I grew up in the 70’s in a town so backward that my mother lost her job as a teacher when she got pregnant with me. Can’t have any pregnant women teaching school you know. It might give the students confusing ideas.
Mom spent the years before my brother and I went to school hosting bridge parties and keeping house like a proper military officer’s wife. Knowing my mother as I do now, I get the impression that she hated it. That under the perfectly coiffed hair and pearls was a rebel just playing the role of the socially acceptable middle-class, stay-at-home mom.
As a girl, my concept of feminists was that they were trouble makers. Feminists did vulgar things like burn bras and wear pants to church. In my mind, they were right up there with “dirty hippies”. As an adult, I quite like the hippies that I know. But my impression as a child was that they were crazy people that took drugs and screwed around a lot. I didn’t really know what screwing around was at the time, but it was certainly something very naughty and not at all nice. “Different, yet accepted” was not an idea that was commonly impressed upon us by society.
Upon reflection, I think my mother must be a feminist too. I think this, because she always told me that I could be whatever I wanted, then led the way by breaking into a career dominated by men (juvenile probation). While the other girls were planning futures around being teachers, nurses, and secretaries;
I was plotting out my future as a doctor, high powered CEO, or airline pilot. Later, when so many of my contemporaries were contemplating their “MRS” degree, I was determined to finish school so that I could start on my exciting, adventure-filled first career.
But I still didn’t know I was a feminist. Even though I traveled on my own, bought my own home, even registered for china and silver as a single-not-even-dating female; I had no idea. I’ve always been a late bloomer. So it’s no wonder that realizing my own power should come late as well. But slowly, things began to sink in.
When I began to excel at a male dominated profession (my second career), I ran into blockade after blockade in advancing. I had to prove myself over and over again. My job was made harder by having to fight for what I was due. When I complained about my salary being $20,000 less than men I had trained for the same job I was doing, I was told not to “worry my pretty little head about such things”. The prevailing attitude was that my husband would provide the bulk of my support and my little salary was just pin money for mani-pedi’s and buying baby shower gifts, despite the fact that I made it clear that I was the primary (and frequently the only) breadwinner.
When I complained about blatant sexual harassment, I was “overreacting” and “had sour grapes” for getting beat out of a coveted job, which I clearly didn’t deserve because I had a vagina instead of a penis. I must have been a fairly valuable employee, because other women making similar complaints over the years were fired for vague reasons.
In the end, I left that company after 15 years of service because the harassment had grown to frightening proportions. The company where I now work values my service and pays me accordingly, though there are still some perceptible barriers in being a female. At least none of them involve having
to avoid lonely conference rooms or fear of riding in elevators with fellow employees.
However, I didn’t realize I was a feminist until yesterday when I listened to an NPR interview of Caitlin Moran on the release of her book last year “How to be a Woman”. The conversation, rooted in humor, struck such an intense chord. Here was someone who “gets” me. She is frustrated by the same things that I get frustrated by. It dawned on me that I don’t have to be a radical to be a feminist. Just by taking my future into my own hands, and being independent, I was furthering a cause I wasn’t even fully aware that I aligned with.
You know what? It feels good to be a feminist. Just don’t expect me to burn any bras.