As I am wrapping up my internship this summer, I have been working on some final edits of interview footage. Going through one conversation this evening really caught me off guard. At the end the interview, the only question the older gentleman had for me was: “Where’s the boyfriend?” Now instead of telling him that it really was none of his business, I took the explanation route… “Oh I’m in a very transitional period in my life…” I mean, this is totally true! I am in a transitional period — I’m home for the summer, just back from New Haven, and soon to be moving to Cambridge, England, for the semester. But why do I feel like I have to explain away that a young woman like me doesn’t have a boyfriend? Maybe I like not having a boyfriend! Maybe I like not being tied down. Maybe I like asserting my independence. And in all honesty, maybe I do secretly wish I had a boyfriend sometimes — but that is not the point. The point is that the world views a woman without a partner as single and dangerous. She must be tied down somehow.
My feeling of frustration over this issue has only been intensified by the fact that I am back in the South for the summer. Here, so many people near my age are getting married or already are married. I only have to look at Facebook to see an array of old friends smiling brightly in their beautiful white gowns (and I have to admit my Pinterest wedding board has been getting a lot more action this summer).
I hardly ever feel this kind of pressure to be in a serious relationship while in New England (although I may put the pressure on myself at times), but once I am back below the Mason Dixon line, the scrutiny is on full force.
It doesn’t help that older men in particular, make me feel like a piece of meat. I guess because I am young and unattached, they see it as there right to compliment me… Hate to break it to them, but it’s not. For example, the other day before the church service, an older man came up to me and a female youth in the parish. He proceeded to step between the two of us, put his arms around each one of us, declare that we were two beautiful young ladies, and then kiss each of us on the cheek. In that moment I just froze. Instead of being a good role model to the high school girl present, I just let the man chuckle and go on his merry way. Yes, I wanted to say something, but how do you call out an eighty something year–old man during worship?
Unfortunately, this is not a new predicament for me as a young woman leader in the church. While processing into a service with the cross one Sunday, an elderly man in the back pew proceeded to take his cane and hit me on the backside with it! It took every bit of control I had not drop the cross, let my loud Southern accent come out, and give him a piece of my mind. Why did he think he had any right to do that? Are young women in the church a target for older men who want a few laughs? Why do I have to put up with this? Why do I have to keep silent? Why do women clergy tell me to let it go? Why has this become acceptable?
And if I had a boyfriend, or better yet a husband, would it stop?…