I grew up in rural Oklahoma riding horses, swimming in dirty ponds, and running around barefoot on round hay bales. My dad taught me early to be tough and smart, to work hard and question hegemonic structures. He stressed the importance of education and independence, especially considering that I was a girl growing up in culture where men still run things. My mom taught me the importance of kindness and cooperation especially toward other girls, a concept that took awhile for me and my squirrelly nature to fully grasp. She led the local Girl Scout troop; I earned 32 badges and still have the sash. They both taught me the importance of home and good citizenship and trying to make a difference.
Even though I have lived all over the country, I live in my home state of Oklahoma because I see opportunities to make a difference here. My home state happens to be one of the most difficult places for a woman to live and thrive. Oklahoma is consistently rated poorly when it comes to laws protecting reproductive rights, gender pay equality, female legislative representation, etc. We have a low percentage of women seeking higher education and professional degrees. Women here don’t obtain graduate degrees at rates like we see in other, more progressive parts of the country. But also many Oklahoma women who do get advanced degrees often leave the state for places where economic opportunity is greater and social autonomy is supported and encouraged.
Oklahoma laws impose many restrictions on women’s access to birth control options, which is extremely problematic considering we have a high rate of unplanned pregnancy. We also have a high teen pregnancy rate (we currently rank 9th in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute). We also incarcerate women at twice the national rate. These are incredibly big problems that will take much time and effort to fix.
But that’s exactly why I choose to live here and work here and vote here. I mean, I choose to live here in Oklahoma because it is my home and I love it, but also so that I can work at changing the status of women. Values gained from my rural upbringing dictate that I take care of my home and my own before prosthelytizing abroad. I own a house in Tulsa, where I live with my 12-year-old daughter and 2 dogs and beloved backyard vegetable garden. I teach Writing and Composition at a couple of local universities. I incorporate gender studies into the curriculum. I have also taught Women’s Studies classes at the University of Tulsa. I write letters to my state and federal legislators. I talk to regular people about what many would consider radical issues.
I still walk around barefoot on Oklahoma dirt, talk with an extreme drawl, say ma’am and sir, listen to old country music, but I have graduated from swimming in dirty ponds to swimming in dirty lakes. I think I am very regular, pretty average lady. Just a lady tryin’ to tell the world that Oklahoma is a total hotbed of feminism.