SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2011       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Samantha Klimek

Gender Difference in a World That is Ever Changing

The air was hot, and the sun was shining brightly, typical of a summer day and consistent with Arizona’s frequent weather. The cool lush green grass had just been watered and the smell of the grass and wet pavement flooded my senses. I could see the path below and the path I intended to take. However, three flights of steps seemed daunting. With a deep breath I mustered up the courage, grabbed hold of my hot pink mongoose mountain bike and stretched forward. “Click, Clunk, Click, Clunk,” as the tires hit each of the grey graveled steps, and my breathing became heavy. “I can do this” I kept telling myself, “I am strong”, “I am a capable woman”. My thoughts resonated within me and carried me down the first flight of steps.

The sound of voices soon reached my ears. My neighbors Raphael and Sonia were standing below. His large black hands and his kind presence came rushing to assist. “Let me help you with that”, Raphael expressed as he strongly grasped the frame of my mode of transportation, carrying it with ease down the last two flights of steps. Raphael had a kind smile, and made his intentions known. Once I reached the sidewalk he returned my bike and noticed my attire. I was wearing an old gym t-shirt and a frilly Spanish style skirt and my pink and grey sneakers. The outfit did not match, but it was clean. Raphael was outraged; he did not consider it appropriate attire for a young lady. and insisted I change my clothing. “It is not safe or appropriate to wear a skirt while riding a bike” he expressed. As he expressed his concern old memories began to boil my blood.

Seared into my brain for the duration of my twenty-one years of life subject matter continually shouts: women are frail, weak, dumb, and overall vulnerable! Not only does this mantra echo up from my childhood, but throughout history women were seen as sexual objects, who nonetheless bore their own responsibility to guard their virtue. Those 18th and 19th century values that we see in novels such as Pride and Prejudice, and The Scarlet Letter, are ones that society continues to value and are hard to escape.

My mother, a Hispanic and stubborn woman, has had similar societal values pushed on her and reflects them onto me and my sisters quite frequently. She had four older brothers, was always kept under lock and key, and was taught values of morality and the importance of being a virtuous woman. She has always wanted me to grow up to be proper, but it has not always been the case. These thoughts provoked anger; crawling under my skin. As I stood there, clenching the handle bars, Raphael continued to talk, and thoughts of my childhood continued to flood my mind.

When I was young, probably around the age of seven or eight, I would play in the dirt climb walls, find bugs and do all sorts of non-girly things. My friends would disapprove, and some of my family members would insist that I act more “lady like”. Unlike my mother I did not have brothers, but instead landed smack in the middle of two sisters. I did not understand the notion of becoming a lady, and continued to play. As I grew up I started to understand what I had been told, and tried to conform. My friends were my examples. They started to wear designer clothes, make up and sport the ideals that media has pushed on young women. A part of me wanted to be just like them, to be accepted by society as what society wanted me to be. However, I became more self- aware and disagreed with the need to be girly by these standards and just decided to be myself.

I was angry with Raphael, and with my childhood, but I knew he was only looking out for me. He was kind, and was bringing to my attention the importance to look past simple kindness and to better know my surroundings. He wanted me to know that the optimistic trust that I had could not always be a safe tool to display, and that it is better to protect oneself from immediate harm and take preventative measures than to fall prey to naiveté. When Raphael had finished arguing his point by explaining to me that a good friend of his had been raped while walking in the neighborhood, I refuted his point. I argued that it does not matter what a woman wears, if a person is going to attack someone, they are going to do it regardless of what they are wearing. Sonia was on the steps listening, and agreed with me. She said encouragingly, “Go on girl ride your bike”. It was broad daylight and I was only going to my parent’s house nearby, so I said my good –byes and respectfully went on my way, without changing my clothes.

Raphael may consider it naïve, but as a woman I should not have to guard myself every minute of the day, I should not have to be afraid of every single situation that comes my way, and should never have to feel disadvantaged because of my gender. Women have made gigantic strides to disprove these archaic ideas and to prove that they are equals, through the civil rights movements, feminist movement, and the many developments to strengthen women’s rights over the past hundred years. It is irritating and upsetting that people still insist upon making distinct borders of difference of how women should act, dress, and present themselves in society in contrast to men. What carries me though is my ability to find solace in prayer. To ask “God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Growing up in the 21st century has probably made me more aware of the limitless potential of what it means to be female. I have been given more opportunities because of women who came before me, and it is important that I embrace who I am and not let anyone tell me otherwise. I know that in my heart, I am proud to be a woman, and am grateful for the progress that women made prior to my generation. Women who once could do nothing until married or under the protection of a male, can now vote, be an equal part of the work force, get paid similarly, decide who to marry and when to have children. Overall, women have the choice to be independent and although society places emphasis on what it means to be a woman, it is individually defined. The experience has allowed me to embrace my strengths; to push for equality because I am who I am and will not be solely defined by my race, gender, or ethnicity.

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