“I’m a part of the women’s movement, even if nobody knew it but me.”-Judy Blume
As a girl, I learned so much from Judy. I learned about periods from reading her books. You know menstruation not grammatical. Seriously, I thought she meant the period at the end. One of the girls on my block with an older sister had to tell me about the bloody kind. Of course, I was horrified and somewhat intrigued. I never asked my mother, instead I read every Judy Blume book I could. I even hid away and read “Forever” with the girls on our block and at age 8 or 9 and that book reaaaally freaked me out. But this was sex education in the 80’s. Our mothers were busy with work, raising a family and probably even trying to discover themselves as well. I know my mother did not come from a family that discussed anything remotely sexual. It was definitely not a topic that my mother ever tried to broach with her daughters.
Why am I even thinking about all of this? The other night, I finally watched Makers: Women Who Made America, a documentary about the Women’s Movement, covering the last half century. Judy Blume was one of the women highlighted and her quote is from this show. I have to say I was riveted and I definitely got sucked into the emotional tie of the movement. For a minute, I felt bad I didn’t support Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency. But I know there will be a woman in The Oval Office in my lifetime.
I was a young girl in 80’s and many of the events are still memorable. I can clearly recall Anita Hill’s testimony and protesters burning abortion clinics. But those events were merely in the background, for me life at home meant being a latch-key kid, with two parents who worked their butts off. My mom was always proud she made her own money. Self-sufficiency is a big deal for my mom, it was and is still a message she often repeats. I know her biggest fear was that we would be stuck, beholden to a man, without our own power or money. In a way, we did listen to this advice.
But where are we now as women? Where is the “movement”? Do we not care as women? Why are we not out in the streets? A few women in the show answered for us and projected the idea that maybe our generation feels that there is nothing left to fight for and we are taking feminism for granted. Maybe we even feel entitled. Obviously this is far from the truth. Every time this question came up in the show, I just wanted to shout..MAYBE WE ARE TOO BUSY AND TIRED to march in the streets! Plus I don’t want to protest, I want to change things without too much shouting.
I loved that the show featured Abigail Pogrem, the daughter of Letty Pogrem one of the founding editors of Ms. Magazine. Abigail quit her job as a high-powered TV producer to spend more time raising her family and admits that her decision to stay home and slow down was concerning to her feminist mother. Abigail described the “ambivalence of motherhood” as the state all of us reach when we hit a wall and wonder “How are we supposed to do ALL of this?” For me this is the unanswered question and legacy of the feminist movement and we should not spend our time wondering why we are not marching in the street and screaming about injustice toward fellow women. We need to go deeper and start providing tools and guidance for all women, mothers and non-mothers, that allow us to be flexible, authentic and to form our own unique brand of feminism. There should be no war or judgment.
I’ve come across many brands of feminism and recognize and cherish the message. But sometimes, I do find it confusing and hard to figure out how to process all of the choices. The paths are not so clear cut any longer. There are so many flavors of feminism and I feel worried that these ideas are not simply honored as different facets of the same movement. Instead the dissent gets labeled as cat fights and wars. What good does do for all of us? We are are struggling in the trenches trying to make ends meet, trying to do our best.
In the end, I remember the sacrifices that were made by my mother and many strong women around the world. My mom woke up at 430 am every morning to drive an hour each away, working a very rough and tumble job at Airborne Express, where I know she endured sexism and racism. I am pretty sure she got about 5 hours of sleep almost every night and often chose to work an extra shift on Saturdays. She made this choice, so she could be home early enough to pick us up from school or at least shorten time with babysitters. Eventually, she retired from this job after nearly 30 years, with a good Union pension. Meanwhile, my father got us girls ready every morning, waking us up to brush our long curly hair and tied into two neat ponytails. He drove us to school, blaring KNX 1070 AM news, that is still seared into my brain. So my parent’s tried, they both worked hard to raise us and give us more than perhaps a young girl in India would ever have at our age.
For me, I still struggle with the legacy of American-style feminism. I watched Makers and was inspired but also noted the glaring omission of storylines from immigrant mothers, low-income families, women without degrees and single mothers. I noticed that a conservative viewpoint was also looked upon with slight disdain, as if women could not have a choice to stay true to their Christian upbringing. I feel as women, we need to set an example and break the division ourselves. An Indian family is a great example where both conservatism and liberalism collide. In most families, women still play a very feminine role that is still a prevalent identity. Most Indian women strive to create a strong family, provide home-cooked meals and may even have some conservative ideals. Yet there is a liberalism to the way Indian women look at their role, although it may not seem that they are the “head” of the household, many women take pride in running the house and know they are engine of success for the family and have a silent power that the world is a better place precisely due to their mothering ways. Yes, not very progressive but this sentiment is strong with with Indian women. But a modern Indian woman can still strive to be smart, outgoing, feisty, loud-mouthed, highly educated and a progressive career women and still make an Indian feast for the in-laws, without feeling guilty. I am not downplaying inequalities, just describing the Indian women I see in my own family here and abroad. Basically, don’t mess with an Indian mother.
This is the mash-up of feminism that I desire and I hope for it to be neither conservative or liberal. I feel so deeply rooted in my role as a mother and this shouldn’t be judged as selling out. Cooking a meal and keeping a tidy house does make me feel accomplished for the day. But I am also ambitious and independent and strive for more. I do not create an obstacle for my husband to be involved, clean and do chores. I don’t make him feel like he can’t do things as well as I can. We are both partners in this household. When we had our daughter, I made sure not hog her away and or put up any barriers. He held her and would try to soothe her. I remember training myself not to run to the rescue when I felt the urge or worried she was crying for too long. Eventually, he did calm her down and still has a special way with her that is irreplaceable and different than my approach. For me this is the feminist blend that I hope to strengthen and is how I “march” in the streets. We are still trying to learn so much about our role as women and I know that the movement is not over. I want it to progress so that more viewpoints are included. That the ambivalence slowly begins to fade. I am raising a daughter, so I feel ever connected to the feminist cause. We certainly don’t feel entitled, especially when we see that women still struggle for equality all around the world. And if it takes some marching, we will make time for that too, with our kids in tow of course.