I Saw the Signs

>>Ashley Simons-Rudolph article pictureBY ASHLEY SIMONS-RUDOLPH, PhD, Director, NC State University Women’s Center.

The NC State Women’s Center recently co-sponsored a week commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, probably the most important legislation promoting gender equity in higher education. As Director of the Center and mindful of my ever-shrinking programming budget, I suggested that our staff dual-purpose the commemoration by attending a morale-boosting women’s basketball game with our significant others.

I am from Raleigh and I bleed Wolfpack red. I go to Women’s basketball games on my own time and I usually go with my cheering husband, son, and daughter in tow. This was my first game to attend with my co-workers though and I found myself a little sheepish about the dual roles I expected myself to fulfill. How do I reconcile my screaming-my-head- off to “RED” “WHITE” with the decorum my co-workers have come to expect around the office? Further complicating the matter were the promotional signs that I had tasked student workers to make for the event. Large posters encouraging single players and proclaiming “Way to go ladies” and “NC State Women’s Center supports the Women’s Basketball team!” seemed out of jive with my professional persona and I squirmed my way through the first half both displaying the signs in front of the men’s football team watching the game next to us, and surreptitiously bribing my 7 year old daughter to hold them up. In both cases, I felt the sign holders were cute above reproach and I am ashamed to admit that I convinced myself that they could better speak the true admiration that I felt was channeled into those signs.

It wasn’t until after the game that I found out that anyone connected me with the signs. L’Tona Lamonte, Director of Women’s Basketball and whose aura of enthusiasm for her players practically knocked me out, said “I saw your signs. You hardly ever see signs here. That’s cool. Athletics hasn’t traditionally worked closely with the Women’s Center but I’d like to change that. I’ll give you my card before you leave so we can connect on doing some programs together.” Our brief exchange left me breathless. My passion for women’s issues and for collegiate athletics are so raw and so deeply personal and yet, I never made the connection! And then it hit me…while I am stewing in my own feminist guilt, these athletes are out here to “just do it”. It’s high time I recognize that.

I took my daughter up to meet her favorite player. Civic service-minded Kaley Moser is a backup freshman guard with a big smile and a high ponytail. After hugging the opposing team and doing a cheer mid-court (win or lose), Kaley and her teammates patiently sign autographs after each exhausting game. As I am reveling in the feel-goodness of this moment, Kaley’s father comes up to me with tears shining in his eyes. “Your signs meant so much to Kaley and to our whole family”. All at once I saw Kaley’s years of getting up early for Saturday morning practices, her missed dates with friends, school projects she barely had time for, and the parents who drove her, fed her, paid her countless registration fees, and cheered her practice after practice and game after game. As my 7 year old daughter, donned in her red hair ribbons, skipped to the front of the line to greet her “s-hero”, Kaley pointed to the sign. Biting her lip shyly, she said “that’s awesome”. Awesome indeed. Awesome that Kaley and likely Kaley’s parents have no recollection of a world before Title IX. Awesome that she never thought she couldn’t or shouldn’t play basketball. Awesome that gender equality is more than a wistful promise in her lifetime.

And when I saw how much the sign meant to Kaley, her family, and her basketball director, I thought about how much more we women can really lift each other up. Publicly. My personal observation is that we women are great at “bathroom support”. We quietly and privately say “girl, you did great in that meeting. I don’t know why they didn’t listen” or “yeah, I know he got credit for that project but I remember whose idea it was first”. We are less good at “boardroom support”, or relatively public displays of solidarity and acknowledgement. And we need both private and public support from our sisters. Our poster-sized Women’s Center signs of support and my initial reticence to proudly wave them represent an opportunity for me and for others to loudly proclaim that we’re here. ..and we are not leaving. My gaze turned from my young daughter to our graduating intern, a Latina with a 4.0 GPA in biology. I saw my lesbian co-worker who married her partner in a state that affords them no legal rights, my unabashed “family first” wo-mentor, and my African American boss who earned her high administrative post despite years of rampant racism in our state. I’m in the company of giants; all women. They are all from different places and hold different perspectives. Some of them say they are feminists and some do not. But all are, in the words of Kaley, “awesome”.

Second wavers often complain that we third wavers aren’t thankful enough and suggest that we aren’t willing to work to push for more change. I disagree. Pardon the pun but perhaps all of us are all “fem-inissing the point”. To me, the point is to recognize the gains even while we keep working. In the slow journey to gain equal rights, there are some pitstops where we’ve already arrived. It’s time to shout that from the mountaintops. I promised myself that in the future, I’ll set the example for my kids, my friends, my co-workers, and anyone else who looks my way how I can publicly and loudly proclaim women’s excellence when I see it. And I’ll do it in pink poster board with glitter.

Dr. Ashley Simons-Rudolph is the Director of the Women’s Center and an instructor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at NC State. She is an NC State Alumna and proud North Carolina native. Her research interests include reproductive health, feminist economics, & international women’s health issues. In addition to promoting gender equity at NC State, Ashley is passionate about being a mom, competitive swimming, & stand up paddleboarding with her two dogs.

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