Amanda at Pandagon, riffing off an article on Salon, was writing about feminism this morning, and her post reminded me of the first time I encounted a negative reaction to the word feminist.
My older sister tells people that I was a born feminist. Like most children, I was exquisitely aware of what was fair and what wasn't, and I could see that girls were treated unfairly as plain as the nose on my face - we couldn't play baseball, we couldn't play football, we had to wear shirts no matter how freaking hot it was outside, we were admonished as unladylike when we climbed trees or caught snakes or did any of the things that I, as a young tomboy, thought of as fun.
I remember my temper rising in CCD as we learned about Adam and Eve - how dare the church pass off this ridiculous story as being truth? Women have the babies, so they had to come first - it seemed obvious to me that Adam must have had a mother, he had a bellybutton just like the rest of us - and I knew how we got our bellybuttons, so I was not impressed by the supposed Word of God.
Anyway, I identified strongly with the concept of feminism, because it's common sense - if everyone doesn't have equality, then no one has equality.
When Sio was a year old, I got a job at a newspaper. I worked in Classified advertising with a bunch of women - the supervisor, also named Maureen, who was an older woman who raised 5 kids by herself when her husband died from an allergic reaction to an anesthetic when he went in the hospital for surgery; Judy, who was raising 2 kids by herself because her ex-husband was in jail; Ethel, a Norwegian woman who was devoutly Christian and always looked like a million bucks; Cheryl, who was kind of ditzy and couldn't quit smoking even after she had part of one cancerous lung removed; and Sue, who was married to the mayor of the town and worked part-time now that her children were grown and out of the house.
These women were all really lovely to work with, and we had a lot of fun as we worked. Maureen was a tough old broad on the outside, but was absolute marshmellow on the inside, and since we shared both a name and a birthdate, she took an instant liking to me.
One day we got on the subject of feminism, and I was shocked to hear Ethel and Sue speak so negatively about feminists. "But you're women!" I said. "That's like saying you're against yourself!"
Sue said I was too young to understand. "The feminists were just really radical," she said.
"Well, I think they'd have to be," I said. "Look at how long it took for women to get the right to vote. You need radical people to get the ball rolling! Should Maureen make .30 cents less than a man in her position, just because she's a woman?"
"Hell, no!" Maureen said.
Sue didn't like confrontation, particularly not with the supervisor, so that was the end of the conversation. Her husband, the mayor, turned out to be a crook, so she ended up getting divorced from him a few years later. I wonder if she ever thought back to our conversation as she tried to recover her life after a divorce that cost them everything?