by Jill Greenwood
I grew up on Free To Be, You and Me. Pretty sure that it was on constant replay in our house. “Boy Meets Girl” was my all-time favorite track on the album (and yes, I’m old enough to call them albums, which is what I prefer), and I cracked up whenever the two babies figure out what their genders are. To me, it was funny because of course a boy could be afraid of mice. Silly boys. There was never really a distinction for me between boys and girls and the things that they could do. Climb a tree? Knock your socks off. Wanna bake cookies? Somebody’s house was probably free. Freeze tag? No problem. So the concept of girls being different than boys just didn’t compute for me. Around the time I was eight, though, things started to change a bit. All of a sudden, this divide started to occur between boys and girls. What do you mean you want to check out a book from the school library that dealt with combustible engines? Why not check out the book on embroidery instead? Mention that you wanted to be a doctor, but you were a girl, and someone nicely pointed out that it would take many, many years to get through medical school and didn’t you want to be a mommy and why not look at nursing instead because it’s just about as good.
Just about as good wasn’t good enough, and I doubt it would be good enough for you either. Words like “equal rights” and “Ms.” began to catch my attention. And who was this Gloria Steinem woman? My god, she made sense, and I knew damn well that just about as good would never work. Right around middle school – that wonderfully confusing and impressionable age – I figured out that the “F” word wasn’t “fuck” but “feminist,” and I was damn proud to be one. There I would sit in my little Catholic school girl uniform, dutifully learning all about math and science and English but knowing that the religion I was learning about thought that I was just about as good as the boys. Sitting up front in my science class because my pervy teacher sat all the girls with large breasts in the front two rows. Realizing that there would always be enough money for the football uniforms but maybe not for the volleyball team. Just about good enough sucked as much as losing did because that’s what it was: losing.
Things got better in high school (slightly – the Catholic school girl uniform takes away some of your credibility in the whole feminist arena). Even though the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated, women were starting to be treated as equals. My parents went to bat for me when I decided that I didn’t want to take the freshman science class because it was too easy. They pushed for calculus in our school. College was even better. My first year? We didn’t call it the freshman year because it was demeaning to women. Professors called on the men and the women alike. I don’t think I was ever called “honey” or “sweetie” by anyone in a college classroom. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth sold out in record time. And yet . . . telling someone you were a feminist was like admitting that you liked sucking toes in public. Didn’t that mean you stopped shaving your armpits and legs? Did you hate men? Why are you so angry? Questions like these were asked all the time.
But still . . . things were getting better. Women were leading companies. They were making changes in the workforce and being elected to positions of authority in the government. Even the Supreme Court had not one but two women on board. Maybe that label wasn’t really necessary. Maybe I could let it go and just know that just about as good wasn’t something that I would settle for. Maybe I didn’t need the word “feminist” to define who I was. And so I stopped using it in conversation. I started thinking that my girls – those two little ones with building blocks and Barbies and dump trucks and dolls – wouldn’t have to worry about being feminists because just about as good wasn’t going to be a problem. Everyone would accept that it wasn’t good enough.
Turns out I was wrong. So wrong. Even though we’ve made strives, women still do more housework than their husbands or significant others (not me – I’m a shitty housekeeper). Get out in the workplace, and you’ll succeed if you are warm and nurturing, but god forbid you are firm and stand your ground . . . because then you’re a bitch and a cunt. Be prepared to make some sacrifices because you can’t have it all. Truly, it’s not humanly possible to have it all unless you invent some way to add hours to our days. And if my girls don’t like the label feminist, they need to embrace it. Because their madre is a huge feminist (so are their aunts and their grandmothers) . . . she might not shave her legs six months out of the year because of sheer laziness, but she certainly doesn’t hate men. She values them and knows that without the love and support of one of the best men she knows, those girls might have believed that just about as good was good enough. Because he certainly never would have loved a woman who believed that.
I’m embracing my “F” word. I’m relishing being a feminist. I’m wearing it as a badge of honor. I’m sweating during my walk with it emblazoned on my tits. I’m a feminist . . . and there’s nothing wrong with that.