1) When I was a child, my siblings and I would act out the nativity story on Christmas Eve, as per one of our family’s traditions. My youngest brother always played the babe, Jesus; my brother Joseph always played the betrothed Joseph; my oldest sister always claimed the prized (and perhaps lone) female role of Mary. Another fair haired sister generally played the angel, leaving me and the remaining sister as shepherds. We wore headdresses in the form of bath towels and robes in the form of sheets, and braided our respective long, dark hair in front of our faces as beards. (If I had a picture, I promise I would share.) I don’t recall resenting this repeated casting too much (though I did dream of being Mary), because if you have to be a shepherd, there was no one better to be a shepherd with. Still, I do recall noticing that there weren’t that many parts for girls.
2) When I was a slightly older child (think 4th grade), some of my classmates called me Squanto. The reason? Because I had played Squanto in a class play the year before, after collectively reading Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims. Sometimes it embarrassed me, but more often it made me feel proud, because I had played the biggest part, and was not limited by my gender.
That same year I ran for Student Body Vice-President (which was the highest office a 4th grader could run for). My slogan employed my last name Hunt, and a ketchup bottle, with the words “Catch Up with Hunt.” I gave a speech in front of the entire school, and came out victorious in the votes.
3) When I was slightly older than that (think 5th grade), my elementary school teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told the truth, that I wanted to be the President of the United States of America. If I knew then, that no female had ever been President, it didn’t deter me from thinking it was possible.
4) When I was a middle school child (somewhere in the vicinity of the 6th or 7th grade) my Choir teacher announced the name of the annual Christmas play, as well as the date and time of auditions. This was of course, back when public schools were still allowed to do Christmas plays, and/or Christmas anything. The play’s title was something along the lines of “Father Time Saves Christmas,” with the largest role, unsurprisingly going to ‘Father Time.’ I immediately raised my hand and asked if girls could play the lead role. Just as quickly, my teacher informed us that both girls and boys could try out for Father Time, and that the part would be given to the best actress or actor.
I got the part.
For the umpteenth time, I donned a beard, though for the first time it was white and attachable, rather than brown and braided. For the umpteenth time, I wore a robe, though for the first time it was not made out of bed sheets.
5) Still in middle school, but in 8th grade I was selected to take a math class at the high school. Only two other students were similarly chosen: they were both boys.
6) When I was 19 I told someone close to me that I decided to go on a mission. That close-person-to-me told me not to go on a mission. It went back and forth for some length of time. The individual’s main point was that I was a girl, and didn’t have to go. My main point was that I wanted to, and felt like God also wanted me to.
7) When I was 21, I wore temple robes for the first time.
8) Two months later, I put on a name tag that I would take off and put on every day for a year and a half. It was a name tag more frequently worn by men, but mine said Sister instead of Elder.
9) A few years after that, I wore graduation robes, and then again, two more years later for my Masters.
10) Now I am working towards my Doctoral robes. It is a long process.
It is a long process, and I am not as brave as I once was. Somedays it takes all of the courage I can muster to raise my hand in predominantly male classes, to open my mouth and speak. Still I do it, consciously reminding myself that I got accepted too; I am smart too: I belong there too.
And I do.
11) As I reflect on these memory capsules from my past, I am pleased with the robes I have worn and the parts I have played–especially those I had to carve out myself.
How do we encourage girls to want the biggest part? (And if they face the same Nativity reenactment, how do we get them to envision themselves as shepherdesses, or better yet, as wise women, coming from the East? Or if in a similar play: Mother Time, instead of Father?)
How do we, ourselves, keep the courage?