While home I was debating what I wanted to do with my life, I was in a major I didn’t like, and all together pretty miserable. That was until I decided to have lunch with one of my best friends from high school Brittany. It was an experience I would never forget and one that made my view of myself, and my small town world change. Back in high school Brittany was the popular girl, pretty, ambitious, fiercely independent, with a fashion sense that could blow Louis Vuitton out of the water.
So when she announced she was going to attend the University of Central Missouri for their fashion program no one was surprised. Then about the time of graduation she met Jeff a small town sheriff deputy and they started dating but none of us saw it getting serious. I hadn’t seen or heard from her much since we left for college-mainly due to the fact that she thinks Facebook and twitter are an invasion of privacy-so I didn’t know what she was up to until we met in town at the restaurant we both use to work at.
I was excited to hear how fashion school was and if Jeff and her were even still dating since Brittany normally went through boys like Kleenex, but what came out of her mouth sent me reeling. She had dropped out of fashion school in order to move in with Jeff out in the middle of the country, she was waitressing part time at a local place and they were planning on getting married in the summer and soon starting a family. As I sat in those familiar solid oak benches surrounded by the wafting aroma of cheese burgers I was staggering to understand this new reality.
As I listened to her stunned she told tales of redecorating Jeff’s trailer, and how they had gotten a puppy together, I started to realize that two emotions were rapidly growing inside me. One was anger at her for throwing her life away for some hick country boy, and the other was a staggering overwhelming realization that we had just switched places. When I left high school I had a military boyfriend who wanted me to do the college thing for a semester and then come out to live with him, get married, and quickly start a family, and at the time that was also what I wanted.
Then after a semester as I thought of what was to come over Christmas break I couldn’t explain it but married life a part time job and children just wasn’t appealing to me anymore, in fact it kind of completely terrified me. So when I finally said I was staying at college he broke it off stating he couldn’t date someone who would make more money or have a higher degree of education then him. Now sitting across the table was my best friend who was exactly where I was supposed to be at this time making a home and a small town life for herself, and I wanted no part in it, I actually was angry about what she was doing with her life.
I left our lunch in a state of confusion and a cloud of mixed emotions, all my life I had been surrounded by couples that were high school sweethearts, heck most girls from my graduating class were married, engaged, or pregnant already, and thinking of that as my life made me sick. I wanted a high paying job, a position of power in a company, I wanted to travel and live in a big city, and I didn’t want a husband and kids anytime soon. When I came home and people started to hear the news that I was pursuing a degree and not a relationship my home townsmen shunned the ideal, and me.
At first I was stunned that the people I had grown up with didn’t want me to have this life that would make me happy, and I thought it was me, but the more I thought the more it seemed it wasn’t so much me as it was me challenging there traditions and ways of life. I lived in a world where the cheerleader and star football player ended up together, having kids who relived those lives for generations. Where divorce wasn’t an option and the boys took over the family farm while the girls were stay at home moms who ran the household, and that’s what was expected of me and here I was turning around and walking away from it.
I began to see that all those girls who had two kids at 20 were more accepted in my town then a 20 year old women seeking a college degree. My hometown has been around for almost three hundred years and most of the families who founded the town still reside in it. This fact that the founding families stick around leads the townsmen to think that settling down early and staying where your roots are is a good thing, and leaving is something you just don’t do. There are ten churches in my town and it only has a population of 1,200 so you can assume Christian values are very high.
You respect your elders, go to church, and hold on to your relationships, and that’s how your raised. When you are a young boy growing up in this environment you are placed in football programs before you can hardly walk and you’re taught to farm not long after. You are expected to be the stud of the high school and try every sport, grades are not really a focus and most teachers help you out if you have to have a passing grade for the Friday night football game. When you are a girl it’s very different you’re encouraged to do spots but only those meant for girls.
