When I Didn’t See

I believed her. I could be everything.

When I Didn't See | A Practical Wedding (2)

Maybe it was better when I just didn’t see.



Me: “Mom, being a boy is better than being a girl.” Mom: “If I was God and could change it, would you want to be a boy?”
Me: “No. I just want to do all the boy things.”
Mom: “You can. Here is a woman who is an astronaut. A doctor. A teacher. A dog sled musher. It wasn’t always true, but now you can do anything you want to.”

I believed her. I could be everything.
Maybe it was better when I just didn’t see.

Junior High

Ms. G: “Has anyone figured out the pattern in who I’m calling on?”
Me: “No”
Ms. G: “One girl, and then one boy.”
Me: “Why?”
Ms. G: “Because studies show that girls don’t get called on in school as often as boys do, and that makes them think they’re not as smart as boys.”
Me: “That’s dumb- no one actually thinks girls are bad at chemistry anymore. I’m going to be a scientist just like you.”

I believed in myself. I could be anything.
Maybe it was better that I just didn’t see.


Prof W: “No one will listen to you on a job site unless you’re wearing heels and a bikini. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
Me: “Pssh, I’m not going to work in construction. I’d have to listen to guys like you talk about football and pornography. I’m studying structural design, which is more interesting than construction anyways.”
The only female professor in my engineering department was denied tenure at a different school. Maybe it was because she is a woman, but maybe it was because her research wasn’t getting enough grant money. Soil research isn’t very exciting, you know, and I can do better.

I can be better. I will do something worthwhile.
Maybe it was better that I just didn’t see.

Graduate School

Why do the men in my grad program give so many more talks about their research than me? Why are they on a first name basis with the dean and I’m not? Maybe their work is better. Maybe they deserve it. Maybe I need to be more self-confident. Maybe it’s because I don’t play racquetball with the guys.

I didn’t want to learn that being a girl matters, but maybe it does.
I can be better. I can try harder.
Maybe it was better when I just didn’t see.

A Wedding

Why do I have to do all the work? Why won’t vendors call and ask for him? Why do I have to worry about changing my name & he doesn’t? I have exams to pass. Why is planning a wedding my job and not ours?

I can be better. I can try harder.
Maybe trying harder isn’t working.
Maybe it was better when I just didn’t see.


Why am I hoping I’ve managed to look fat and not pregnant at a job interview? Why am I told to be scared of losing my looks, and he’s reassured that the extra responsibility will look good for promotions at work? Why am I mad at my spouse because I’m scared his career will get better treatment than mine?

Maybe I just need to be better, and I’ll be respected too. Maybe he’s really smarter than me, and that’s why it happens. Maybe if I’m back at work two weeks after giving birth, they’ll believe I deserve to the new job.

Maybe it was better when I just didn’t see.

Its hormones.
Women are so emotional.
Just be more comfortable asserting yourself.
It’s true, there aren’t many women faculty here, but we just haven’t been able to find qualified applicants.

Because now that I see, I’m angry.
And being angry doesn’t help.
Maybe it was better when I just didn’t see.

Photo: Lisa Wiseman

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Laura

    Ack. Gut punch.

  • Jaya

    Perfect. So perfect.

  • anon

    This post made me realize something: it took me 23 years to really began to see the ways that gender-based discrimination still affect womens’ lives — I’d always thought my mom’s generation took care of that shit. I should probably give my husband a break when he doesn’t “get it” right away

    • NB

      *I’d always thought my mom’s generation took care of that shit* : THIS. Yes, exactly.

      What a terribly rude awakening to discover that the shit was, in fact, still lurking around being a pain in the next generation’s ass.

  • Jennie

    Omg, I love this!!!

  • Laura C

    This is great. Thanks for it.

  • Alexis

    Wow wow wow… I relate to this very much. This piece is so artful and articulate. Thank you, Christa.

  • Becca

    Ugh. Reminds me of the realizations I’ve had in the last few years. Weirdly, being in a relationship and planning a marriage brought it so much more to the forefront than it ever was when I was single and totally living for myself. It’s like, I finally got to see in real time a lot of those old sexist tropes play out in front of me…

  • Hannah

    This post. Amazing. Heart-wrenching and true.

    I think this is a perfect post to end what has truly been an incredible month of content. These posts have sparked some great discussions with my husband about feminism, and why it is so important. (He is a self-professed feminist, which is awesome). Thank you, to all of this month’s writers and to the APW editorial team.

  • Dana

    This. All of it.

