21 June 2010

Click: Young Women on the Moments That Made Them Feminists

When I read Rebecca's review of Click and her personal "click" moment when she realized she was a feminist I knew I had to read Click, too.  I read Manifesta when it was first published in 2000; I was wandering the University bookstore and it caught my attention.  I liked it but I wasn't caring too much about anything at the time; I had just turned twenty-one, my engagement had broken down, and I had failed to get into medical school like I planned so I didn't feel the pull of a feminist call-to-arms.  I felt like I had failed to beat the boys in the game of admissions, I hadn't studied enough, wasn't serious enough.  So I picked up the pieces and moved on; I gave my copy of Manifesta to a friend and lost track of who had it after several changes-of-address.

Ten years later, I am also ten years wiser.  I still didn't get into medical school but I did acquire a graduate degree which led to a job which allows me to live comfortably on my own.  Whew, I wouldn't be doing that if I'd gone to medical school.  I started reading books again after finishing my thesis which led to this little blog and then a little Twitter which led me to Rebecca and then to Click.  I wanted to read those personal stories from women, really wanted to see if there was anyone like me within the pages.  "Me" being quite heteronormative and boring in her life of books, yarn, and cats, but every once-in-a-while I'd get accused of being a wolf (man-hating, flannel-wearing, butch, status-quo busting, liberal lesbian) in sheep's clothing (man-tolerating, stiletto-wearing, long-haired, status-quo shattering, liberal woman).  Usually by some red-neck, hick male who had been told to stop looking down my shirt. 

I found a lot in Click to identify with, from editors J. Courtney Sullivan and Courtney Martin to Amy Baumgartner and Amy Richards (authors of Manifesta) and from Olessa Pindak (almost exactly my age)to the seventeen-year-old Nellie Beckett who has my favorite line in the book:
Feminists come in all shapes, colors, and genders, and it's about time that our diversity is recognized in the mainstream.  If there's a movement whose image shouldn't be the top priority, it's feminism (p 32).
Li Sydney Cornfeld writes eloquently of her experiences as a LD/ADHD feminist; Anitra Cottledge writes of creating her own feminist curriculum when none would fit her identity as both a black woman and a feminist.  Rachel Shukert wrote what is my favorite essay - her "click" moment comes in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain's death, a realization that comes in a confrontation with her "group".  The contributors were so diverse in background and experience they really did mirror Nellie's thoughts on diversity.  Some moments of revelation were earth-shattering, some came from a gradual change in perception.  All are amazing essays from intelligent and articulate women (and one man, Jordan Berg Powers, who has a pretty cool mom).

Which brings me to my "click" moment....and I have to confess that I don't have a single moment where the lightbulb just popped on.  I have thousands of tiny ones, like Christmas lights.  My father, who taught me to play baseball and expected me to go to college, and my mother, who taught me to balance a checkbook and do the laundry properly, contributed most of them.  My grandmother, who taught me that you have to put on a brave face even when you feel like an old shoe and your hair is falling out from chemo, added some.  I was never told that some things are "only" for boys or girls; I had Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids, went to dance and piano lessons, and wished for curly hair but I also read the family medical book cover to cover and was allowed to purchase a weighty (adult) book on dinosaurs after a trip to the Field Museum in Chicago (I was suddenly taken with the idea of being a paleontologist at the age of eight - then I learned you have to dig the dinosaur bones out of the rocks yourself if you're a paleontologist; I sunburn easily).  On the flip side, my brothers had Cabbage Patch Kids and piano lessons, too, and I dressed them up in my old dance costumes for playtime; Mom has pictures of Christopher wearing my lion costume complete with tutu, ruff, and tail (snicker, snicker).  I watched as boys harassed other girls who developed early and was quite thankful that by the time I filled out the boys had tired of this past-time (my father did teach me self-defense about this time; dancers have strong legs).  I passed on the expense and overly feminized atmosphere of sororities in college and was instead invited to join a co-ed professional fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma, where I held all sorts of chapter offices and which I still serve as a District Counselor (AXS, founded in 1902, went co-ed in 1971).  I learned that life does not end when you mutually agree with your fiancee that getting married is probably not going to turn out well and you will not die of embarrassment when you have to tell your relatives.  Life also gets much better when offered a job with a salary which will allow you to buy a home as a single woman without a co-signer.  Now that I'm "Aunt Missy" I find myself buying my favorite books for my three nieces and being pleased that not only do they like Angelina Ballerina but they also play with our old Playskool barn and garage ("uh, oh! car crash!").

I have no way of knowing whether Click would have impressed me as much ten years ago as it does today, if I had read it instead of Manifesta.  Click is a very personal book, one that encourages each of us to tell our story, but I don't remember Manifesta feeling so personal.  I guess I need a new copy of Manifesta so Click has company on the bookshelf.

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