Alexa Petersen | Jeminist: A Jumbo Feminist
To the freshwomen of 2017
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 02:04
To our newly accepted Class of 2017 Jumbos: Welcome! We could not be happier to have you. You are smarter than us. But it’s cool. We’re thanking our lucky stars we applied before it was too late and we’re glad we get to introduce you to this wonderful place that we call home. We can’t wait to meet you during Jumbo Days — to see you try to find a roommate in two hours, to see how embarrassed you are of your parents and to see what pre-orientation program can scream the loudest (Wilderness, holla). We just really can’t wait to see you.
But today I’d like to give a special shout-out to all those Class of 2017 women-identified Jumbos. My freshwoman self was pretty markedly different from the woman I am now, and I want to chat to you all about a few things Tufts has taught me about being a woman and a person.
My Tufts education — by my professors, my friends and my classmates — has altered the very basis of the way that I perceive the world. What my freshwoman self never truly grasped are the social barriers that limit, complicate and privilege every single one of us in different ways, especially the ways these affect me as a woman.
My freshwoman self would have heard people praise my uncle endlessly for being a stay-at-home dad, and think, “that’s pretty cool, he’s breaking gender norms.” My Tufts-educated self would wonder why in the world this man gets praised to the high-heavens for taking care of his children, when almost no one would think to do the same for the millions of women across the country who do the very same. And when the woman is not working, it’s unclear if this is her choice or if she’s been disenfranchised by her family or her employer based on the expectation that she will be a stay-at-home mother. If the woman is working, she’s perceived as neglecting her children in some fashion, because childcare rests on her as her major responsibility.
My freshwoman self would have seen a commercial for nude stockings and thought, “I hate stockings, they are uncomfortable.” My Tufts-educated self recognizes that what manufacturers call “nude” colored, is actually white-person skin colored. This self sees the glorification of white features in beauty products (and fashion in general) whether the model is white or a person of color who is specifically chosen for their as-close-to-white-as-you-can-find features. I would also think, “I hate stockings, they are uncomfortable.”
My freshwoman self would have heard the elders in my family tell me that nice Jewish girls get married and have babies and think, “as long as I don’t have to fast for Yom Kippur, because I still can’t last past 10:30 am.” My Tufts-educated self would recognize that the expectation for my “contribution to society” is often first and foremost the children I can bear. My intelligence, my work ethic and the career I have yet to have are secondary to this expectation. This self would know that, were I not to have children, my community would wonder what was wrong with me — either I must be infertile or I’m so awful no one will love me — and call me such loaded words as spinster and old maid. This self would think, among other things, “fasting is awful and having babies looks painful.”
To conclude, my dear women-identified Jumbos, come to Tufts and explore. Open your mind. Begin to start conceptualizing the complex structures of social inequality that we live in and perpetuate, and start figuring out how you can change them. You have so much more to learn and you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere is Tufts.
Alexa Petersen is a senior majoring in political science and Peace and Justice Studies. She can be reached at Alexa.Petersen@tufts.edu.