Dear Ally,

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Why We Still Need Women’s Studies

Dear Ally,

We currently have a President that has been quoted as saying, “A woman who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.” The first time I saw this quote, it was written across a woman’s bare chest as part of 18-year old Aria Watson’s #SignedByTrump photography class final project.  I’m not going to lie I looked at all those pictures and I got pissed. I think that’s the point and proves the power of art.

It’s not one of the first words I’d think of these days to describe myself, flat-chested, but I when I was younger, I was definitely more conscious of the ways I was different from the way the world defined beauty. My college friend, Mark (yes, the one from the calculator and snowball posts) once asked me if it bothered me that I had small breasts. You might think this was a completely inappropriate question, but we had the kind of relationship where we’d had other personal conversations and I knew he was being genuine. At the time, I responded in the way I usually did when something was kind of awkward, I made a joke. I said, “No, it doesn’t bother me…because I can do this and this…” and I proceeded to easily reach first one arm and then the other across my body without turning. It is true, in my very active lifestyle where I enjoy running, horseback riding, and backpacking, that having large breasts would be annoying.

It’s all fine until the only women you see portrayed as beautiful are busting out of their tops. It’s OK until another college guy friend tells you that you have the body of a 12-year old boy. Couple incidents like this with the fact that I was taught in church that not being content with the body that God gave you is a sin. At a time when I was discovering my identity and questioning everything, including my faith, these kinds of experiences could have been devastating – at best you feel conflicted and confused and at worst, worthless and guilty at the same time.

This same friend, Mark, gave me the book “The Search for Significance (Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes)” by Robert S. McGee. Maybe Mark knew what was really going on in my head then. He is a very astute person. I can’t say that that book alone completely changed my life, but it was helpful, along with discovering my own purpose in life and receiving other messages that counter those that say a woman’s only value is as an object of beauty or vessel of procreation.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy working at a women’s college so much now. I don’t teach women’s studies or discuss anything really controversial in my chemistry courses, but I’m proud to work with people who do. I get to support awesome women and men that teach about the inequality and injustice all types of people experience. And I get to  foster young women’s growing confidence by helping them shape their values and discover God’s purpose for their lives and by contradicting negative stereotypes that are so often internalized.

Twenty years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of learning more about my own gender, so I didn’t. I liked men and didn’t want to be part of what I perceived would be some kind of weekly man-bashing event. All I remember about women’s studies in college is that my boyfriend wore a pink shirt to the final exam – probably to mock the course. It’s funny how life can turn out. Anyway, I don’t want you to miss out, so if you get the chance to take any kind of course where diversity is celebrated, take it.

Have a good week!

Aunt Sarah

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