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A while ago, Sue was given an assignment for her feminism class — to write a 2-pg paper on what gender means to her. Her professor gave her an “A,” along with the following comment:

Very meaningful paper! An amazing story – I would welcome talking with you during office hours sometime!

And for those you who asked, Sue’s letting me share her paper. It made me cry.

To be Female

There was never a point where I realized there was a difference between males and females. The difference between genders was instilled in me from beginning by the doctrine I was raised with.  My family was very conservative, not in the conventional sense of conservative belief – but in the sense of rejecting accepted social standards.  This doctrine was based on religious teachings, called [TheChurch], of a man named [TheMan], a man referred to as a prophet in my childhood church.  Though I could expound on this on many levels, I will focus primarily on the distinction that [TheChurch] made between the sexes and how this would affect my life and the life of my sisters.

In [TheChurch], men were dominant and women were to be docile, care-givers, and silent.  They were not to cut their hair as long hair was the ultimate sign of modesty and “submission to the Head,” a scriptural based instruction which meant submission to God, and submission to one’s husband. They were not to wear pants as pants or makeup as this was “worldly.”  This was the instructions I was given from birth.  I had two older sisters and both followed these rules.  My mother also followed these rules.  As the years unfolded, I began to understand that her belief in God was not dictated by [TheChurch]; however I believe that years of indoctrination created many personal struggles for her.

Things begin to change significantly when I was in second grade in 1996.  My oldest sister was valedictorian in her class and received a full scholarship to Lander University.  My father consulted with the leader of the church and he instructed him not to allow my sister to attend college because educating a woman was dangerous and would make her “worldly.”  Though I have no clear memory of what exactly occurred I suspect that my mother intervened quickly, because in fall of 1996, my sister started her freshman year at Lander University and soon after, following much upheaval within the Church hierarchy my family left the Church.

From the beginning, my experience with the Church created a complex journey as I sought to develop into the person I am today.  Because of the rules of the Church I was never allowed to play sports.  When I was in middle school my mother would allow me to sneak shorts to school for gym class without telling my father.  I was lucky in the sense that I attended a very open school.  I was never the “Skirt Girl,” I was just “Susanna, who happened to wear skirts.”  Other than that, I had a relatively normal school career and was elected Senior Class president in high school.

Despite the religious environment I grew up in, there was one key element that made me into a very strong person: my mother.  My mother was a paradox unto herself.  While she followed the rules of a submissive wife in [TheChurch], she was PTA president and spearheaded a campaign against chicken farmers who were attempting to build their chicken houses to close to the school.  This campaign ended in the Supreme Court chambers of South Carolina.  As my sisters and I grew older we began to realize that the submissive housewife did not quite fit with the outspoken activist.  It was then that we realized our mother had been oppressed too.  For her, after years of being involved in the Church, the lines were blurred between what she actually believed and what she was told to believe.  But through the years, her true thoughts and ideas were injected into the lives of her three girls, and she would raise us to become strong, opinionated women.

My mother died on September 17, 2007.  She was fifty years old.  There were whisperings that she had died because she had lost the faith and left the Church.  But I know it was because she had a stage 4 tumor in her breast, then it became Metastatic – spreading to her brain, liver, and other internal organs.

With my mother gone, my sisters and I are now starting on a new segment of our lives with our father as our sole surviving parent.  This has been a struggle for all of us.  I sometimes think that for the 34 years my father was married to my mother he never actually realized the strength in the woman who raised my sisters and I.  She passed that strength on to us and it has been a point of contention over the past two and a half years.

I am twenty-two years old and sometimes feel a little older.  But I know the strength of a woman who kept her spirit alive despite religious belittlement and disease that ravaged her body.  I am her daughter and because of her, I know what it is to be female.  To be female is to keep yourself intact in spirit and mind despite outside forces, to realize your potential, and to love those important in your life with all your being.