Domestic Courage

Summer                                                         Most Heat Moon

Sexism rides through the institutions of our culture: through church and corporation, through the military and onto the athletic field, through higher education and elementary, too. Take medicine for a contemporary example. Since the days of NOW and conscious raising, many, many women have become doctors. According to a recent survey there are approximately 234,000 women physicians compared to 535,000 men. (kaiser fdtn.)

Those 234,000 women are disproportionately in the lower paying medical disciplines though not dominant in any of those either. Pediatrics is the sole exception with women making up 55% of all pediatricians in 2008.  But. They earned 66% what male pediatricians did. (Center for research into gender and the professions.) This link gives more detailed analysis.

Continued activism by feminists (male and female) in the workplace will be necessary for years, perhaps generations, to come.

Personal bravery, I called it domestic courage in a eulogy for Ione, a working woman who raised three daughters on her own, working evenings as a bookkeeper, is necessary though when the political gets personal.  When the issue is culturally determined sex roles, then the political comes home. It has to because there is no social nexus more culturally determined by gender than marriage and family.

Kate is an example of domestic courage and institutional courage. Here are three instances. In high school in Nevada, Iowa during the early 1960’s, Kate did outstanding academic work. This would not surprise anyone who knows her. In time long before advanced placement classes, the International Baccalaureate degree or any other now common place for accelerating advanced students, she asked to graduate in her junior year and then attend nearby Iowa State. Her request, though unusual, was granted. Until it came time to make it happen. Then the school went back on its word.

It’s difficult to imagine in our current educational reality, how much courage it must have taken for a young, beautiful girl to pass up cheer leading and the prom to push for an education that met her intellectual talents. That her attempt failed is neither surprising nor a reflection on the domestic courage it took for her to put herself forward. (I say domestic courage here because of the enmeshed nature of small towns with their elementary and secondary educational systems, an enmeshment I know only too well from my own experiences in Alexandria, Indiana.)

Becoming a physician, after first overcoming sexist objections to her becoming a nurse anesthetist, (a telling picture of her class at Mt. Sinai shows her with seven men), she applied to medical school over the objection of her then husband. The admissions personnel at the medical school told Kate that since she had a physician for a husband what was the point to her ambitions? They slapped a good deal of preliminary work on her, which she did, then accepted her reapplication.

The domestic courage in this instance involved persisting in her own ambitions, in spite of being a young mother and in a demanding marriage. She got through this by studying in the morning, early, before Jon and David got up.

Then, once in medicine, Kate continued her fight against sexist restrictions and organizational assumptions.  The clearest of these was her insistence that low income working women couldn’t afford to take time away during the day for a doctor’s appointment. The Coon Rapids Allina Clinic needed to offer appointments after traditional daytime hours.

When the resistance became obdurate, Kate volunteered to do it herself, which she did for several years until the Clinic decided to open an after hours clinic.

Now, as a grandmother, Kate feels (and I do, too.) a necessity to pass on this kind of consciousness to our grand-daughter Ruth. Sexism will not be eliminated by the time Ruth hits college or the work place. She needs an understanding of her own power and her right to her own path. We can help ensure she gets that.





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