Why We Still Need Feminists

We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.

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typing-pool
Typing pool, circa 1950’s. (Photo: Wikipedia.com)

I graduated high school in 1995, having never taken one elective class I’d really wanted to take. Every year I asked my mom, and every year she told me she would refuse to sign off on any schedule in which I tried to register for the class.

 

Keyboarding.
This was just before the advent of the internet, when everyone was on a computer, mobile or otherwise, at all times. Keyboarding, at that time, was a legitimate endeavor. Mainly, you were taught how to type without looking at all at your hands, with your fingers in set positions on a QWERTY keyboard. You were taught to type with decreasing typos and increasing speed.
She flat out refused to let me take it.
For me, the class was a chance to hang out with a different set of kids. I was always in Honors classes, which meant I generally moved through my day surrounded by the same group of classmates. Electives were my chance to maybe sit next to a new guy or see my best friend who didn’t take any Honors classes.
My mom wasn’t having it.
Sure, there were other electives. But orchestra, which I took every year, tended to have mostly those same Honors students in it. Art was a good mix of kids, until I ran out of art classes to take and took an AP Studio Art class that allowed me to take photography as an independent study.
There were five kids in that class.
I’d ask her why and she always answered that there were so many electives available to me. Pick another one.
Within a year of my graduation, the internet exploded with dial up and AOL and chat rooms.
I was working part time for my mom and her friend the summer after graduation. They’d started their own benefits consulting firm. My dad had left the previous year and my mom needed to earn more money in order to support us alone, so her and her friend figured that was their best shot at higher salaries. Paying themselves.
She’d give me a document or letter to type up and I’d tease her.
I could be typing this way quicker if you’d have let me take keyboarding.
She’d give me a smartass reply and move on.
That fall I started college at a private, four-year university nearby to which I earned a partial scholarship. Two weeks later, without discussing it with my mother, I went down to the registrar and signed myself out.
She’d had to declare bankruptcy and sell our home after my dad left. We were living in an apartment, her and my brother and I, and she was trying to make her new business work so she could better support us. It felt like, at the time, the best thing I could do was not strap her with more debt. Not be another source of worry for her. I felt it was best if I got out and got myself a full time job and supported myself. So I found one and quit school before we were responsible for any tuition.
That night we sat at our kitchen table discussing what I’d done.
She looked tired.
You always said you wanted to be a lawyer.
I shrugged. Yeah, well I’m not really feeling that anyway. I’d be racking up all this debt when I don’t really know what I even want to do.
My mom wasn’t having it. She begged and cried and I was stubborn and cried. Then she finally told me.
I never let you take that stupid keyboarding class because I wanted you to have all the opportunities I never had. When I went to school, all the girls were told to take keyboarding. Because if you weren’t going to be a teacher or a nurse, you were going to be a secretary somewhere until you found a guy to marry you. Which is exactly what I did. I never let you take that class because I wanted you to be in a position where you could hire your own fucking secretary if you needed something typed.
 
___________________________________________
Men, and often women, comment on my writing about feminism.
You want equal rights? You got ’em. Shut up already.
What are you even marching for?
I have never felt inferior to men. I earn the same as them. I don’t know what you people are talking about.
It doesn’t seem to matter to these people what our national statistics say. Or that the statistics are even worse for some minorities.
I am a feminist because we are not treated as equals.
 
Our pay is not equal. Our representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect my health and body, and that is not equal.
I am a feminist because minority men and women are not treated as equals.
 
Their pay is not equal. Their representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect their health and bodies, and that is not equal.

Putting aside all of that, I am a feminist because our hold on these freedoms you claim we have feels tenuous, at best.

