Becoming A Feminist

Wonder Woman and her hat pin weapon

How do they do it,  I wondered, who taught them how to stand up to these powerful men?

It was 1am, I laid in bed tired, but my eyes wide open, my heart beating a little too fast, tears sporadically leaking from my eyes.  Jon and I were watching the documentary  Knock Down The House about four women running  against intrenched incumbents for congress in the last election.

“It’ll take a hundred of us running for one of us to get in.” Alexandria Ocasio Cortez said.

I never thought of myself a feminist because I could never image myself doing what Ocasio-Cortez and these other women are doing.  I couldn’t imagine myself getting beat-up or arrested, fighting for my right to vote as the suffragists did.

But I see now that Feminism isn’t just about being overly political.  I now understand that “the  personal is political”, as the Feminist art movement of the 1970’s preached.   It’s  also about the way we live our lives, about the decisions we make and how we affect the people directly around us.

I’ve been a feminist from the first time  I asked my mother why my sister and I  had to wash the dishes and my brother got to go out and play.  It was the feminist in me that would never accept the  answer she gave me (to that and many other questions) that my brother could do what he did because  “he was a boy”.

Where did the feminist in me come from?  Certainly not from my mother who didn’t believe in “Women’s Lib” as we called it in the 1970’s.

Was it something deep inside of me, passed down in my DNA from all the feminists who came before me. Or even at only 7 or 8 years old, was I picking up the latest wave of feminism that was happening in the country,  if not in my home?  I think a part of it was a rejection of the  traditional life my mother had and believe I should live too.

From what I can see historically, the feminist movement surges at times, then seems to go dormant, then surges again.  I like to believe that in those dormant periods people are slowly adjusting to the reality of the changes made during the surges.

Feminism is surging again.

I see it all around me, not just politically, but in movies, books, music and TV.   It’s become an important part of popular culture and little girls and boys growing up now will understand a different reality because of it.

Just with in the past couple of weeks, I saw two very different movies that had strong feminist themes in them without being overtly about feminism.

One was the Avengers: End Game the most popular movie in the theaters right now.  I’m not an Avengers fan and most of the movie was lost on me, but I cried when all the women superhero’s came together to support each other and help save the world.

In the movies and books I read growing up, women were always the victims, needing to be rescued by men.  And they were rarely supportive of each other.

And when I see the women and girls portrayed as the heroes in today’s  movies and books, I know that things really are changing.    Not only is it a reflection of society, but these the modern-day myths that teach us who we are and what we are capable of.

The other, very different movie I saw was Wild Nights With Emily.  It’s based on Emily Dickinson’s letters  that debunks the idea that she was a recluse, afraid to publish her poems.

Dickinson actually had a life long love affair with Susan Gilbert.   Gilbert married Dickinson’s brother and moved to the house next to Emily’s so they could be together.  This was all very well documented and known for years (Susan’s daughter supported the relationship and wrote about it in the 1950’s) yet still the myth of Emily Dickinson as a frightened woman with no control over her life persists.  While in reality Emily Dickinson created a good life for herself, filled with love and work, for the times she lived in.

There are many ways to be a feminist.

I just finished reading Finding Dorothy By Elizabeth Letts.  It’s about  Maud Baum, the wife of L Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and daughter of suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage.

Maud wasn’t political, like her mother, but she was strong and independent enough to live the life she chose.    At one point in the book,  Maud finds herself dedicated to protecting the young Judy Garland from being exploited on the set of the movie, The Wizard of OZ.    After Judy is cornered by  Victor Fleming,  the director of the movie,  Maud gives her a hat pin and tells her to use it on any man who tries to get too close to her.

Back then we had hat pins, now we have #MeToo.

For me being a feminist is more in what I do than what I say.

It’s in my choice of using old linens and quilts in my art as well as in the content.  For me, it’s in my decision and choice not to have children. It’s finding a husband who not only loves me for who I am, but  doesn’t want to dominate or control me and is supportive of me and the life I want for myself.   It’s in my understanding that I can take care of myself.  And it’s in my belief that women  really are equal to men, even thought I was taught the opposite growing up.

