Saturday, June 18, 2011

Three Men and a Feminist ~ Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Father’s Day, 2011

It’s 1967 and I plant my fanny on the steps of the Administration Building at the University of Ga. for my first sit-in. The cause: a girl’s right to wear pants on campus. To wear long or short pants, you donned a trench coat and signed out from your dorm for horseback riding or tennis. When Ms. McClure, intrepid housemother for Center Myers, began to comment on my love for equestrian activities I knew my cover was wearing thin. It was time to take the struggle public. As is true for many historic social movements, others were also tiring of the oppression. Word began to circulate of plans for a sit- in at midnight (one hour past the prescribed curfew for females) and I joined my bold, scared sisters on those cold stone steps. We sat there as the campus police ordered us to disperse or face expulsion. Ultimately we prevailed and the system was changed! Today all those cute little things displaying flat tummies and pierced navels all over Athens can thank their wrinkled, flabby elders!

I have been a feminist since an early age. This Father’s Day I write to honor three men who are largely responsible for fostering “liberated” thinking that has served me well over a lifetime. Here are three messages I claim as their gift to me and I wish for all girls:

You are valuable
When an adult happily invests time and energy in a child’s world, the affirmation is powerful: “You are important to me.” James Fred Rowland, aka Papa, was such an adult for his grandkids. He was content to sit in the porch swing and listen, laugh and play with us. My favorite game was “Guess what color car will come down the road next?” I can still see him keeping score with his carpenter’s pencil on a piece of scrap paper. Whether on the hanging out on the front porch, damming up the branch (a small creek) to create a pool in the woods or feeding his pet squirrel, we kids were sure he was present with us and glad to be there. Thanks, Papa for valuing me.

You can dream
 Our uncle George was a quiet man, a bachelor and a gentleman. From the time I was old enough to talk about my plans, George was interested. He would listen as I chatted on about whatever fanciful idea or dream I was currently entertaining. I don’t remember challenges or discouragement, just interest. As a college student I loved to drive over to Walhalla for a weekend visit with my grandparents and uncle. Changing majors 5 times meant George inquired about a wide variety of plans. He would ask questions that helped me elaborate and think through the plan. When I began to discern my call to ordained ministry, George did not comment on the social acceptability of a woman pursuing a “man’s career”. He simply said, “Tell me about seminary,” and he listened. Thanks, George, for inviting me to dream.

You can question and think
My daddy was square peg in the deeps south’s round-holed assumptions about life. Popular thoughts on a variety of subjects were echoed by us kids, usually at the dinner table. Daddy was a man of few words, so when he spoke we listened. I remember telling the family that my friend’s father warned me that “…the coloreds are starting to riot and soon nobody will be safe.” I was scared. Daddy chewed thoughtfully and asked if I would refuse to sit next to Lucille (my grandmother’s maid) or deny her the right to vote or send her children to a good school. Daddy put a human face on the budding civil right’s movement and invited me to reflect on matters of justice not buy into wholesale fear. He encouraged critical thinking and the questioning of popular assumptions. I had a brain and I was encouraged to exercise it. Thank you, Daddy, for encouraging me to think and question.
And thank you, God, for a few good men