Wherever you place your lawn chair on the political field, there’s no denying that we’ve reached a pivotal point in U.S. history. Two-hundred and forty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and 97 years after women were granted the right to vote, this country has FINALLY nominated for President a woman representing a major political party.
It’s already been more than 30 years since Geraldine Ferraro, after all. And other countries around the world have reached this milestone long before the U.S.—you know, the supposed most-progressive country around, having been founded on freedom from tyranny and all that. Just a quick glance around the globe shows us that we’re behind the times. Countries and cultures that many here in the States view as less progressive than us have welcomed female leaders well before us. And the Earth never stopped turning.
I was born at the tail end of the American Feminist Movement, nine years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and five years after the formation of the National Organization of Women. Shirley Chisholm made a run at the presidency when I wasn’t yet a year old. Raised in feminism’s heyday, it’s hard to know what it was like growing up a girl in previous generations. Me? I don’t remember ever being told that I was “less than” growing up and, while I didn’t know it then, I come from a line of kick-ass women.
My paternal grandmother came over from Poland with her sister in the 1920s, worked, went back, married my grandfather and came back over. That’s THREE times on an immigrant ship. My maternal grandmother got rid of her husband in the days when few women sought divorce. My own mother went back to work when I was 7, raised four kids, and still somehow found time for the League of Women Voters, starting a Girl Scout Troop, carpooling to various kid activities, and so much more. My dad, a civil engineer by day and a woodworker by choice, set up a kid’s workbench in the basement workshop—with its own vise and other tools—so all four of us could build along with him, regardless of our gender.
I attended an all-women college, and spent three years bewildered (the fourth year was abroad, in England, and not bewildering, but definitely bewitching). The implications of an education at Rutgers-Douglass College—even though I was one of a handful of Douglass Scholars–were lost on me at the time. I, who had typically preferred the company of men, suddenly found myself in a roiling pot of feminist agenda; the offshoot of the bra-burning generation. I realize now that I spent my time there removed from it all by a thin veil of disdain and disbelief, going through the motions I needed to go through to graduate and get the hell out. Truthfully, I may have benefited more, and made some lasting connections, if I’d removed the chip from my shoulder.
But even now, with the chip off and the veil fully removed, I still take issue with the brand of feminism—still sometimes referred to as feminazism—that all but demands retribution for years of oppression. I don’t tend to embrace extremes, and I don’t think the way to adjust a pendulum is to swing it entirely the other way. Opposite extremes in the real world don’t average out to make things right, in the same way that retribution doesn’t make things right; it just mires us in the past even longer. Retribution keeps us stuck on the hamster wheel for a lifetime.
I shrunk away from the militancy of the feminist movement that demanded the wholesale eradication of the “old white man” curriculum and the use of the term “history” in favor of “herstory.” There’s no complete panacea for years of neglect. But there are obvious places we should be by now, and the goal of gender equality should have been reached long ago. Instead, it’s been like a century-long game of Candyland, where every step forward results in three steps back.
Today, I’ve grown much more aware of the hazards of being a female in a (still) male world. The things I just accepted as part of life—the car keys held self-defensively in my hand as I walk alone to my car, my body parts touched by strangers in passing, my second-guessing of a walk in the woods by myself—I now recognize as the products of sexism that they are. While I’ve learned to deal with it, I inherently want better for my daughter.
I was 12 when Ferraro was a candidate for vice president of the U.S., and women, no matter their political affiliation, held their collective breath. My own daughter is now 12, and a woman was just nominated as a presidential candidate for the U.S. This is an important move forward. To use another board game metaphor, it may finally be time for us to go directly to Go! And once we get there, let’s make sure women collect the full $200 prize, and not just 79% of it.
©2016 Rachel L. MacAulay All Rights Reserved