We’re not talking about generations of freedom. One generation ago my mother had to take a keyboarding class in order to graduate high school because that, typing out letters, was considered her best option for employment until she got married.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she was legally allowed to have a credit card in her name. And that was only because a female congresswoman, unbeknownst to her colleagues, added the language banning discrimination based on sex and marriage. The law was going to be passed without it.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother and could legally be fired from her job for getting pregnant.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she could even report sexual harassment. Actually, make that less than a generation ago. Because sexual harassment wasn’t legally defined until I was three years old. 
Less than a generation ago? In MY lifetime, my mother still could be excluded from being on a jury because she was a woman. Still could legally be discriminated against in regards to housing and credit because she was a woman. Still had her husband considered “head and master” by many states in regards to jointly owned property. Still could be legally passed up for promotion in a law firm for being a woman. Until I was 16 years old, it was still legal in some states to rape your spouse. Until I was 16, a woman had to prove she’d been physically or psychologically harmed in order to claim she’d been sexually harassed. (Click here for a quick reference to all the claims made in this paragraph.)
Just because you personally are not experiencing something, doesn’t mean others, elsewhere, aren’t experiencing it. Women across the country are earning less than their male counterparts. We are severely underrepresented in government. That includes local and state representation, not just federal. We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.
So I’m a feminist. You don’t have to agree with me, but it would be nice if you stopped trying to tell me to give it up.
Either way, I’ll still be a feminist. For all of us.

The Tiny Green Pig I Keep Giving Away

8603999856_8930354694_bPhoto Credit: Thomas van de Vosse Flickr via Compfight cc

“We knew something was wrong when he asked for Mommy. He never asks for you.”

I’d just arrived to pick up my three year old from daycare and that’s what his teacher tells me. I laugh, and she apologizes, but it’s fine because I know what she meant.

He’s my tough guy. I held him the first time and couldn’t get over this sense thatsomething was wrong. A week after his birth I couldn’t shake it and told my mom.

“He just doesn’t seem as hearty as his older brother always seemed.”

We agreed it was just because his brother was born a mini linebacker and so the 1.5 pound difference was throwing me for a loop.

Over the next three years he was chronically sick. Thankfully nothing life threatening. But by the age of three he’d already had two surgeries and anitbiotics were becoming a concern. He’d had so many of them, so frequently, that we were worried about him building an immunity to them.

All of which solidified for me the trust I feel for my intuition when it comes to my kids. The connection I feel to them.

He’d been relatively well though the previous six months. “He doesn’t have a fever,” his teacher said, “And it was almost time for you to arrive anyway, so we didn’t call.”

He was lying on a cot, all mushy and tired. I scooped him up and, together with his older brother, we made our way home.

Once there, he seemed fine. A bit tired. He was resting on the couch but laughed and played with his brother. I was getting ready to cook when I heard it.

“Ow. OwowowowowOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!”

I ran into the living room in time to see him leap up from the couch clutching his right lower back.

Within two minutes we were in the car and I was on the phone with my husband telling him we were headed to the hospital.

My gut reaction was that it was his appendix. The whole ride to the hospital I only half watched the road. My eyes pulled to the rearview mirror that I’d aimed at his car seat in the back. I hated that I really had no idea where the appendix was in the human body at that moment. What kind of mother am I? It’s in the general lower back area, right?

That voice returned. Loud. Something is wrong with him. Relentless, the entire ride there. The entire time we waited to be seen. Even as he perked up in the waiting room and started horsing around with his brother. Climbing up the plastic burnt orange chairs and leaping off to land in a squat on two feet.

When we were called into triage the nurse gave me side eye. “His appendix, you say,” she said with a smirk. Then she asked him to stand on the table and she held his little hands. He was never afraid of people. Of anything really. He took her hands without hesitation and she asked him to jump in place. He obliged, with his grin that lit up any room that tried to hold it.

The nurse looked back at me as he hopped like a kangaroo while holding her hands. “Typically the first sign of an appendix problem is that when they jump, they scream in pain.”

I gave her a wan smile. He didn’t have a fever. He didn’t have any pain. Right now. Yes, he’s got quite a bit of energy for a sick kid. But I repeated what happened, from the daycare pickup to the living room.

“Always trust your gut, Mom,” she said. “We’ll call him back soon.”

Once called back he was given a gown and we waited. My husband arrived and I told him to go home and eat with our older son because I was sure we’d be waiting. And I was half sure we’d be sent home with a diagnosis of neurotic mom.

A doctor examined him and at this point he’d started to run a bit of a fever. They drew some blood and gave him some tylenol.

A family arrived in the next bed. A grandmother who’d fallen ill, with her daughter, son-in-law, and grown granddaughter. We exchanged smiles whenever our eyes met. All of us waiting for test results or more tests ordered. They thought the grandmother may have had a stroke. They couldn’t get my son’s fever down. His blood tests came back normal. Hers came back inconclusive.

