have more skill and more accomplishments and more ability than any of the men, but still, men get the best jobs. Women are hidden, not allowed to use their talent in church, not given good offices, responsibilities.”

And I sat there, stunned, while he continued. Because I instantaneously knew that he was right. One of my favorite female professors is an incredible conductor, but when the campus church’s old orchestra conductor retired, they replaced the old conductor with a second-rate conductor who barely knew what he was doing. Another woman could turn a gaggle of sopranos, tenors, altos, and basses into a harmonious choir, but when they were looking for a replacement for the church’s choir director, they chose a man who was not as good as her.

My piano teacher’s speech changed everything that I thought about women in positions of leadership. Over the next three years I watched as my female professors were constantly passed over for promotions and greater responsibilities in favor of men– because they were men. My professors would work twice as hard, would be adored by their students, would serve the college with all of their ability, and they were never placed “in charge” of anything because they were women, and for no other reason.

Every time I noticed this happening, all I could think was “Crap on a cracker, Mr. Torres* was right!”

And that’s how I became a feminist.

Because, slowly, I realized that in my Christian environment, I was going to run into that a lot. And I have– over and over again. I’ve even been told, to my face, that I wouldn’t be allowed to do something at my church because I am a woman. I never would have admitted that I was one of those dirty rotten bra-burners until a year ago, but I started considering feminist concerns in my decision-making process, and I started asking hard, uncomfortable questions. I was surprised by the reactions I got to a simple why? after I’d been told no, you can’t do that.

Feminism made me brave and bold before I even realized that’s what I was becoming. Feminism gave me the courage to apply to grad school when my father said no, you’re not supposed to be outside the umbrella of my protection– and later convince him to support me. Feminism gave me the bravery to trot halfway across the country to live completely on my own for two years after I’d had a lifetime of never being more than 45 minutes away from  home. Feminism gave me the chutzpah to start chasing my own goals without waiting for Mr. Right to come along first. Feminism taught me that I could do anything, be anything I wanted.

Feminism told me yes, Samantha, you’re a person.

11 thoughts on “my first step toward feminism

  1. haha! Welcome to the dark side, my pretty! (insert witchy cackle) I have always believed that had BJU been just a bit more open to letting me question, I would have never left the church. Perhaps that would have been impossible since there is so much illogic and bigotry underneath the layers of doctrine, but I really wasn’t interested in leaving. I was interested in answering my questions. It was their balking at the questions that turned me into a radical rebel. Now, I’m hopelessly lost down that terrible slippery slope called human rights. ;)

  2. I haven’t thought of myself as a feminist since I was a kid, but compared to what you’ve faced, I am. There’s something about this blog that makes me want to keep coming back. I think you speak a lot about the conservative side of christianity I didn’t really see, growing up agnostic and becoming a christian in my 20’s.

  3. Well if all it takes to be a feminist is to believe that women should be able to hold positions of power, then I guess I’ve always been a feminist! It’s very interesting reading about your experiences. I went to a Christian college myself, but most of the faculty were women, including several very important positions, and if anyone had said that someone couldn’t be promoted to a position because they were female it would have led to student protests and said person either getting fired or having to make some serious apologies. It’s fascinating how Christian culture can be so different even in the same country.

  4. I never thought I was a feminist until getting involved with the Patriarchy movement. Of course, marrying a strong woman (who works outside the home, gasp!) helped.

    I always associated “feminism” with “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and “abortion NOW,” but I came to find out that the Patriarchists were actually against first wave feminism. You know, when they fought for the right to vote, and for freedom from domestic violence, and the right to work. Amazing.

    So I guess I am a feminist, even though I never thought I would embrace that label.

  5. I’ve been lurking and reading your blog for a while now, and I really appreciate everything you write.
    This really spoke to me today because I was just thinking that it’s so healthy to get a normal perspective on things every now and then from a non-recovering-fundy. Some things are so ridiculously engrained that I start doubting myself and my opinions. I was telling my friend how I was concerned that maybe I scared off a potential suitor by telling him I’m a traditional feminist (eg- men and women are equal in God’s eyes). She just gave me a blank look and said “why wouldn’t a nice, godly man agree with that?” Um, duh. Of course a truly nice godly man WOULD agree with that. Thank you for the reality check, normal friend (who probably now thinks I’m a total fruitloop lol).

    • Oh, trust me, I get the “fruitloop” look all of the time. Everybody’s used to it by now, thankfully. But, every once in a while, something will come tumbling out that gets me looks and I realize, oh, wait… that’s crazy fundy-land talking.

  6. Nicely written and a good reminder about how women are treated in some (many) areas of the church. However, this is not a uniquely fundamentalist Christian problem. Women are discriminated against in all sorts or subtle and not-so-subtle ways in every area, region, state, and community across this country.

  7. Pingback: Postcards from the culture wars (8.6)

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