I grew up in a rural, southern farming town of about 5,000 people. Like my own mother, most of the women I knew were stay at home moms. The few women who worked outside of the home were teachers at the local public school.
In my hometown, being a stay at home mom is considered a very valid life ambition. I remember growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for girls to list their ideal career as “mommy”. As those girls got older, finding nice a southern husband was as important as getting into college. I remember when I was accepted to the school I ended out attending (an Ivy League up north), most of the older women jokingly asked me how I was going to meet a “nice southern man” in the “frozen north”. My answer was always “I’m not”. While it was said it in a joking manner, it was repeated often enough by the people around me that it stopped feeling like a joke. Ultimately, it felt like they were insinuating I was choosing an Ivy League education over the chance to be married. More discouragingly, they were looking down on me for choosing the wrong option.
These same sentiments were brought back to me this week, when I attended an event with my mother and a lot of her friends. My mom was proudly telling one of her friends about how I was starting grad school next week. Her friend turned to me and asked me where I was going. When I told her, she asked me if the school was close to where my boyfriend lives. When I told her it was in the general vicinity, a smile lit up her face and she glanced knowingly at my mom.
“Oh! Going to school so you can be close to your boyfriend? That’s good!”
I didn’t know what to say. She started asking me questions about my relationship: how long we’d been together, how we’d met, if a ring was in sight yet. I don’t remember exactly what she asked because I was still caught up with her initial question: Going to school so you can be close to your boyfriend?
Not once, during that entire conversation, did she ask about what I was studying. Nor did she ask about what I wanted to do with the degree once I’d earned it. Instead, all that mattered to her was that I had a boyfriend that could take care of me.
It’s funny going back to my small hometown and interacting with people that helped shape the way I see the world. Even though growing up, perspectives such as the one above was something I was aware of and interacted with regularly, I had never been as bothered by it as I was a few nights ago. I think the root of that anger was that I felt my own accomplishments were being belittled. More frustratingly, I felt I was being told that having a relationship was all that really mattered in my life.
I am a huge proponent of different ideals and beliefs. As I watched my friend get married to a “nice southern gentleman” at the age of 21, I was genuinely happy for her. She moved into a house of her own in our small town, and she had everything she’d ever wanted. Her goals, which have always been to be a wife and stay at home, are valid and should be supported. However, so should mine;
Being someone’s girlfriend is not my greatest accomplishment.