Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rabble Rousers

As part of the Celebrate Women blogging celebration, I'm adding my voice to the mix with today's theme, Strong Women and Feminism.

My life as a feminist was carved out for me even before I was in utero. I have strong rabble-rousing, foul-mouthed, revolutionistas in my history. My great-grandmother led the Pennsylvania parent's association for years and talked openly about desegregating schools long before that was a hot button issue. She stormed the capital once to demand better fireworks polices for Fourth of July celebrations because a young African American child had been blinded by an uncontrolled pyrotechnique. My grandmother attended college in the late 1920s and went on to write for newspapers at a time when women just weren't doing those things.

My mother offended her own father, first by being born a girl and then going on to college, to teach, and then to work in the big city while my dad did afterschool duty at home. My grandfather was so mad that my mother was not a boy that he called her Mike, instead of her name, Helen. She is, to this day, Aunt Mike, to my cousins. That's not always easy to explain.

Furthermore, my own father acted as homemaker for a much of my childhood. He taught me to perfectly steam broccoli, how to cook rice, trim the chicken, start the crockpot and the gas grill. Mom got home after he did; he made dinner most nights. He also was the expert floor cleaner. Mom did other jobs, like cutting the grass. My parents gave all jobs to all children. Boys and girls cut the grass, took out the trash, washed the car, checked the oil, unloaded the dishwasher.

I attended a college for women. On the first day of the first year, the indoctrination began; we were challenged daily to use our words precisely. I was no longer a girl. They referred to us as women. The transition still strikes me as funny; one day I'm a girl and the next a woman. (Not a lady. I don't want to be a lady. I'll tell you about that some other day.)

In fact, from all of these people I learned what a real feminist is. The world and I might have varying ideas of what a feminist is. And because I'm a *true* feminist, I'm totally cool with that. Being a feminist is not limited to being female. My dad was just my first example of this. My husband is also a great forward thinking man (even though I think it's stupid that I have to say he's forward thinking when in reality he's just him, with smarts). When he was ready to ask me to marry him, my husband did not ask my father for my hand. My dad had long ago told me that I am no one's property and I was not his to give. My husband understood this, both about my dad and me.

When we married, my father did not give me away. Instead, my parents both gave our union their blessing. I know that may seem semantic, a mere nod to untraditional, but it was important to me; I wanted to continue to establish my wholeness as a person.

Feminists believe that women are people. A feminist understands that for some women, staying at home with babies is imperative, while for others, returning to work holds the same import. A feminist decides for herself if she doesn't want babies at all. A feminist is a person who knows what she wants, knows how to get it, and will not compromise her character or other's to obtain it. A feminist can be strong, smart, emotive, funny, complex. Feminists exist as whole people whether in a significant relationship or not. A feminist understands that women have brains to make their own choices, about everything from which college to attend, to whom to marry and when, to when and how they give birth.

To me a feminist embraces choice. All choice. The right of every person to make his or her own choices. Of course, a wise person makes use of every resource available to her and will not make those decisions lightly or in a vacuum. I hope that I have even an ounce of my ancestor's rabble-rousing blood in me.


  1. This is a fabulous read! I love how you point out that feminism isn't limited to women.

  2. I absolutely love this... your family reminds me of my own! I think that your definition of afeminist is perfect and I couldn't have said it better myself.

  3. Well, this pretty much sums up my own definition of feminism. I guess I'll just copy and paste!

    I, too, come from a rabble-rousing mother, and my dad is very progressive in terms of equality and such. I am so grateful for my upbringing and especially for all of the opportunities that were afforded me because I wasn't afraid to go after them just because I'm a girl.

    All in all, I am grateful for those women who fought before us so that we can have all of the choices we have today. And I hope that I will be an example to my daughters and sons of what a feminist looks like.

  4. I love how you point out the gender neutrality of feminism. We limit feminism to a discussion of women's right, but it truly encompasses all human rights. Thank you for adding your voice to our Celebrate Women month!

  5. This is wonderful. My grandmother graduated from Bucknell in the early 1920s and went to Brazil to teach English at an engineering college.

    And while I went to the rival women's college to yours, and they didn't indoctrinate us about girls/women, being in a mostly female environment for the first two years of my college education helped me gain some of the "me" that I lost in my second semester of my senior year.

    Thanks for writing this.


  6. What a fun meander through your family history and personal take on feminism!

    I went through my own phases of understanding what it meant to be a feminist (I think when we knew each other during our college years that was pretty much defined by the "burn your bras!" mantra. But the most freeing moment for me came when I realized being a feminist meant being ME--as you said, making the choices I wanted to make, according to my priorities and loves. It was incredibly freeing to embrace a pastime like knitting, and not feel apologetic about it, and to also realize that I enjoy mowing the lawn more than I enjoy cleaning the house. Obviously it's not about fitting any mold.

    (btw, a good friend of mine is the first man to teach in the Women's Studies department at our university. Men can be powerful feminists!)

  7. Add me to the list of people happy to see a piece talking about feminism among men. Very cool!

    And though we don't know each other super well, from our interactions in the virtual village, it seems to me that you have a bit of rabble rouser in you! And I LOVE that about you!

    Of course, I don't mind the word lady. Sorry. ;D