As the class of 2015 heads towards its June 12 graduation, The Cougar thought it timely to explore the perspectives of several strong women – mothers, daughters, and teachers – and their experiences with identity, discrimination, and hopes for the future.
DeHart is a social studies teacher and chair of the Albany High School Social Studies Department.
When I got out of college and moved here, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was going to go to law school. Law school was an expectation.
I remember talking to a lot of women. For the job, we would be gone Sunday afternoon and come back Friday night. This was hard for anyone who wanted a relationship or family. I wanted to have a family. I was in my twenties, and I had this goal for some reason that I wanted to have kids by thirty. I didn’t go for it. I had a friend, Lucy, in her forties at that point who was single and childless. She wore the power suit and had short hair and everything. It was like Mad Men. It’s like Peggy. She had to be really aggressive. In that way, it’s a subtle and underlying type of discrimination– to be a certain way to compete with the big boys. I didn’t want to play that game.
I think there’s a kind of reverse discrimination with females from my generation. We’re told we can do anything and everything, and if you’re not seizing the moment, that’s looked down upon. Pretending you can do it all simultaneously is a.) impossible and b.) a lack of balance can be threatening to who you are as a person and your family.
Radford is an English and IHS teacher at Albany High School.
I remember very clearly deciding in high school that I wasn’t going to be a teacher when I grew up. My mom was a teacher for 39, 40 years. I had been told from the age of probably 9 on, that I was going to be a great teacher when I grew up because I always loved kids, I was always babysitting, when I was on swim team instead of hanging out with people my age I would go to the playground and play with family friends’ little kids and carry them around and push them on the swings. I’ve just always liked to be around young people, so people always said I would be a good teacher. I was working at a summer camp at the school where my mom taught, and the head of the school basically said to me, you’re going to be such a great teacher when you grow up. And, teaching was something I had thought about, but then once I was told that, I thought, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ because I’ve never liked to do what people thought I was going to do or people told me to do.
I went on to college, I did well in high school and in college, and I never really thought about teaching. I moved to New York after college because I wanted to be a woman of the New Millennium. I graduated in the year 2000 from college and I said to myself, ‘the world is my oyster, I don’t have to be a secretary or a dental hygienist or a teacher, I can be anything I want. I can have a corner office in New York City.’ So I moved to New York and worked in business for three years, and I felt like if I wanted to I could have a corner office, but it’s not really what I wanted.
I still feel like I’m in a profession that’s dominated by women. We’re starting to see a change in the nursing industry for instance where more and more men are becoming nurses and we see more and more male teachers now too. When you go back historically, a lot of the perceptions surrounding education and the reason education has been underfunded, or the reason that teachers are not paid very much is because a lot of it is a women’s and child’s industry. Women and children historically don’t have a lot of power, when we speak politically or economically, and that’s why teaching has always gotten less attention, or less political and economic power. There are times where that’s hard and I still feel like at times, it’s expected that a woman would be something like a teacher, but at the same time for me, this is a profession that fits me and my personality really well.
I think for me, it kind of took overcoming those preconceived notions that I had, of who is a teacher, to embrace that this is something I’m good at and what I want to do, not something I had to do, and that, as a woman of the New Millennium, I am choosing to be a teacher, I am not being told I have to be a teacher. I get overwhelmed with it a lot but it’s a really empowering and powerful position to be in because you do impact a lot of people. That’s not why I do it, because of the power, but in some ways, it’s one of the most powerful positions. But I never, would’ve thought of it that way when I was younger.
Yumi and Akiko Kobayashi
Akiko Kobayashi worked in fashion in Japan before moving to Albany. She dedicates her time to caring for her daughters Yuka, Kana, and Yumi. Yumi will be attending Occidental College in the fall.
Yumi: I think moving to Albany in particular has been great as a family decision because Albany tends to be more open and accepting of people of different cultures and races. Recently, my parents told me about this particular story when they just first moved to Albany. They were threatened by this guy who owns the auto body shop on the corner on San Pablo. It was just this altercation that happened, he sent this anonymous note, I mean it was really obvious that it was him because we had this altercation, but he sent this threat, essentially saying ‘you guys are aliens, go back to where you came from.’ It was just really awful.
My mom had a stressful job in Japan before she moved here.
