Kirstin Voss: Interview
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Name, pronouns, career/job title?
Kristin Voss, she/her/hers, high school social studies teacher,
How has being a woman impacted your life thus far?
I have been socialized like many women my age (51) to see myself as a woman who can do/have it all. The problem has been that all the social institutions we have interfaced with over our life have not moved/shifted quickly enough to make this true. My division of labor at home as a working mom has not been equitable. The expectations of my family (parents/own children) and myself are still rooted in older, more traditional images/ roles for wives, mothers, and women. The expectations of what I should look like have been incredibly powerful, difficult, and painful for me my whole life. I am a larger woman who didn't have appropriate clothes, media images, and acceptance until very recently. I thank the younger generation for this more accepting world. There is still work to be done but it's much better than it has ever been in my life.
I believe that being a woman has impacted my friendships with peers in a positive way. I have been able to develop INCREDIBLE female friends who are my support system and build me up. I have been allowed to get open, real, and deep with my friends in a manner that I don't think my husband, brother, and male peers have been encouraged. I feel blessed for this.
I have been able to be a mother, one of the most intimate, and amazing relationships that a human being can have with another. For this, I will feel incredibly blessed for being a woman.
How has being a women specifically impacted your career?
It was challenging when I first started my career at Newport High School in 1994. Historically, social studies was a male dominant department at the high school level. As a result, I was the first woman hired and working in that department for over 10 years. My colleagues were a mixture of older males who weren't used to working with a woman as an equal and younger males who were hired at the same time and in the years immediately following me. I felt as though I was treated like a daughter or sister. This means that I never experienced outright sexual harassment or assault (thankfully) but I was treated as someone to "protect". My ideas and actions weren't taken seriously. My work was undervalued and at times "stolen" by a certain younger male colleague. I was overlooked by my department chair and principals (because I wasn't even considered) for additional opportunities to enhance my career.
In later years I have witnessed social studies flip and become a more inclusive department. Education as a whole is a great field but it is not mom or family friendly. We don't get leave if our children are born in the summer. We don't have affordable, meaningful childcare provided at work even though we are in the "business" of school. The entire system's pay is inequitable to other community employees because the field has historically been a female dominated one. Young, single women were the country's teachers and they didn't "need" to be paid as much as policeMEN or fireMEN because they weren't going to have to support a family. The expectation (and even requirement in some districts a few decades ago) was that a teacher would resign once she became married and had kids. We still live with that legacy. Despite having a significant more education and professional responsibilities than many of my peers outside of education, I am GROSSLY underpaid. I was set back in public salary advancement because I reduced to part time for a couple of years to take care of my children at home part time.
Today it mostly impacts me because of implicit bias. I am assertive. I speak my mind. I am comfortable with conflict in ideas. These are not traits that women have been encouraged to have in my lifetime. I honestly believe that there have been a number of times that people (especially my supervisors) have dismissed or overreacted to my statements/opinions on educational issues because of my gender. I believe that if the same thing was said by a male the response would have been different. It makes me tired. I love being a teacher. I love being female. I wish that the education field was more valued. I don't think these two things can be separated. In your opinion, what are the most prominent challenges facing women today?
In the U.S.:
Equitable pay. Equitable acceptance in the highest positions of power (political, economic, and social)
Equitable control over our own bodies (socially and politically)
I'm not fully sure because I don't stand in those shoes, but I think physical safety is still way too big of a challenge for millions of women in this world. It's abhorrent.
In your opinion, what are the most prominent challenges facing underrepresented groups as a whole today? (i.e. racial minorities, those with physical and cognitive disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged, etc.)
Political representation in order to get policies and programs that address and support their needs, interests and wants.
We still have too many WASPHAMOs (white, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, heterosexual, able bodies males who are older) in disproportionate positions of REAL power.
How has the political and social climate of social justice changed throughout your lifetime?
The predicted shifts in population and then resulting increase of positions of power has started to happen in my lifetime. I was an undergraduate at UW-Madison with both a sociology and history major. I was taught that these shifts were coming and I would see them. I am seeing them. It's exciting. But it's sad and scary that the backlash from the power group(s) has been so ugly, brutal, and hate filled. I wish we had better prepared people for working with this shift rather than being threatened by it.
What is of your utmost priority in terms of social justice and/ or politics currently?
I am a mother of a daughter with significant special needs. On a personal level, her safety and quality of life as someone with a disability is my utmost priority. I am concerned about where she will live, work, and enjoy life when I'm no longer here. In a broader sense my next priority is to help my students see that they will actually be able to influence society and our justice and political system by being engaged. I just want to see people be engaged - together we can make things better but isolated we will be manipulated by powerful interest groups (no matter which side of the aisle they represent).
Please describe your political and/ or social activism:
I teach social studies to amazingly bright and interesting adolescentsI run a parent networking group that focuses on educational and social issues for families who have people with disabilities.
What do you encourage others to take part in, in order to make their communities more socially and politically inclusive?
Collaborate or partner with others who are passionate about the same topics you are. There really is power in numbers. In addition, be sure to listen to why others feel differently from you. Most people WANT to be anti-inclusion. They just want to be recognized for what they believe and for being here. Find a way to do that type of communication.
Any final thoughts?
Thanks for including me in this. I appreciate it - it was a cool experience to reflect on these questions and my life.