  • Stalking Sarah


    • Sarah


      AMAZING post. Thank you.

  • Anon

    No: we have a right to be angry! When I grow up, I don’t want to be jaded. I want to still be angry about the unfair things in this world.

  • Pingback: When I didn’t see | Introduction to Women's Studies()

  • Jen

    This! So much. And it’s so important to speak to because now it is subtle and insidious enough that a lot of people don’t see it so they don’t think the discrimination is there. But it is. Which is why I think it’s better to see. We need to see, and feel the anger, so we can act.

  • Jacky

    As someone with no kids who is getting married next year, I haven’t yet seen how marriage, pregnancy, and parenting might affect my career. I wrote something for APW earlier this month that was all about overcoming sexism in a male-dominated field, and the gist of it was “You can succeed as much as any man as long as you let your work speak for itself! No one will assume you’re planning quit your job just because you got engaged!” I’m trying to tell myself that “got pregnant” and “are raising a kid” fit the end of that sentence just as well as “got engaged,” but after reading this I’m not so sure. I am going to do my very best to remain optimistic and “fight the good fight,” as it were… But I’m not going to lie, this piece scares me.

    • KC

      Life changes of certain kinds bring up “possibility” or “probability” question marks of women moving on in some peoples’ heads, to be sure. It does vary by field/company/generation/group, though, so it might be fine. And different women are viewed differently, too – some are “read” as career-focused, would never stay home with kids, whereas some are “read” as will-drop-the-career-at-first-possibility-of-a-baby. It’s hard to know exactly what goes into those perceptions, though, sometimes.

      But if you’ve made it this far “against the flow”, and are intending to stick around past childbirth, you can communicate that and probably get it heard. :-) I think this is actually more of a problem in fields where a lot of women are there, but quit at first-kid, because you’re working against peoples’ anecdotal experience of women-as-workers as well as general cultural tropes; if you’re in a field where you’re already an anomaly, though, then you’ve got less anecdotal baggage to shuffle aside. So maybe there’s that?

  • Christa

    You have every right to be angry! I think that real change is made by people who are so angry that they make things happen. I completely acknowledge that the people who are so angry about it that they take action are helping me out.

    I’m just saying that _for me_, maybe being angry about the role my gender plays in my life makes my life harder, rather than easier.

    Edit: Whoops, this was supposed to be in response to ANON

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single


      Sometimes awareness leads to anger that lets me fight. But often it’s anger that distracts me from the work that needs to get done. It’s not clear to me which is better for the world in the long, long run.

  • KC

    I don’t think being angry, by itself, gets “us” anywhere. Being angry plus taking action? Communicating clearly while being angry? Do these get us farther than “just” taking action or “just” communicating clearly, or does the anger itself hamstring efforts to bridge divisions? I’m guessing the answer would be different in different circumstances, but I’m curious as to what people think.

  • It’s not often that something hits me this hard, but reading this actually made me cry.

    I felt like I have lived, or am currently living, every single part of this post.

  • Arden

    “Why is planning a wedding my job and not ours?”

    That especially hit home for me today, the day I started off crying on the phone about caterers.

  • This hits home so much more than almost anything about feminism that I’ve read here. This, being raised with equality as a given, being raised with the expectations that my brother and myself could do the same things regardless of him being a boy and me being a girl, and then the slow, smack in the face realizations that as much as it’s the ideal it’s NOT the reality. It’s nice to know that other people have taken the same path.

  • This piece reminds me of Joanna Russ’ “How to Suppress Women’s Writing.”


  • N

    This was timely for me as well. We have been married for a year. I don’t want to be on hormonal birth control anymore. Everyone is different, but these hormones are affecting my mental and physical health. Trying to get an IUD. Freaking out about my uterine wall/dying of a perforated uterus/becoming infertile because of foreign objects floating around in my reproductive organs. Feeling angry because husband wants me on birth control and threw a fit when I suggested a discussion or other options. Feeling angry because my husband does not want a baby for 2 more years, but really…WE ARE GONNA BE MARRIED FOREVER, SO WHO THE F*** CARES IF WE HAVE A KID 2 YEARS EARLY?

    …And all the while, wondering why this is my burden…why birth control and family planning decisions have always fallen on my shoulders…looks like I’ll be making some changes here pretty darn soon.

    • EF

      N, for what it’s worth, I’ve had an IUD (mirena) for just under 5 years, am getting it replaced with a new one next week, and it was the single best decision I’ve made concerning taking control of my reproductive system. And I don’t want kids ever! Neither does my dear fiance, yet when I mentioned that IUDs are only 99% effective, maybe we could think about a vasectomy, he looked at me like I was insane. Kind of unfair, really.

      This post was amazing; I’m in grad school and wedding planning and definitely get the ‘but why am I doing this when I have a huge paper due next week?!’

    • Ruth

      Just fyi, the iuds that are on the market today aren’t linked to uterine perforation or infirtility ( that was only the case for the Dalcon shield IUD in the 70’s and 80’s.)

      I think birth control is a deeply feminist conversation. It can be challenging, because there is so much emotional charge around it, but it’s so worth having. I was really honest with my husband about the side effects I was having with my birth control method (paraguard iud, which did not work well for me) he didn’t know, till I told him, how bad things were. We had a calm, rational discussion about it and he reached the conclusion, “if we weigh your side effects with the iud- hemoraging blood, having worse cramps, more yeast infections, etc… and my side effects with the condom – kind of annoying to put on, slightly decreased sensation – your side effects suck way more. Puts it in perspective.”

      I’m only sharing what works for us personaly. I think birth control should be a shared responsibility, like household maintenance, it shouldn’t just be a woman’s burden. And condoms are one of the only bc methods men can share in.

      Conversations like can be challenging – but I think being honest, sharing from the heart and not blaming go a long way

    • Claire

      Ooof, that sucks. Sorry you’re going thru that. Birth control is one area where I still see most women bearing most of the responsibility, work load and negative consequences. It’s kinda infuriating, really.

      I’d second the commenter who said the Mirena IUD was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Top five, probably. I’ve had one (well, technically, two) for almost ten years and I love the side-effect-free peace of mind. Good luck!

    • Ann

      I hear you. A few years back, my now husband started talking about how “having kids now wouldn’t be a disaster” and, how, if I got pregnant despite the BC I was on that the time, he’d want to go ahead and parent.

      I got my butt to the doctor and got the paraguard IUD. I get pretty severe cramps now, but I view the trade off–being 100% certain about no babies until *I’m* damn ready–as worth it. Him seeing the pain I’m willing to endure to have this control over my fertility has been a big wake up call to him. And he’s way more willing to talk about using other options in the future than he was before.

    • Sarah NCtoPA

      I never thought of the unfairness of birth control until I read “Taking charge of your fertility.” Men are fertile all the damn time, women have a few days each month. Why is it on us to take pills/have objects inserted?

    • Summers

      I also recently (in September) got a Mirena. I’ve never been on the pill, since I too was really worried about hormones. I talked with a dear friend who is a gyno, and she ran through my options, with that in mind, knowing that we probably want to have kids in a few years. She strongly recommended the Mirena. Paraguard (which doesn’t have hormones) she said she’s seen cramping/really heavy periods in her patients, so she didn’t recommend it.

      I had been considering the low hormone birth control pills, but my friend gyno said that you have to take these the same hour each day, which I wouldn’t have been able to do.

      When I decided to get the Mirena, I was also worried about the foreign object/loss of fertility if something bad happened. I talked to my gyno, and she said that this is really rare, and she’s done a bunch of IUDs and has only seen a problem once. The Mirena does have some hormones, but it’s apparently a lot lower than the pill.

      A few other things about the Mirena:
      *mine was free, thanks to (I think) the new healthcare law. Another type of IUD I was considering (Skyla) wasn’t free, so you may want to check with your insurance
      *In addition to my gyno friend, who recommended it, my gyno also has a Mirena. I view it as a positive sign that gynos like this, since they know the stats!
      *it hurt like a bitch when I was getting it “installed”, but the pain was over in a few minutes, and I felt pretty much fine the next day. It helped a lot to hold the nurse’s hand. I also took a ton of ibuprofen beforehand (like 800mg), as recommended by my doctor.
      *For the first week and a half or so, I had period-style cramps every afternoon, late in the afternoon. Now I’m a couple months out, and very occasionally I’ll have some cramping.
      *It takes awhile for your body to adjust, so for me there has been a fair amount of spotting (basically, a light period for the past couple months). Some days, no bleeding, other days, like a light period. So that has been lame. But now, 2 months out, it’s finally almost all gone away.
      *If you are on antibiotics, the Mirena continues to work, and there’s no risk of failure like regular birth control pills.
      *The Mirena apparently reduces your periods long term, and my gyno sometimes prescribes it for this purpose.
      *The Mirena is apparently effective right after it’s put in. We still used backup birth control for a week, but my gyno said that it was effective straightaway.

      Overall, I’m a fan of Mirena so far. It hurt to get it put in, and the bleeding while my body adjusts has been annoying, but I’m SO glad not to have to worry about birth control. I’m happy with the hormone levels.

      • Summers

        One more thing– You also may want to make sure that your gyno has put in a bunch of Mirenas before.

      • N

        Thank you for this info. Extremely helpful.

    • J

      If you haven’t had this already, I would suggest a pretty open and frank discussion of the side effects from BC. Mine were pretty obvious, I felt completely out of control of my emotions and that led to a lot of fights, crying and yelling where I would be saying I don’t know why I’m reacting like this. I also experienced pretty severe increases in the frequency of migraines. Being on the pill it seemed the the side effects slowly ramped up and were around the time of some other changes, so it took about a year and a half for me to finally say, I think I’m being driven pretty crazy by this, and I’d like to talk about some other options.

      So while I’m not saying to exaggerate your symptoms, make sure you talk with him about it. He loves you and doesn’t want to see you in pain, emotional or physical. I also think having him go in to the OBGYN with you and both being a part of the discussion with your doctor is eye opening for men, and also makes the choice feel more like a shared decision and burden.

      • N

        J and others, thank you for your kind and thoughtful responses to my post. I woke up and had a crying fit this morning–for no apparent reason–which can serve as further confirmation of the need for me to be hormone-free. J, I am having a similar experience as far as feeling totally out of control of my emotions. I pick fights, and I can see that it’s totally irrational, even in the moment, but it doesn’t change my emotional state. I feel like I am taking crazy pills! Totally bizarre-o.

        I think contraception is a feminist issue, and also a cultural/social issue, but mostly for me it has kind of become a religious issue. I was raised Catholic, and I think that I have a lot of feelings wrapped up in what I was raised to believe, but don’t necessarily want to incorporate into my life at age 28. I really appreciate all of the helpful info on Mirena and other options. You all are the best. :)

        • Summers

          N, good luck as you make your decision!

          Birth control is so loaded, and I too think it’s a feminist issue. As I was deciding which type to go on, I talked with my guy, and said that I really wished that there was some pill/other similar type of thing that guys could go on. Since it doesn’t seem fair that girls have all of these options (so it kind of turns into our thing), but for guys there’s really only condoms and vasectomy.

          And I also get really hormonal sometimes, with the random crying and random really strong feelings, and it’s really hard!

          So, I’m sorry that you’re going through this! I feel you, and I hope that your decision goes well! I’m rootiong for you!

          • Summers

            PS, in my comment above re: hormones, I’ve been hormonal and had the emotions, etc, both pre and post mirena. Just wanted to clarify!

            Hormones kind of suck!

        • J

          Yeah, that sounds a lot like what I was experiencing. As soon as I went off of them it was a like a light switch. I felt like me again. I would find myself in heated debates with my husband about politics/idea whatnot and just start crying even though I wasn’t sad or angry I was just trying to make my point. I felt crazy. We have switched to using condoms only and it’s been good. We both went in to talk to the doc together and I think it helped us both understand and make a decision together. I mean I obviously had more say in the, I’m unwilling to try this type of bc again. When I was decided what to do I emailed a bunch of my girl friends to see what they used and it seems like the ring was another popular option, and I did some research about it and it seemed like it was less likely to have the mental side effects that the oral contraception pills do. I will say that if you like your OBGYN they are a great resource, and if you don’t, well find one you like and talk to them. I’m in public health (so I think I’m pretty up on contraception choices), but I was happy to learn some new ones. Implanon (or some sort of implant stick) was what we finally decided on, but it wasn’t covered by my then crappy insurance, so we decided to just switch to condoms until I got different insurance (this was before ACA kicked in) and now that we are married and feel like we are in a place that if it happened it wouldn’t be ideal, but we could do it, the (small) risks associated with BC, and my history with them didn’t see worth it.

          Good luck! Also if you have IUD concerns talk about this with your doc, as well as the side effects you’ve been experiencing with BC. Make a list of symptoms and questions before going in, and let the receptionist or who ever is making the appointment know that you’d like to talk about BC options. We ended up talking to the nurse practitioner for about 20 minutes about the pros, cons, side effects, effectiveness, my side effects and the chances they would occur with the other bc types, our timeline for wanting kids (it was less than 5 years so that made some less desirable).

