My courses in Women’s Studies have given me the voice and tools to go out in the world and create change to better our society.
by Sally Boland
There are lots of awards in the world that I don’t care one way or the other about. But I care a great deal about the Theo J. Kalikow Award, and I thank you for it.
It’s good to begin today, as Dot Diehl just did, by remembering our foremothers, so I want to remember some of mine, my biological foremothers. The women in my family, and many of the men, too, were feminists, and I want especially to mention my grandmother, who graduated in 1906 with a classics degree from the University of Michigan and was a supporter of suffrage. I’m wearing her necklace today, and I remember her.
You might think, with such a background, it was easy for me to get liberated, back in the Sixties, when Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and all came along, but that wasn’t so. Getting free is never easy. And here’s a story to prove it.
Back when I was an MA candidate at the University of Denver, one of my favorite professors was Hyman Datz. I liked himm, and I liked the literature he taught–eighteenth century British, a very exciting period which brought us–among other delights–Mary Wollstonecraft, the first modern feminist.
I was an experienced student–I must have been 23 or 24 at that time–doing well in the program, and one day Datz walked up to me and said, “Well, Sally, you’re only a girl, but you’re the best we’ve got.”
I’m not meaning to be politically correct here–this story is on me, not on Hyman. The amazing thing, now I look back on it, is not what he said to me but rather what I said to myself, which was: “Maybe if I can learn to think more llke a man, I’ll do better.”
It was a long time before I heard what I’d said, several years in fact. and it was then I began to get free. And in time, I am confident Hyman began to get free, too, because he was an open person, able to grow, not afraid of growing.
Which brings me to why I think this award–and all our work in Women’s Studies, the Commission on Women, and the Women’s Center–is so important. It is precisely the work colleges and universities are supposed to be doing, because it can bring people, men as well as women, to become more fully human, more nearly what they are capable of being by helping them escape what William Blake–another of my favorite eighteenth century people–called our “mind-forg’d manacles.”
What the story of Datz and me says, I think, is that all of us, women and men, are molded to carry sexism. Our culture shapes us that way. And it’s heavy to carry–sexism, homophobia, all these gender-related burdens–are terribly heavy. They weigh us down, body and soul, they bend us out of shape, and they make us less than we might be.
Our work here is important because by doing it we are saying to our students and colleagues, ‘You can begin to put all that down. You can get out of those manacles.”
We know of course that no one gets free all at once; part of our work is to keep at the long job of dismantling our own load and putting it down a little at a time as the years go by. But even when we just begin, we feel lighter, then lighter and lighter as we go on; we become lightsome.
And for me that has been one of the great pleasures of doing all this–to be working with women and men who are filling themselves with light.
I thank you again for the great honor you have shown me today.