Lasik, a Solar Eclipse, and my Feminist Awakening

I first had laser corrective eye surgery at age 21. (I’d saved money up for a mission, but purchased Lasik instead when I got married.) It was really easy to know the surgery would benefit me back then. I’d inherited bad eyesight from both parents and been totally dependent on glasses and contacts since childhood.

I had eye surgery redone again this year, at age 37. This time around though, it wasn’t nearly as obvious I needed it. My eyesight had changed ever so slowly over the years. I didn’t notice it. I knew I’d had the surgery and my eyesight had been great throughout my twenties, and I used all of that to reassure myself that I still saw everything just fine. Occasionally I’d think to myself, “Do I need glasses?” when I couldn’t see something another person pointed out to me, but I’d tuck the thought away after a minute and forget it, sure there was nothing wrong with my eyes.

In August of 2017, a total solar eclipse crossed the United States, and I decided to drive up to Idaho to see it in person. I packed my family up in our trailer and we braved the unknown crowds to go experience it ourselves. It was amazing! It was breathtaking! I was so glad I hadn’t missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Out of everyone in my family, I’d done by far the most reading and YouTube video watching about solar eclipses. I spent the hours leading up to the eclipse explaining to my family and the families we were with exactly what was going to happen, and I felt like a cool/smart science teacher that entire morning.

On the long drive back home to Utah, I mentioned my slight disappointment that we didn’t get to see any cool solar flares. The only time you can see them with your bare eye is during a total eclipse, because the rest of the time the sun’s light is far too bright and blinds you. What were the chances that OUR solar eclipse had zero solar flares?, I asked. Bummer, I thought. But my husband said, “There were solar flares. I saw them.” At that moment, it occurred to me again that maybe I might need glasses again.

I went in a couple months later to get my eyes checked out, via a free Lasik screening. I hadn’t had vision insurance in years, and I couldn’t bring myself to pay for an appointment where I was almost totally convinced they’d tell me my eyes were still perfect. The girl checking my eyes was having a difficult time and brought in a more experienced employee to check my eyes instead of her. I was getting increasingly uncomfortable, expecting them to finally stop looking so puzzled and ask me, “Why are you here? You have no prescription whatsoever, and we’re a Lasik office.”

But right as I sheepishly laughed and said, “You know… I don’t think I even need glasses, do I?”, the guy who’d come to help said, “There you go. That’s her prescription”, and passed the paperwork to the original girl (who I found out was just in training). I looked at my prescription on paper, and while it was nowhere near the prescription I’d had in my youth – it was definitely a real prescription. I needed glasses!

I bought a cheap pair of glasses online with a copy of the prescription that I got from the Lasik clinic. They arrived in the mail a week later, and I put them on at the mailbox. I was floored. I had no idea how blurry everything had gotten over the years! I realized exactly why I hadn’t seen any solar flares. The world was beautiful again!

I quickly became addicted to my glasses. Without them I was frustrated trying to read street names or signs in the grocery store. As soon as I could see clearly, I couldn’t believe I had been okay with such a blurry world, and I still mourn the loss of those once-in-a-lifetime solar flares that I missed out on.

I had my own “feminist awakening” that so many people refer to in the fall of 2013. I can pinpoint the times before that when I thought everything was fine, where I would argue with anyone that disagreed with me that my role as a woman in the church was anything but first rate. Just like the morning I spent as the enthusiastic guest science teacher before the eclipse, I taught gospel doctrine, spoke at New Beginnings, and bore my unshakable testimony that the church was perfect, and there was nothing I could think of to make it better than it already was.

Likewise, I remember those first moments of my awakening in 2013 where I thought, “Am I crazy? Am I just imagining this?” I felt a little like I did in the chair at the free Lasik screening – did everyone think I was nuts? Was I nuts? Maybe everything was actually fine and I was making a big deal about nothing.

After that free Lasik screening in the fall of 2017, I wore glasses for just over a year, and had PRK (similar to Lasik) in January of 2019. PRK has a slower recovery rate, and it’s taken me a few months to start seeing things really clearly again, but at my post-op checkup a few days ago I was thrilled to once again read the 20/15 line on the eye chart with no contacts or glasses. The difference is obvious now, but 18 months ago I was almost totally convinced that there was nothing wrong with my eyes.

I see a lot of my sisters in the church who are very happy with the way things are, and I understand. It all felt so good to me once, too. But I feel like there are beautiful solar flares that the women in the church are missing out on. The first time I went to a non-LDS church service with a female minister, I experienced those flares. When I took my girl scout troop to a camp run 100 percent by female camp counselors (without a single male priesthood leader to be seen) and realized we are completely capable of camping safely by ourselves, it was like going from the impairment of glasses to the perfect vision of post-Lasik eyes.

It’s frustrating when you finally realize how much you’ve missed out on (either with your eyesight, or just by being a woman), but you have to have that painful realization at some point or you’ll never be able to fix it. Many women refer to that moment as their feminist awakening. It’s a jolting realization, and once you’ve seen things clearly, you’ll never be satisfied going back to the way things were. You’ll want to change it.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and find pre-solar eclipse Abby and tell her to have eye surgery again. She didn’t know what she was missing. Likewise, when I hear women in our church insisting that things are perfect how they are, I wish I could show them the potential I see for the way things could be. Heaven help us all see 20/20 someday, both in the church and out. We just don’t know what we’re missing out on yet!

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7 Responses

  1. Risa says:

    I love this analogy, Abby. It’s one a lot of people can relate to.

  2. Chiaroscuro says:

    beautiful allegory

  3. Em says:

    Great analogy. I also struggled with headaches for years and I didn’t realize the world was blurry until I put on glasses. But once I got them, I can’t go back — when I take off my glasses I’m immediately aware of the blur, I can’t unsee it. Same thing with feminism — you can’t stop seeing patriarchy once you see it clearly, even if sometimes it might feel like the world would be easier if you could stop noticing injustice.

  4. Anon says:

    Yes, once you see it you cannot unsee it (the patriarchy and how women are excluded). My feminist awakening was a slow rise – nothing sudden or rushed. I also realized that I cannot change this. I felt helpless in a “learned state of helplessness.”
    It was that helplessness that helped me move on and move away from my former beliefs without feeling guilt and shame.

  5. Kris says:

    Amen to all of this. Also now I’m really disappointed I missed the solar flares during the eclipse, dangit! (Also also I maybe screeched rather loudly when I realized I knew the fabulous author of this post.)

  6. Ziff says:

    I really like this comparison, Abby. Thanks for sharing it!

  7. PJ says:

    Love this so much! Totally relatable! I’m grateful to be progressing in my own way and seeing things in a different way that I never did before. And it’s OK. OK to trust my heart and my thoughts. It’s so liberating!

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