One moment in time

8 11 2012

I ran into a question the other day about when I first realized I was a feminist.  And at the time I thought, gee, I’ve always been a feminist.  Then I started thinking about it.  I was raised in a very traditional 1960s home, with a working father and a mother who stayed home.  It was the early years of the space program – before landing on the moon – and I told my friends that I wanted to be an astronaut.  The little boys in the neighborhood informed me with complete certainty that I could do no such thing, because only men were astronauts.  My examples of accepted womanly professions outside the home were nurse and teacher. 

Things busted open in a big way over the next ten years or so.  I watched my aunts both go to college and get degrees, over the objections of my grandfather; my grandmother worked to send her daughters to school.  My mother spent a couple of difficult years figuring out a role for herself that didn’t use other people (parents, husband, children) to define her.  She came out the other end of it with the determination to do something different, and when I was in high school, she went to work as an industrial welder.  When she decided to change the paradigm, she went HUGE.  And I know, without question, that she is my single strongest feminist influence.  Her work paid for my college and for the survival of our family when my father died my junior year.

I wore a fairly comfortable feminism label in the 1980s.  I wasn’t angry, I had some passing familiarity with some issues, but for the most part I thought that women had fought the battle, and won.   Now we could all get along and talk about bigger things than women’s rights.  I married a good man.  We had a child together.  We got involved in church and community.

And somewhere in there I started noticing things.  I started noticing that there were real differences, not just charming little variations, between what I believed and what my church was teaching.  I saw women with tremendous professional skills jeopardizing their careers and their health trying to balance the impossible requirements of their lives.  And I really saw that there were large swathes of society – example, the successful white men in my life – that were blissfully unaware of what women were dealing with.  They didn’t know.  They didn’t want to know.  They paid lip service to the nobility of mothers, but as far as actually doing something to make women’s lives more livable?  Not so much.

During this time, my husband’s best friend since high school became a very conservative Christian.  After finishing law school, he moved back to our neighborhood, and in 1993 we ended up living a mere two blocks from each other.  The 1990s were the early years of Promise Keepers, a conservative Christian men’s ministry, and the friend was all over it.  When the Promise Keepers decided in 1997 that they were going to Washington DC to pray, the best friend was one of the first to sign up for it.  And he excitedly told us that it was so important for the Promise Keepers to be there praying, as they were going to be opposed by feminists, lesbians, and witches.  My first impulse was to hork my drink straight out my nose… until I realized:  He’s serious.

There’s your crystallizing moment, right there.  After the friend left, my husband and I had a, hmmmm, terse discussion about the nature of the Promise Keepers and what they meant for women like me.  What this friend had just said about me and the things I held true.  “But it’s just a prayer meeting!” said my husband, “Just an expression of faith!”  Then I suggested that if the Promise Keepers really wanted to have a prayer meeting without it being a political statement, perhaps they could hold it in St. Louis.  Or Minneapolis.  Not the nation’s capital. 

Feminism got a lot less comfortable that day.  And also exponentially more meaningful.  It’s been a process of a lifetime  to reach where I am now, and I am far, FAR from done with the work I need to do.

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