Me and My Awesome Sisters

Woman-power symbol (clenched fist in Venus sig...

Woman-power symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, so I’ve been wanting to participate in Ronovan’s BeWoW Wednesday for ages.  Somehow couldn’t seem to pull it together. If I thought of a topic I couldn’t decide which blog to put it on or I thought of it too late for Wednesday…  Today I finally realized that a post I’ve had on the back burner for a while could be a good BeWow post.  Then I saw the suggested topic:   what does family mean to you.

At first I thought it didn’t fit.  And, it’s a bit of a stretch, but I’m fitting it by saying that for me family includes not only my blood relations, but also the many people whom I have loved and who love me and extends outward.  And my little tale of feminism is about me and my multitudes of sisters who participated in changing so much about the lives of women.  It’s a little off the path from my usual posts but I felt like it belonged on this blog anyway.

The post has been slowly forming for the last couple of years as I’ve periodically read posts by much younger–mid-20’s to mid-3o’s–women who stated emphatically that they are NOT feminists. And the tone felt to me like they were describing something you’d wipe off your shoe.

Up to a point, I get that.  There’s always been a radical fringe in the women’s movement who are militant about what we all should be wearing and doing [I never could see how conforming to them instead of men would do anything for my independence]. In law school, some of them quit speaking to one of our friends when she became engaged.  I took a lot of guff about wearing a little eye make-up. You know the ones.  Like the most far-out of every group, they’re hard to take.

But the women’s movement is so much more than that and it startled me to see these young women with a view that feminists are not relevant to them.  I’m particularly intrigued by this point of view because they’ve all been young women with interesting careers and marriages with seemingly far more equality than the marriages of my childhood.

I began asking myself, “Really, in just the 40 years since my collegiate feminist days has everyone forgotten what it used to be like?”  When I was growing up girls were encouraged to explore one of three paths:  (1) teacher, (2) nurse, (3) wife.  My mother and aunts and their friends were expected to do nothing but clean house and cook and do what their husbands wanted.  None of the dads wanted “their women” to work outside the home.

My grandmother brought a small fortune to her marriage and it instantly became the property of my grandfather–who had the gall to leave it in a trust with income to her but no power over it at all.  One of my aunts became the first woman turf reporter in the world and was banned from the press box.  They suffered indignities just because they were women that these young women probably can’t imagine.

The sea change from the lives of women of my mother’s generation to these young women with a variety of careers and husbands who support them in their paths is so immense it’s hard to imagine that they don’t know how good they have it compared to women such a short time ago (historically speaking).  And that feminists opened those doors for them.

And then my thoughts took a turn that surprised me.  I was never a mover or shaker in the women’s movement.  I bow to the likes of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan who sounded the battle cry and led the charge.  But my sisters and I, living in a time of turmoil and questioning and excitement about new possibilities, heard the cry and stepped into the opening those warriors created.  In record numbers we started going to graduate school, law school, medical school; enrollment of women rose more than 30% from 1970-1980.  My law school class was half women for the first time.

And it isn’t just the women of my collegiate years.  Everywhere I go I wind up with friends my age from all over who seized that moment and demanded more for their lives.  All across the nation they pushed forward, demanding equality in marriage, pressing into career paths never before open to women, achieving higher education.  We wore bras and didn’t wear bras and shaved and didn’t shave and wore make-up and didn’t wear make-up — we didn’t have to be all the same, we just had to be women who wanted to shape our own destinies.

And there’s so much more to do when there’s no profession in which women make as much money as men and women are barely represented on Boards of Directors and in the upper echelons of corporations, etc.  I’m sad that these young women see no reason to step through the remaining doors.

My friends and I may not have been planning rallies and shouting from the rooftops, but we seized the day and stepped up to shape lives that let us be more, explore more, ask for more, expect more.  We created lives we were not raised to expect or imagine we could have.

“They have those jobs and equality-minded husbands because of us,” I found myself thinking!  Do they really not know us feminists made their lives possible?

Me and my sisters, we were AWESOME!  And you should see us now — we just got better and better!

Check out this week’s BeWoW here

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13 thoughts on “Me and My Awesome Sisters

  1. Well said. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time. I’m 50 and went to a maritime college in my mid 20’s. They only allowed in women around 1974. My graduating class of 135 had 10 women. The ships I worked on were manned with mostly men. Because these ships belonged to, and worked for the Navy, there were a handful of Navy personnel on board (maybe 10% of the crew), and probably 50% of the Navy people were women. There was at least one ship where there were only 2 of us civilian women on board (civilians and Navy didn’t really mix; mostly because of our jobs and hours, sometimes because of rank or age). The thing about having a career as a merchant mariner is, you are gone at sea 7, 8, 9, or even 11 months a year (for me it was 11). And if you want a marriage that has a chance to survive, or to to be a mother, shipping out is not an option.

    Thanks for putting together such a thought filled post.

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  4. You made your points very eloquently, Leah. I will forever be grateful to what generations of women did before me to allow me the choices I have.

    I can understand why the women’s movement took a simultaneously offensive and defensive posture toward men in order to break barriers, but I think in some ways it hurt it in the long run. The emphasis was on banging down the door to let us into the workplaces and to be valued the same way as men, but we did not show men how they could be valued at home as fathers and husbands. In fact, there is still an underlying sexism that parenting is “better” the mother’s way in certain circles.

    Lots of women in my generation and younger really want to find a new path that values what both people can contribute. Distancing themselves from the label “feminism” may be women’s way of saying they want to work with men to create more middle ground, especially since parenting and marriage roles are not as set in stone as they once were.

    So please don’t look at it as women being ungrateful. Look at it as taking the next step to trying to find a new label, a new definition.

    • Good thing I hunted this post down to link another post to it as I didn’t realize I’d missed a comment.
      I agree for the most part that ultimately a movement that wants more balance could accomplish more. In fact, in general, I feel a human rights and equality movement would be more powerful and worthwhile than any splinter groups each pulling for their own rights.
      But a huge portion of the women’s movement didn’t involve hating men, just being angry at how men acted toward us. A lot of men have changed in response — and a lot could still use some lessons about woman power…

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