        • Kris

          I used the Nuva Ring for about 5 years, the last 18mo or so it started making me crazy too. But, like others have said, it sort of sneaks up on you so it takes a while to notice. I finally put it together when my periods became irregular on the birth control.

          So I quit. I told my then-boyfriend-now-husband. Didn’t ask. Didn’t discuss. Told. “I think this is making me crazy and sick and I won’t take it anymore. We can have a discussion about this after I’ve been quit for 3 cycles. If you want sex, go buy some condoms”

          The improvements in my health and well being were so immediate and so profound that after the three months we decided that a combination of fertility awareness and condoms was the method for us until we were ready for kids. That was two years ago.

          Which is to say, while I’m all for discussing and compromising with my husband, it’s ok to say “my body. my choice. I won’t take these drugs.” and compromise from there. After all, compromise is about making sure you both get what you need. And not taking crazy pills is a legit need.

    • Just my two cents – I had a lot of issues with traditional hormonal birth control and then my doctor recommended the Nuva Ring – it’s the least amount of hormones you can get.

      Everyone is different but for me it’s worked wonders – lost weight, higher sex drive overall feel much more comfortable in my body.

      So if you’re still a little freaked by IUD’s (I know I was) it may be an option.

      Best of luck.

    • Cat K

      Another commenter mentioned the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler, MPH; it deals with both optimizing pregnancy chances AND with birth control. I’d highly recommend it for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with hormones. I was on the birth control method for about six months before my wedding to get the Pill hormones out of my system before trying for a kid, and have now switched to actively trying to get preggo. This is so much cheaper than the Pill, too… Just the cost of the book and a thermometer, really.

      • marbella

        can’t seem to ‘exactly’ anymore (I thought this would be fixed when the new hosting happened?) so just replying to say, yes, read this book whether or not you decide to continue with hormonal BC.

    • That is hard, and incredibly unfair. Birth control is one of those big thing where everything falls on the women. Having the options is important, having all of the responsibility just isn’t fair. Shutting down even discussing the options is just not ok. What if you couldn’t go on birth control?

      Also – do you know if your reaction is to the estrogen or progestogen? Because even a lot of IUDs do have progestogen and sometimes that’s not a good option. I had to be removed from progestogen only birth control and had to completely re-evaluate my birth control plans afterwards.

    • Ros

      This might be a bit late for you, but: I got a Mirena when I was 24, and it is the single best decision I’ve made.

      At the time, I was having nightmares about being pregnant (like, wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat-and-so-relieved-to-have-a-flat-belly kind of nightmares). I chose the Mirena because it was 5 years of hassle-free birth control that was fully in my control, and because it was as close to effective as you can reasonably expect and had no known links to subsequent infertility.

      It was FANTASTIC. I had 2 weeks of cramps and headaches (ugh), followed by 4.5 years of no periods at all (fantastic), and now, 5.5 years later, I’m 4.5 months pregnant, intentionally. I’m so, so thankful that I had control of my fertility during the time I was having nightmares about the entire thing, though!

  • Joan

    Amazing, amazing piece – thank you so much for sharing

  • annonny-non

    Ugh, I have a job interview tomorrow, and… yeah. Exactly.

  • Caroline

    Wow. Thank you. I think things were better for me when I just didn’t see, but I think seeing is worth it feeling worse to be able to change the world. Now that I see. I’m more scared and more angry, but at least I’m not complacently maintaining the status quo.

  • Ruth

    Thank you for this post. Hit close to home and articulated many of my feelings and experiences better than I can right now!

  • Jessica

    Great piece. Great way to conclude the month.

  • Sallie Somerville


  • lady brett

    excellent piece. just now got to read it, but i had to come say that.

  • Granola

    Reading the book “Women Don’t Ask” was really empowering for me. It was one of the first “career books” that I read that didn’t make me feel bad about being female or like I’d been doing it all wrong.

    Instead, the tone was “Women have a lot of learned behaviors that make a lot of sense but that also hold them back from being successful.” The key there was in the acknowledgement that many of the actions women take are rational responses to a system and society. Women don’t ask because they’re often punished for asking, not because they’re too dumb to do so, for instance.

    Your post really reminded me of that book and I highly recommend it.

  • Damn. So true. Well written. Beautifully done. I admit, sometimes I’d rather be ignorant than angry. I just don’t know where to put my anger.

  • I never really thought about the fact that I usually call the Bride when I’m calling my clients instead of the groom or both of them. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Your writing is beautiful.