Name: Heather Olson Beal
Occupation: professor of education
Location: Deep East Texas
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: I’m a mom of three who sometimes drive me nuts despite being genuinely great kids. I love my job as an education professor and confess that I often run to my office to hide from the demands of family and kids. In my spare time, I read everything I can get my hands on. I don’t cook, bake, sew, crochet, knit, quilt, garden, stamp, raise chickens in my backyard, or buy organic anything, and don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it. Heck—I’ll even admit to occasionally using the TV as a babysitter and taking my kids to McDonald’s.
How do you define feminism?
Feminism is a complex series of political movements and philosophies—all of which share the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as such—socially, politically, and legally. A feminist is someone who subscribes to this basic belief and is willing to advocate for changes within society and institutions that will help move us towards gender equity.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
I don’t remember ever having a light-bulb moment when I suddenly felt like, “A-ha! Now I’m a feminist.” The earliest memory I have of thinking about this issue happened in fourth grade when our PE coach told us that the next day, we were starting a basketball unit. Yay! I was thrilled . . . until he told us that the girls were going to learning how to be cheerleaders and the boys were going to learn the fundamentals of basketball. I guess east Texas hadn’t gotten the memo about Title IX (this was approximately 1983!). I do remember going home and complaining to my mom and my aunt (who was visiting us at the time). They agreed that it was ridiculous and went out and bought me a tank top and some basketball shorts to wear to school. I wore them and when we got to PE, I told the coach I thought the girls should be able to play basketball if we wanted to. The coach acquiesced.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
My definition of feminism has expanded and become stronger over time. Becoming a mother further cemented my feminist positions—after seeing the way that motherhood changed my position in the world and seeing the many, many ways that my children’s gender influenced the way people interacted with them. My feminist beliefs were also amplified as I pursued a doctoral degree and learned more about gender.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Yes—I am quite the misfit in my Mormon church congregation. I think that is because feminism challenges the patriarchal status quo of the Mormon church (as well as other conservative religious organizations). One thing that has helped me deal with my misfit-ness is writing a weekly column on family, gender, religion, and parenthood on a blog called Doves and Serpents. That has provided me with a virtual home where I can discuss ideas with people who care about some of the same things I care about.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
Thanks to the efforts and commitment of past, present, and future feminists, I hope that my daughters—and my son (and everyone else’s daughters and sons!)—get to experience a world characterized by ever-increasing gender equity.
Heather Olson Beal lives in Deep East Texas with her husband and three amazing kids who keep her laughing. She drops most of the balls she’s juggling and is thrilled when she actually catches one. She enjoys running, professor-ing, reading, listening to podcasts, and Diet Dr. Pepper in Texas-sized cups. When she introduces herself on the first day of class as Dr. Olson Beal and someone inevitably says, ‘Are you one of those women?,’ she just smiles.