What follows is the introduction to my paper for this class. It is what is called a “quest paper,” meaning my thesis is a question that will be answered by using specific examples from our readings in class, as well as any other research I want to include. The professor wanted a narrative before the question, and I might have gone a little bit overboard with my stories, but I wasn’t really sure how much backstory he wanted. I suppose we shall see, but until then, I could really use some feedback. What do you think? Should I rework some of the narrative leading up to the question? Where should I go from here? Do you have any suggestions for things to read and work into my paper? I appreciate any and all feedback.
There is a picture of me in my family room; I am three years old, wearing a teal shirt with pink flowers on it. My hands are sort of propping me up as I am leaning against a table in front of me. I am smiling sweetly, and all of this makes for a very cute picture.
The story behind the picture, and the reason this picture still resides in my family room, is indicative of my personality throughout my entire life. My mom took me to get my picture taken professionally. The photographer wanted me to sit in a white, wicker chair for the photo, and I would not do it. Apparently, the photographer ensued in a power struggle with me – never a good idea with kids – trying desperately to get me to sit in the chair. I simply would not do it. I wanted nothing to do with that chair. He tried coaxing me for quite some time before he gave up, let me do whatever I wanted, and we ended up with this adorable picture. At the end of the session, he turned to my mom and said, “Well, she certainly won’t need any assertiveness training,” and my mom replied, “I hope not.”
My mom loves to tell this story when friends are over and I’m doing something particularly bold or assertive, but she always seems proud of me that I have continued to be this way. I really believe this episode – and others similar to it – has shaped my life: how I deal with students, boyfriends, coworkers, family, other girls, random people who irritate me, etc. I think, as an adult, I am more assertive because I was always encouraged to be that way when I was younger, even though it may be a detriment to me sometimes, as people generally seem cautious of assertive women. It definitely caused some issues among my girl friends while I was growing up, and still does, because I often say what I think and stick to it without thinking. I do find this characteristic of mine helpful more often than not, and I’m glad I was raised that way. It has, however, gotten me into a few arguments, especially with women who were very different than myself.
The argument that has stuck with me the most was with a woman who was supposed to me a role model to me. She was my mentor at my first teaching job in a very small town in North-Central Illinois. I was far away from my friends and family, living by myself, and feeling as if I didn’t fit in at all. I made friends with a few of the other teachers, but their mindsets were very different than mine.
I suppose I should pause here to talk a bit about my relationship with these teachers, and their relationship with each other. That age-old stereotype about people in small towns, that everyone knows everything about everybody, turned out to be more or less true in this case. What happened in school and out of school was more or less the same thing, and it was all open for discussion. There wasn’t much of a division between work and personal life; it was all sort of lumped into a community life.
I was, by far, the youngest teacher in my department, which meant not only were the other teachers in a different generation altogether, but they all had known each other for a very long time, and most of them were friends outside of work. They would talk about each other’s quirks and complain a bit, and then say, “Well, that’s just how she is,” but they would never once defend me by the same means. They would be constantly trying to tell me how I should be, or what I was doing wrong. It was almost as if they were trying to undo my college years and tame me a little. I needed to be “tamed,” I guess you could say. I was definitely way too fidgety and easily angered and I didn’t know when to keep my mouth shut, but I believe that is something that comes with age, not with demeaning comments.
I made my opinion on that matter, and many others, clear, but that did not stop these women from making such comments. For example, my mentor and friend that first year was a married woman in her mid-30’s. She seemed relatively happy with her life, you know, aside from talking about how she wished everything was different. On one specific occasion, we were sitting with another woman, her friend and another teacher, enjoying a few beverages and talking about men – a typical Friday night. They were talking about weddings and marriage and all that, and I said something to the extent of, “I totally refuse to give up my last name,” or something that equally asserted my independence, and my mentor said, “Yea, and that’s why you’re not married.” This totally implied that, unless I gave up my independence, I would never find marital bliss. I think there was some concern on her part that I hadn’t found my future husband in high school or in college, so where was I ever going to meet someone? They were worried that I might end up alone, and I was more than ready to leave that all up to Fate.
We butted heads quite a bit over my two-year tenure at the school, and the conversations always started with her telling me about how I was too opinionated or too self-assured or too self-confident – from my earlier story about assertiveness, it is clear that I didn’t know such things existed. I thought these were all good qualities – and always ended with her telling me that if I kept up this attitude, I would never find a husband. I always told her that I would eventually find someone who wanted to be with a woman like me, and the wait would be worth it.
Over the years, I wondered more and more what the difference between us was. On the outside, we were very similar, and probably would have been good friends were it not for this continued argument. Why did this woman feel the need to “coach” me into being a “good woman” or a “good wife,” and why was I so resistant to her ideas, to the point that it ruined our friendship?