I am in awe when I see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stand up to the men in congress, with all the strength, intelligence and passion, the way she does.  And I’d like to believe that I could do the same.  But honestly, I can’t imagine doing what this 29 year old woman does.

But that  doesn’t make me feel bad about myself, it gives me hope.

Women like Ocasio-Cortez are the future.  They didn’t grow up with the beliefs and fears I did.  They have a different way of seeing the world and the idea of them being equal to men and having the same rights,  isn’t something they question, it’s a fact.

10 thoughts on “Becoming A Feminist

  1. I love this post, Maria! Having lived long enough to have seem feminism morph from one iteration to the next, nothing gives me more hope than watching young women like Ocasio-Cortez taking for granted notions about power and empowerment which previous generations labored over and fought for. You are right, too, in that feminism is a daily, how-you-live-your-life thing. I just saw the documentary Soufra ( which presents this idea beautifully – the Palestinian women featured are every bit as feminist as Ocasio-Cortez, in their own way.

    1. I know women who feel slighted that younger women don’t understand the work and sacrifice of the women who came before them. But it seems to me the way of the world. Not right, but how it is. And better that the benefits are passed down, however it happens than not at all. I’m looking forward to watching Soufra, thanks for the link.

  2. I’ve always thought it was standing up for my right to put my foot down. Enough. No more. Not on my watch; not on my dime.

  3. I just wanted to share a funny story about my journey with feminism. When I married in 1979, I decided to keep my maiden name. My husband was fine with it. Fast forward to 1983 and birth of first child. Dad and mom’s name are on the birth certificate. In the hospital I am visited by a social worker asking questions about plans for the baby, how I am going to support the baby, etc. I had to explain that we were, in fact married, and yes, I had plenty of support from him. She left with a different attitude.
    Same child, 2010, decides she wants to keep her maiden name when she gets married. Only this time, her husband took her maiden name. I guess it does morph to the next generation.

    1. Deb, that’s just the kind of thing I was writing about. Great story, shows how the process can be slow, but lasting. Your story also show how such a personal thing, like your name, can be political. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Hmmmm. Good question, Maria! I guess a combination of the influence of other people and my own life experiences.

    My mother, born in 1920, had a strong intellect and personality that she sublimated to her role as wife, mother and dutiful daughter. I think she was born 30 or 40 years too early. She never truly had the opportunity to develop her two (strangely paired) passions of art and politics. She always took great pleasure and satisfaction in my academic and professional accomplishments, but she never had the opportunity to go to college, although she wanted to (college was for boys, like her half-brother, not for girls like her or her sister), and she moved every two years with my father’s job changes. (He went to college on the GI Bill after World War II and got his degree in electrical engineering, and worked in the aerospace industry, spending months in the Mojave Desert building test satellites and the like, and two years in Iran working on avionics contracts when the Shah was still in power. Iran is a beautiful country, by the way. ) They had a very happy and long marriage (just shy of 66 years when she died), but I always felt she would have been a happier and more fulfilled woman if she had had the shot at some sort of “work” she loved other than the family and house (actually, dozens of houses given how often we moved).

    I graduated from law school in the 1970s when there still were not very many women lawyers. (I think I was 1 of perhaps 6 in the 100+ lawyer firm I joined out of law school.) It was a tricky terrain to navigate back then, but I was blessed with a number of pretty high powered mentors (mostly men, but a couple of women) who helped me figure it out. And once you find your footing and achieve some level of success, your confidence grows. And you realize you don’t have to be obnoxiously aggressive as some men were (and are) to make your presence felt. And once you know how to make your presence felt, and your voice heard, you realize you just don’t have to take anyone’s cr%p any more. And as nice as it is to be liked, I’ve come to believe that it’s as (or more) important to be respected.

    Sorry for the novella!

    1. Thank you Jill! Your story and your mothers story is a great example of just what I was writing about. It sounds like you really found your place in the world in such a good way and know what’s important. And even though your mother didn’t have the opportunity that you did it sounds like she was a strong and supportive person in your life. That makes such a big difference.

  5. It makes all the difference. Whatever other doubts I may have had, I never doubted her love and support.

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