Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

My Truth

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?  The world would split open.

-Muriel Rukeseyer

I am a feminist.

This is not something my grandmother would have said, not something my mother would ever say, and I doubt they would be pleased to hear the words from me.

And yet, it is their gift to me.

My grandmother was a young woman in West Texas during World War II.  She and her sisters put their willing hands and strong backs to the work that needed to be done, and kept the family farm afloat while their brothers were away.    She fell in love with a young soldier who was shipping out soon to Guam, and they decided, together, not to marry until the war was over and he was safely returned.  They both knew far too many young widows struggling to feed their fatherless children.

The world of my grandmother’s youth was opening a door for women.  They went to work in droves, filling positions men had left empty, in factory and field, doing what they had known they could do all along.  My grandmother stood on the threshold and took one joyous step.

It was all the world allowed her.  The war ended, the men came home, the women were sent back to the kitchens and nurseries.

The frustration of having that hope stripped away, of seeing that new world split apart like the firewood she had chopped in her brothers’ absence, thrown back into the embers of the hearth, shaped my grandmother in ways on which I can only speculate.  She never told me any of this.  I wish she had, but the Fates cut her thread before I was ready to hear and understand.

She had great hopes for her daughter.  She launched her into the world, pushed her out of the nest.  But my mother had grown up a mouse of a middle child, bookended by two boisterous brothers with overwhelming personalities.  She never seems to have found her way.  After one semester in college, she married, and though she tried to continue with school it took only the disapproval of one backwards professor, who sneered at her that women could have an education or a family, but certainly not both, to discourage her.

A delicate flower, my mother today wilts in the shadow of the prevailing opinion of the strong-willed men around her, and it is only when we are alone with my sisters that I can coax her into blooming, a tame little root-bound rose.

Our freedom is new.  It is easy to forget that, since the overt oppression seems sometimes like such ancient history.  We are the first generation to really get to spread our wings; the first grand migration following the path of a sisterhood of trailblazers.  We are the first generation of women in millennia who have grown up believing on a grand scale that we could be who we want to be, that we are not less than, that we can walk our own path.

I am a feminist.  This is the gift my mother and grandmother gave me, and it is the gift I hope to give to my nieces, my young friends, my daughters from another womb.  I am not ashamed to say it, as if it were a dirty word.  I am not going to pretend that society didn’t force my mother, my grandmother, and countless mothers before them whom I never knew, into roles that were little better than the yoke on a team of oxen.

And it is my dearest hope that one day, among that next generation, there might be even one who will have the opportunity to look at my situation from a higher plateau of freedom than I now enjoy, learn from those things I am unable or afraid to do, and spread her wings wider still.