Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Feminism and Me

I am a part of arguably the first generation of women in the world who could expect to live, without enormous obstacles or resistance, on our own terms. This is impossible even for me to fully "understand" really. The implications are too much; you live your life, and context simply is what it is. Most of us can't really comprehend the larger picture.

Knowing it, however, is really the key to gratitude. And grateful for the MANY blessings I've been asea in all my life, I definitely strive to be.

(As to the main one - even greater than my social opportunities - my parents and family; another post, and probably many of them.)


Privilege ...

Born white and middle class in a prosperous and arrogant country, I had advantages from the word go. My family valued education, and I got a superior one, most probably. Even my public education was excellent, though of course at the time I resented it duly, as was the habit of the day. Heh.

But to be born a girl in 1968 was something special.

I witnessed some small effects and details of the revolution of feminism's Second Wave, but of course had no proper notion of it. The world of my childhood wasn't something I quantified; it was merely experienced. I didn't understand that my own position in it was by some standards sequestered; by others practically cutting-edge. I just sat in my bedroom looking at the red-and-white gingham curtains, reading books of MAD and B. C. comics, playing with Barbies, hiding from my brother - or getting under his feet.

I hadn't any expectation that school wasn't a place I should raise my hand and speak up in; something even many women of my own generation *were* socialized to (not) do. In class and at church too, I talked when I had an idea. My family is rife with teachers - and that is what one does in class, any class.

This is inestimably a revolutionary thing itself.

I had friends who were boys; the first real friend I can remember was a little boy across the street from me. The redheaded kid up the street. I had girls for friends, too - from church, from my dad's coworkers' kids - but we had to go *see* them. Those closest by, in my immobile, walking-distance youngest years, were boys from the neighborhood. The girls around there whom I got to be friends with (and "friends" with) actually came later.

Having co-ed friendships at very young ages is nothing unusual, but a young WOMAN having male friends becomes stranger, as history brings the sexes to a certain age, and her freedom with males is constricted or removed. I used to drive packs of my friends around; whole crews of us, with car keys and two dollars worth of gas (it didn't buy a LOT more then than it does now; but I remember that being a fairly typical amount for me to spend on entire fuel purchases more often than not!). Unimaginable freedom, simply handed to me.

Through history, women have been brought up, if not as outright chattel, then at least as vessels; the premium placed on procreation and legitimacy cannot be overestimated. The mothers of the world had to be guided into proper position (correct marriages; correct comportment), and sexual behavior was both a woman's most formidable asset AND the most dangerous weapon to be used against her. This isn't new; it isn't old - it just is: the fear of a child not "really" its father's. The biological imperative. One can judge it ... or not ... but doubt it, and you live outside reality.

I grew up with the understanding that sexual behavior was, simply, not an option. Period. My mom had been reared in a time and a place where teenage hormones led to early marriages, often; and she had held out to mature a little, to become a professional woman, to find a husband she was more than merely excited about, but who embodied certain aspirational qualities: he would be educated. He would be professional. He would be kind, and ready for a family. He would support a family.

I didn't learn until I was nearly forty exactly how powerful my mother's resolve, in finding my father, really was. How she endured years of being considered a bit mad - she was very different from her schoomates. How she was called an Old Maid.

How she was rewarded for having a goal, and doing what it took to reach that goal.

My mother had to put a special guard on her teenaged sexuality, because she saw - even before her schooling was over - both the results of extramarital relations, AND marital ones. She understood, in a rare way, both consequences and possibilities. I can't begin to express how deeply I have come to admire the values she held to so very tightly, having come to understand them as I have.

I admire the devil out of her.


So I grew up with fairly old-school values, and *enough* timidity to hew to what I was told. (Few people understand me now as timid, but deep down most loud people are so.) My upbringing was simultaneously unprecedented in history, yet steeped in certain traditions. My deepest tenet, the older I get, but for a long time now, is gratitude for my many blessings.

One of my blessings has been choice.

Many people come to despise the word feminism, or feminists, because they've been successfully duped into thinking the belief comes down to a specific set of political principles. This is a pity and a shame - depriving not just "the movement" or an entire gender, if you look at things that way, but also the women who shy from the word because they're republicans, or religious, or afraid to be seen as strident, or just don't care but really dislike the label.

Feminism is choice. My mother made choices which in many lights appear to be old-fashioned (I've learned better, as noted), but she is the single most influential feminist in my life.

My dad was the second.

Neither one of them would, or would have, ever chosen the name "feminist" for themselves. But their teachings, to me and to my brother, were clearly laid out on the notions feminism really IS - not what it is depicted as being, by those who fear it so. That girls, ladies, women, students, dames, skirts, broads ... have rights. To live un-harassed. To live neither bought, nor sold. To be valued for more than the contents of their underclothing. To be smart, to be okay, to be HEARD. To be loved, whatever they are.

The point of feminism is not the right to have abortions, nor to hate men, refuse to marry, renounce the accoutrements of "femininity", nor even discuss the belief. The point is the RIGHT to follow one's own conscience - it is entirely possible to be a feminist and a pro-lifer. The point is the RIGHT to access to the world's advantages, and the tools to deal with the disadvantages. The right to be free of artificial disadvantages, born of nothing more than the absence of a Y-chromosome.

The point is choice - or, perhaps more incisively, autonomy.

I am part of the first generation or so of women, in the history of civilization, who can expect ... to live on my own terms.

What a magnificent thing that is to think.

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