Academics is a slightly higher priority and you’re looked down on if you aren’t in a few clubs. You are expected to take home economics while the boys take gym, you learn to cook, sew, clean, and take care of an electronic baby. In high school you should have a boyfriend by at least sophomore year and it should be serious enough that by graduation you’re practically engaged. All leading these young girls to think that they must be the housewife verses the academic career women.
When I would come home to visit I was met with invites to engagement parties, weddings, and baby showers, and my Facebook news feed was filled with nuptial photos and new borns. I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me, I wondered if there was some domestic gene that I missed out on. Why didn’t I have this baby fever and lust for a simpler life like so many of my fellow classmates. This led me to the question what it meant to be a true women and if I was living up to that? When we are young we have many visions of what a true women is based on those in our lives and those portrayed by the media.
Being raised in small town life my idea of the perfect women was my granny she was someone who never came out of her room without full makeup and hair done. She could cook breakfast perfectly with a baby on her hip and more running around at her feet. She could manage a budget and schedule while getting all her kids to play dates on time and throwing perfect holiday parties for her husband’s coworkers. My picture never included that women having a powerful job where she was the breadwinner of the family that was just unheard of and a bit absurd to me.
At Kansas State I encountered many powerful women who started changing my view. I had women in my sorority going into pre-med, my teachers who were full time architects, professors, and moms, even some of my fellow students who were older women going for masters degrees instead of babies. Suddenly a whole new world was opened up to me one where I could be the boss and it was strangely appealing. Yet this was something that while being tempting was terrifying, all my life women had been second they hadn’t ever really held places above men and now I saw that they could, and that I wanted to.
This caused me to question so many choices in my life, it made me look back on all the times I had purposely put myself in second place because I thought it was a man’s world. So when I started to reflect on my major which at the time was architecture I realized that I had compromised yet again. I had started senior year wanting to do architectural engineering and was told it was to math and science heavy for a girl and that architecture was more design based and therefore more suited for a women’s talents.
I still wasn’t happy with this explanation so I continued to look into architectural engineering, and found a surprising fact. In most colleges and in the professional world men outweighed women by about 30 to 1! A lot of people refer to engineering as a 50 hour career, meaning if you choose to specialize in this forget your 9-5 work week. You’re going to be in the office some morning very early to very late at night, and working on weekends sometimes is a must. This in the past has deterred women from entering this field because of the strain this time commitment puts on those with families.
Even if women do want to make this time commitment society questions them, they put pressure on them to have families and a job that allows them to be home to cook dinner, and sometimes in engineering it’s just not possible. Also with engineering it is very math and science based, these are seen as things that boys are good at where as women are design and color oriented, and this fact yet again deters women from entering the field. So into architecture I went because I was told that where I would fit in, and I very soon realized that I hated it!
Every girl around me could come up with amazing design ideas and color concepts and I just couldn’t. I found myself missing math and the challenge it presented, yet when I spoke with an advisor she told me the same thing I’d been hearing since graduation “that’s really more of a difficult major then most females can handle”. And if you look at Kansas states engineering school you’d think that was true, there are about 12 men to every 1 women. So I took that as my university saying they’d would rather have men in the program then someone like me. I knew I wasn’t happy in architecture but I wasn’t sure if I could make it in a man’s world.
I wasn’t a math whiz, and science wasn’t my best subject. Everything from my past was running through my head making me question my role of being a women. Should I go with the traditional values that had been placed on me, or should I go with what I think was right for me. After much consideration I decided that gender role or not I wasn’t going to be happy unless I switched. So after finals I went home for summer break and had a long discussion with my parents. I told them about my math worries and how I didn’t want to be the only girl, but they supported me as I called my advisor and made the change.
Thus far I must say it’s been the best decision I could have ever made. I came to see I liked math and I’m good at it, and I missed looking at the structure and how things worked verses just making them pretty. I plan on going into a large firm and working up until I can one day own my own architectural engineering firm in a larger city like Chicago or Dallas. So here I am defying everything I’ve grown up believing, single, and in a major that has 30+ males to every female and I couldn’t be happier with how my life is turning out.