There Was So Much Less Sexism Then

There Was So Much Less Sexism Then

Whenever I reconnect with my college experience — either by going to a reunion or reconnecting with people from that era of my life — I am reminded of a time when I felt unstoppable. It feels like I reconnect with the aspect of myself that felt I could do anything.

I have often chalked this feeling up to youth, to just winning and winning and not really knowing what it meant to fail. And that was absolutely a part of it. But after seeing a couple of my teachers recently, I realized, too, that one of the other factors was that I went to college in a place relatively free of sexism. It was the kind of place where students sometimes complained of “reverse sexism” — like, when the theatre department didn’t want them to do True West with its cast full of men. (The students did it anyway, on their own, with an all female creative team and a gender reversed agent character.) Now, of course, we all understand that reverse sexism isn’t really a thing in the same way that we know that reverse racism isn’t a thing. But at the time, we were in an environment so positive for women that it felt skewed.

What I realized recently is that this college experience was the last time that this was true for me. When I was miserable in grad school, I called up my undergrad’s career counseling services (available for life, bless them) and tried to work out if I should drop out or keep going. My counselor said something like, “Everyone hates grad school. Pretty much everywhere is a let down after this place.” At the time, I thought, yeah, nowhere is as small or thoughtful or as dedicated to its students. It made sense. I realize now that the other factor I was missing was that it was also so much less sexist there. Which is not to say it was a paradise. (I heard tales of assault and harassment there too.) But now I see that it was the last time I felt really seen — the last time I felt taken seriously — the last time my potential felt visible to a critical mass of people.

I never considered an all women’s college. I was too keen on boys to make that leap. But my college was 75% women and that imbalance was enough to give me the experience of a life that was relatively friction-free sexism-wise for a few years. I see now that that was a beautiful headstart into my adult life. I only wish the world of work could have been as smooth.

It is an incredibly potent reminder to touch back in with the people who saw me in my full personhood, who imagined I could do great things, who invested in my potential. In the past, I thought they must be so disappointed in me that I never “made it.” Now I think: no, the disappointment is not in me but in the world that failed to see what they saw.

I imagine that’s what my teachers think because it is what I think when a student of mine has the same experience. The failure, if there is one, is not in the student but in the world that does not see their full personhood, either due to their gender, their race or their disability. As teachers, we put our hope in our students, hoping they will transcend the boundaries we ourselves were unable to overcome. I am still the vessel for that hope for the people who believed in me and I put my hope in those who follow me in the same way. And luckily for me, I once knew what it was like to be an artist in a world not dominated by sexism. It was beautiful, y’all. It was beautiful. And it is worth fighting for. It could be everywhere.

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Originally published at artiststruggle.wordpress.com on October 21, 2017.