I’m Laura, a new blogger to Paradigm Shift and a feminist living in the NYC area (Jersey City, to be exact) who is interested in the use of the female voice in literature and who is fascinated by some of history’s lesser-known feminist trailblazers.
My blogs will often be personal essays, so I thought an appropriate way to introduce myself would be by telling you about my introduction to feminism, my click moment.
As a teen, I always believed music influenced my feminism. My introduction to bands like Bikini Kill and Tilt fueled my growing teenage feminist fire. When asked to recount my click moment, I had always told the story of my first time at Warped Tour. In the summer following 9th grade I watched in awe as the Lunachicks performed. Theo Kogan’s stage performance convinced me I needed to dive into this thing called feminism and on the way home that night, something felt different. Something had changed. I had experienced my click moment.
Or so I thought…
As I look back now I realize although this was the moment that got me labeling myself as a feminist, and putting my time behind feminist causes, I had been a feminist-in-training for quite some time. This is because of the strong feminist influence in my household. Although I don’t think my mother would label herself a feminist, my mother was my original feminist model. In fact, thanks to my mother, when I was no more than six or seven I experienced my “mini-click.”
My mother’s unconventional stances helped shape the way I view women, marriage, and beauty. And her influence began with her appearance. My mother has always kept very short hair and she has never worn any make up. She doesn’t own any. My mother has never dyed her hair. As I grew, I watched her once black hair lighten as more gray became introduced. Now in my twenties, I watch that gray turn into white. When my mother changed careers in her mid-fifties, she found job interviews difficult, as her gray hair was a definitive sign of age. She lamented, but stood her ground, vowing to get hired because she was competent and willing (at any age) to work hard. This was not the first time my mother faced resistance in the work force. My mother studied to become a chemist in the late sixties. She was the only woman in her graduate classes and upon graduation she entered into a male-dominated field. In both instances my mother refused to give up. And in both my mother prevailed.
My father also worked in the sciences for many years. In fact, my parents were set up through a chemist my mother went to school with. My parents eventually married, and when my father proposed, my mother made a request. In lieu of an engagement ring, my mother asked for a cedar chest. Considering hope chests have long been an object associated with a female’s dowry, this reversal was rather unusual, but my father delivered. Learning the story of the chest that remains at the foot of my parent’s bed was an eye-opening moment in my childhood, however, it was not my mini-click.
When I was little, I always helped my mother send out the mail. It was one of our earliest traditions. My first true taste of independence came when my mother deemed me old enough to walk to the end of my block to deposit letters into the mailbox (although my independence was less about age and more about height, as I was given this task only once I was tall enough to see over the hood of a car). But before I could make my trek to the mailbox, I helped my mother seal the envelopes. I licked the stamp, licked the envelope, and would put on the return address label. This seemingly ordinary task was my introduction to feminism. I remember looking at my mother’s return labels, all of which began with the word “Ms.” This word was new to me. I had not learned “Ms.” in school. I remember asking my mother what “Ms.” meant. She looked up from writing out an address and said it was a prefix that could be used instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.” She went on to explain that just as “Mr.” didn’t change if a man were married, neither did “Ms.” It made one’s marital status irrelevant.
I was in awe. The idea that a woman could chose not to be defined by anyone but herself struck a chord with six-year-old me. It seemed that everything about the mail bred independence. It was in that moment that I knew once I got return address labels of my own, I too would be a “Ms.”
Your mother sounds reminds me a lot of my mother; strong, opinionated, and not always the easiest to get along with. But through these personality traits, I have come to know a woman I deeply respect.