Akiko: It was a 9 to 5, I was always thinking about it, we had four shows in a year, spring, summer, fall, and winter, we have a big show for our customers, so I was, making forty or fifty dresses, and the design and making of dresses was so stressful, but I liked it.
Yumi: But apparently, my dad complains that she wasn’t eating enough. She was just stressed out. But it was fun for her.
Akiko: I worked for very famous designers. I worked in the Harajuku District for ten years, a very big fashion industry. Then I married my husband at 25. I kept my job until 30. Around this time, Yuka was born. Yuka has Down Syndrome. My husband was in the US and knew this country and the system. That’s why we moved here. The kids can’t wait because they are growing. I think maybe, it was better that we moved here, that’s why we are here right now.
Yumi: The family setting that my mom had was very different than what my sisters and I have. I think that since we’re in America, we have a lot more opportunities. Times are changing and my parents are part of that movement of being more progressive and liberal, by moving here and being open minded. I think my mom is trying hard to make sure we don’t go through what she did growing up, to make sure we have that capacity to grow and be more independent and have that ability to do what we want to do.
Marisol Castillo-James and Cathy James
Cathy James, M.D. did community work in Peru and Venezuela before moving back to California and becoming medical director and chief medical officer at Maxine Hall Health Center in San Francisco. She has two daughters, Ana and Marisol. Marisol will be attending Amherst College in the fall.
Marisol: My mother has given me values and morals. I would say she’s raised me with some religion, and that’s definitely informed what I personally believe and my experiences that I’m able to talk about with other people, and compare experiences. She gave me, obviously, some of my ethnicity, like half of my genetic material, and so physically, I have some of her qualities and then I have the stories and experiences of her family, my grandpa, and her attitudes and experiences with racial relations.
Cathy: I hope that for you, Marisol, college will be a time of self discovery, that you will see yourself as an independent person in the world, that you get to make decisions and choices, and hopefully, learning about what’s important to you, and believing in yourself. I think that’s the main thing and that you don’t have to be reactive and you can try stuff. To not be afraid to fail. I think it’s a really good thing to fail and learn from mistakes. It’s a huge attribute that you can have if you just go for it and do it and crash and burn but come back from that because that is an important part of life. You’re going to a place where you’re just going to have amazing opportunities, and to feel like you deserve all of those, because it is in some ways still a white man’s world, right, and you are not that. Say, ‘I do deserve to be here and I do deserve to go on that trip and I do deserve to give that presentation and I should be the first one to raise my hand and if I get the answer wrong that’s okay.’
Marisol: My mother was recently promoted. She was given this extra position. She’s the medical director at her clinic, and also chief medical officer, I don’t really know what the duties are, but it’s more clinic-wide. She’s been given that extra role and it comes with a lot of work, and a lot of meetings and new things on her plate, and she was not offered a raise, and I think that she should ask for a raise. I mean I’ve been asking since day one, like ‘how much more are you going to get paid?’ and she hasn’t asked for a raise, and I told her to, but she didn’t. I can’t say that if I were in her position that I would feel bold enough to ask for a raise, because it does feel a little weird, like you’re already being offered this opportunity. You’ll say, ‘cool, I’ll do it,’ but maybe part of you feels like you don’t even deserve the promotion, or you might feel like someone went out on a limb to select you for that role, and then to ask for anything more would feel a little bit presumptuous, whereas a man may not feel that way at all.
Cathy: It’s mostly women at our clinic, out of 30 people I’d say about 25 are women, so there would be 5 men at any given time. When I sit down to do evaluations for people, how they’re doing in their job, what their goals are for next year, if it’s going well, if it’s not going so well, what could they improve, I have these conversations with people and the only time people have said to me, ‘I really want to be in a leadership role someday. What do I need to do to get there?’ were men. I had totally capable women, outstanding women, but they never said that to me. The two men who had been there less than six months, both of them, said, ‘I want to be in a leadership role, you’re a leader, tell me how to do that, how do I get there.’ I think that is very interesting.
I feel like there is a power differential, for the wrong reasons. Nursing positions tend to be women. For me, it’s about service, can I do more for the people I serve, can I do more for the patients, can I help the staff succeed? You have to try to look at it that way, not just, ‘I’ve got this title, I sit in this office, I have a bigger paycheck,’ or not. I saw it as a way to do something I wanted to do, a way to be in service but to also do something that has some income so that I could have a family and raise expensive children.