September 24, 2004
I’ve always been a fairly normal person.
Growing up, I helped my mother make biscuits, played flute in the band, did enough homework to get good grades, and envied girls who made out a lot with boys between classes.
Things didn’t change when I entered Arizona State University (ASU) in 1969, over thirty years ago. Even though I bought wire-rimmed glasses, let my hair go straight, and quit going to church, I remained a fairly normal person. I still did my homework and never found it worthwhile to cut classes. I changed majors twice, hooked up with a boyfriend, and hung in there to the end, to graduate.
So, it’s no surprise that I have lived a fairly normal life for over thirty years. Like most women I know, I balanced a marriage and raising two children with full-time work as a teacher, a real estate saleswoman, and an accountant.
Little did I know that everything would change when I went back to Arizona State University in 2000.
It seemed a good way to spend the Christmas break with my daughter. Together, we drove to ASU, walked to and from classes, and spent two weeks buried in notes and tests.
She learned the basics of psychology. And me? I learned the basics of feminism in women’s studies. My daughter warned me. “Don’t come whining to me,” she scolded. “You’re choosing to do this yourself, so I don’t want to hear you complaining.”
I was expecting a few surprises to pop up here and there. After all, my own kids were in college, and life has changed in thirty years.
Indeed, there were little surprises in every class, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I learned the distressing news that I was married to a patriarch and was also raising a patriarch, my son. So sad. I had always considered them the best of the new breed of man. Until women’s studies, I didn’t know patriarchism was an unavoidable genetic trait.
I learned that women still focused on their body types. Boy, was I glad to go to college and gain this insight! Now I finally understood the significance of having cheerleaders on Monday Night Football shaking their cleavage at the camera. I just never could figure that one out.
And I learned that even after thirty years of feminism, it seemed still worthwhile to discuss who should open the door for whom. Thankfully, the male student sitting in front of me was just as mystified as I. “What’s the problem,” he asked. “Who got there first?” For the rest of that class period I kept imagining somewhere in America a little old hippie lady and her hippie dude stuck in an elevator like Charlie on the MTA, unable to get out because they didn’t know who should go first.
These were the little surprises. But they were absolutely nothing when compared to the big surprise, the mind-blowing news that I was no longer a fairly normal person.
Imagine my surprise the day my professor told the class my marriage license was nothing more than a contractual exchange of sex for money. That little piece of paper was my formal promise to give sex and my husband’s promise to pay me for it? Licensed prostitution? I was a prostitute?
It was probably a good thing the bell rang just before I was able to close my mouth and open my eyes. In the entire semester’s study of marriage in a class dedicated to issues of feminism, we spent five minutes reducing marriage to a contract for prostitution. And that was the end of our consideration of marriage in Women Studies 300.
Watching the professor erase the board and stack her books, the immediate shock wore off. I mulled things over. Too bad I didn’t know about this prostitution deal back in 1970. Sure would have paid better than teaching!
Following students out of class, going down the stairs to meet my daughter, I couldn’t wait to enlighten her. “Guess what I learned today?” I teased. She raised her eyebrows to warn me. “I married your dad for money. He married me for sex.” I laughed.
Like always, she knew the perfect way to sum up two weeks of feminism. “Well, it serves you right.”
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