Having just finished reading The Female Persuasion, the bestselling novel by Meg Wolitzer, I’ve got feminism on my mind. The story is about a young, impressionable college student who meets a Gloria-Steinem-level feminist icon, and how their relationship — and their work for women’s empowerment — affects both of their lives. The novel tells of connections between women and women, between men and women, and between power and compassion. It’s a wonderful read.
Being about Wolitzer’s age, I was a teenager in the 1970s, when the feminist / Equal Rights Amendment / burn-the-bra movement was changing the way society saw women and the way women saw themselves; when Carole King’s Tapestry and Joni Mitchell’s Blue became the words that moved us as a group; when the idea of equal pay for equal work was (and still is) a not-as-yet-carved-in-stone Eleventh Commandment. Unlike our mothers’ generation, we were told that it was our destiny to “have it all,” resulting in our working twice as hard to prove that we were equal to men.
Times change, tactics change, toughness endures. And while my generation may not have reaped all the rewards we had hoped for in terms of leveling the playing field, we did make an imprint on culture and on history in the 1970s and 1980s. We worked, wrote, protested, and argued truth to power. And we saw a lot of “first” females rise — the first American female in space, the first female Supreme Court Justice, the first female Fortune 500 CEO, among others.
Being a feminist no longer became limited to being a woman. Evolved, educated, and erudite men — men who supported us and were blind to the professional differences between themselves and women — proudly added “feminist” to their own resumes.
When I was a girl, my favorite fictional feminist (although I didn’t know what a feminist was at the time) was Ms. Nancy Drew, amateur sleuth. While the Nancy Drew series grew and transformed to accommodate changing times, the books I read were those from the original classic series, where teen-aged Nancy and her gal pals Bess and George tore around in Nancy’s little blue roadster, gathering clues and solving mysteries. I wanted to hit the road with Nancy because of her intelligence, her determination, and her spirit — all qualities embodied in my current concept of feminism. (By the way, note that there were two Hardy Boys and only one Nancy Drew — see what I mean about working twice as hard?)
Today, my real life feminist heroes are far more complex and impressive (sorry, Nancy) in a world that is far more complex and oppressive (sorry, everyone else). These are women who champion not only women’s rights but also human rights, and have inspired so many of us to aspire to live lives that matter, to make a difference, and to teach what we have learned about having — and giving — it all.
You know, girl stuff.
ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman