Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like (While Writing a Blog Post)

Maybe it has been the talk of #YesAllWomen recently.  Maybe the stories of the Indian girls who were raped and then hung from mango trees to die last week.  But I have been thinking about WOMEN.  And about myself as a woman.  And about FEMINISM. 

I am proud to be a feminist.  If asked, I could not quickly give you a definition of the word.  Yet, I AM the word.

So now that I am thinking about it, I looked up the definition.  Dictionary.com says “feminist” means: advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

I can get down with that.  And when put that simply and succinctly, who could disagree with it?  By disagreeing, are you advocating that social, political, legal, and economic rights of women, of ME, should NOT be equal to those of men?  Because they are not, you know.  So I guess by disagreeing with the feminist philosophy, what you are agreeing to is the status quo.  And I for one don’t believe the status quo is good enough.

This is what a feminist looks like while watering the garden.
I’ve been wondering where the roots of my “feminist self” came from.  I would not consider my mother to have been a feminist – she was a strong woman but didn’t espouse the philosophies or beliefs that I consider ties to being a feminist.  She was proud to be “Mrs. John Thompson” – a naming convention that makes my skin crawl.  I am amazed at the young women in this day and age who marry and eagerly adopt this nomenclature. She didn’t work outside the home, but as an adult I realize that taxiing me around from event to event and keeping the house as clean as she did was an unpaid full-time job. 

I think what my mom did, probably unintentionally, to introduce me to feminist belief was to introduce me to other women who could lead the way…  The first one I remember is Carole King.  Ahhh – Carole King.  In between the Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink 8 tracks we played came Ms. Carole King.  “You got to GET UP every morning, with a smile on your face and SHOW THE WORLD, all the love in your heart…”   Something about that song, and many others on the Tapestry album, still make me smile, cry, and give me goose bumps.  Singing along at the top of my lungs makes me feel so STRONG, so empowered.  I guess you could say, it makes me feel – like – a – nat-ur-al WOMANNNN….  We also rocked out to Helen Reddy in our house growing up, “I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR!”  As an adult, I added other feminists to my collection – Pink, the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow… 

The next woman I remember noticing being “different” was my second grade teacher, Miss Hesskamp.  How I loved her…  I worshiped her!  She got married during that year she taught me and I cannot for the life of me remember her married name or I would hunt her down now on Facebook and thank her.  (Side note:  it must have been 1973 when I had Miss Hesskamp for a teacher, and I distinctly remember her bringing in her wedding photo album to show me (maybe us – but it feels like ME in my memory…) – a RAINBOW WEDDING!  Each bridesmaid wore a different pastel long gown.  I had never seen such a gorgeous display.  I always thought, “If I get married, I will have a rainbow wedding, too!”  Luckily I outgrew that by 1999…) Anyway, I think it was Miss Hesskamp who first played “Free to Be You and Me” for us.  What.  A.  Gift.  The pink cover of the song book and album…  The bubble-like font…  Marlo Thomas’ voice serenading me…   “There’s a land that I see, where the children are free…”.  I can still HEAR IT!

And Judy Blume…  Who can ever forget “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret”???  Or “Deenie”?  Judy Blume made it ok for me to think, to feel, to write.

It was around 1974 that I was introduced to the person who I am quite sure made me believe in feminist values, without ever consciously teaching them to me.  NANCY DUNCAN.  Nancy was the most confident, talented, strong woman I have ever (and I think will ever) met/meet.  She was a performer and the director of the Omaha Children’s Theater, my home-away-from-home for several of my formative years.  I didn’t want to be LIKE Nancy Duncan when I grew up, I wanted to BE Nancy Duncan (and somehow a bit of me believed that was possible I think).  Nancy was my teacher, my director, a mentor (before I had any idea what that word meant) and a friend.  She made me believe in and value myself.  One thing I remember about her is that the local paper, the Omaha World Herald, was doing a piece on a show she worked on.  She insisted that they not refer to her as an “actress” but instead a gender neutral term “actor”.  The audacity it took to correct that subtle oppression wasn’t evident to me at the time, but I did understand the power she took back by getting them to change. 

Anyway, I am a feminist.  It’s simple really – I believe in ME and the power of women.  I don’t think I am worth any less than anyone else on the planet.  I hope that my words and actions can demonstrate that and that I can inspire some other “little girl” like Carole, Judy Blume, Miss Hesskamp, and Nancy did me. 

Thanks to all the strong women in my life.

This is what a feminist on a Segway looks like.

Music you may be thinking about having read this piece:

Carole King, “Beautiful” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgH-kfoYCrE

Dixie Chicks, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pojL_35QlSI

Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman” (captioned in funky font AND wearing bell bottoms) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6fHTyVmYp4

And, for good measure, Schoolhouse Rock “Inter-planet Janet” (cuz she is a kick ass cartoon feminist!) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odsCeYGqOvU (Hi Janet!)

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