My Journey Through Feminism - From the 80's 'Till Now
Feminism, as we know it today, took place in three very distinct "waves”, each with it's own distinct purpose. The first wave began earlier in the last century when women fought to gain independence through the right to vote. Many women lost their lives fighting for the cause. It was known as the Suffragette Movement.
I remember my mother telling me a story about her aunt Maggie who was dragged from her home and beaten by her neighbours. My great-grandfather had to pay a fine to the local union and apologize to his co-workers for his daughter’s behavior. Mom told me he didn’t scold Maggie. Instead, he told her not to give up the fight, but just to take it somewhere else. We knew we were lucky to have him in our lives.
The Age of Aquarius - Equality for All
In the "boomer" years, the Suffragette’s plight took off, but it had evolved into an all-out war for women’s equality. Women wanted to play a different role in society. They no longer wanted to be just housewives or stay-at-home-mothers; they wanted to have careers of their own. Why shouldn’t they? They prefered a more carefree lifestyle. Feminism was growing silently as a movement for more than the right to vote.
Things certainly were not perfect, but it was the start of the revolution.
By the time I had reached my junior year in high school, diehard feminism had all but fizzled out. They had won the war. Women no longer felt the need to burn bras in the streets to protest inequality. They had careers and they were happy with the outcome.
But, that is not how I remember it.
It was 1978, the first day of junior year. I received my class time schedule and I thought that I needed new glasses because I could not believe what I was reading. But there it was in big, black type letters:
Period Two - Mrs. Davis, Room 111 - Knitting, Sewing and Cooking.
Huh? Disbelief turned to rage when my cousin came running down the hall and patted me on the back. "Hey, cuz. Isn't it great we get auto-mechanics during period two?" He knew better to turn around and walk away when he saw my face turn red. I told him, "No, the girls get to cook and clean." I chuckled as he ran down the corridor to get away from me.
That was the first time in my life that I ever felt discriminated against.
Before then, I just lived a normal teenage life thinking that I had my life ahead of me. That one moment changed everything.
I could not talk to any of my friends about it. Most of them were oblivious to the fact that were being discriminated against. They were happy just to get a "free" credit. I did not even bother to point out how unfair it was that the men got to learn a trade while we got to learn how to play house. Doing so would have surely gotten me the label "lesbian", a derogatory term used to describe any female who was strong-willed, outspoken, or confident.
Gloria Steinem was my hero.
I read so many books on feminism, it had my head spinning. It was not until college that I ever felt proud of that fact. College was the one place where I could marvel at the insight of so many brilliant, educated, and outspoken women. I became a staunch feminist and I balked at anyone who wasn't. To be honest, I was a bit smug about it.
On Being a Mother
My views on feminism changed a great deal in the early 90's when I got married and had my first child. I wanted to stay home to be with him. And, as soon as I wrote that, it brought back the feelings of guilt that I had back then. Being a feminist made me feel guilty for wanting-no, needing to be a stay-at-home parent. Funny how things had evolved. My mother felt guilty for wanting a career and I felt guilty because I didn’t.
Feminism had gone too far.
Women achieved equality at the expense of freedom of choice. What exactly does being a woman mean? What is wrong with wanting to stay home and take care of a family? We were starting to lose sight of who we were as people, because we kept defining ourselves as ‘women’, ‘wife’, ‘mother’, and ‘career-woman’.
Choosing to stay at home as a feminist was admitting defeat. But, it wasn't defeat. I was making my own choices about what it meant to be a woman. At some point I came to terms with it all. And, that is good enough for me.
Today, my feminist views have changed to reflect a more non-gender philosophy. Equality for all, rather than just for women. Perhaps that is what it always was.
Women of my time were the voice for change. Their voices are just starting to be heard.
I am comfortable leaving feminism behind to a new generation of individuals who understand this concept. Millennials are the final wave and, if the trends toward peace and equality continue to move forward, they will achieve what our ancestors failed to.
I just hope that the new President does not set us all back to the days when burning bras was the nightly call to order. I do not have any left; I burnt them all one day in the backyard with my sisters. Just for the record, all of us have been married for over 25 years. That has to mean something. Feminism isn’t all that bad.