The doctor returned to tell me they wanted a CAT scan. Despite thinking it wasn’t his appendix, they wanted to be sure. He would have to drink half a bottle of oral contrast. A thick, white, chalky drink that I kept trying to convince him was a milkshake.

He knew I was straight up lying to his face after the first sip.

With every sip he looked at me like I was nuts. “It will help the doctor figure out how to make you feel better,” I told him. The moments between sips started lasting longer. It became harder and harder to convince him to take just a few more.

Before long, the young girl from the family in the next bed area joined us. Her mother soon after. The three of us laughing and cajoling my son into drinking the heinous substance. Performing like circus monkeys.

My stomach turned watching him struggle to work up the fortitude to bring the bottle to his mouth once more. The mother would sneak off to go check on her elderly mother in the next bed. She’d tell her mother, in Spanish, about the little boy and how cute he was, even though the old woman never responded. The young girl would translate for me.

It felt like days, but I’m sure was just 20 – 30 minutes or so, before a nurse came by to say he had to drink just a little bit more. At this point he was lying back on the bed, his cheeks flushed. Despite the tylenol doses they had repeated, his fever kept rising. They needed him to consume enough contrast to get into the CAT scan as soon as possible.

The young girl leaned in and told my son about her tiny green pig.

She held up her key chain so that it dangled before him.

There, among the keys and a few other random keychains, hung a squat, almost circular, see through plastic pig the color of emeralds. It was a thick acrylic, solid, but only about one inch in size.

She told my son that it was her favorite thing in the world and that it had always been there for her, ever since she was a little girl. But if he drank just a bit more, he could have it.

As long as he promised to one day give it to someone else who needed it more.

So he did. He promised and he gulped down more of his drink. She handed him the pig and she and her parents celebrated, clapping and gushing over what a brave, big boy he was being.

Minutes later we were wheeled in for the CAT scan. They shot dye through his IV and the very second it hit his arm he started screaming. My boy who hadn’t uttered a peep through the blood tests and drinking that awful shit they made him drink and getting an IV and taking tylenol, was now screaming blue bloody murder.

By the time we were wheeled back to our bed area, he was spent. Flushed, exhausted, whimpering, and with a fever they couldn’t bring down. The nurses took the blanket off him, pushed his gown down past his shoulders, and brought him ice pops he had no interest in. He sat and shivered, silent fat tears rolling down his bright red cheeks.

The family from next door cooed over him and frowned. He clutched the green pig in his burning hand, but didn’t have any smiles left to offer them when they tried to make him laugh.

A few minutes later the grandmother was wheeled away. We all wished each other luck, and the young girl told my son she knew he would be fine. “Take care of the pig,” she said. “But give it away when he’s needed.”

The doctor returned with the CAT scan results.

“It isn’t his appendix,” he said, “But we did find something.”

Only a split second between that statement and the next. Between the vague we found something and the reality of that something. Between my life as I knew it and what could possibly come next. Between my son, the beat of my heart, andsomething.

“The scan ended up picking up the very, very bottom of his right lung and it’s filled with fluid. He has pneumonia.”


He stayed in the hospital for three days, as a precaution they said. Over and over again, nurses told me what a tough guy he must be for him to have pneumonia like that and not complain. That’s just how he was. Brave and stoic. Through all the illnesses he had up to that point. The two surgeries. All the medicine, some of it vile, that he’d taken in his short three years.

He held the pig the entire time he was in the hospital.

After getting back home, when the newness of the pig wore off and I frequently found it laying around, I took the pig from him. We kept it on a shelf in his room and often he’d ask to hear the story of the pig. Of the young girl who gave up her “prized possession” and what it meant. How she thought of him even while she was worried for her grandmother. How she trusted him to give the pig away when he decided someone needed it.

In the years since, the pig was lost. I admit to being upset when I first discovered it was missing. But I’ve never, ever forgotten about that pig. We still tell the story of the pig. And I know now the pig itself doesn’t need to be in our hands. We don’t need to give it away.

We just need to never forget it. What it meant for her to give it away and for us to receive it.

I give that pig away every chance I get.

Until writing this, I’d never thought before of googling “green acrylic pig keychain” just to see if actually popped up. Google never disappoints. Same pig, minus the lettering.

My Mechanic’s Broken Thing 

Photo by Allison Bedford

He patched and painted the ceiling in the dining room after I took a step in the attic without the knowlege that one must only step on the beams.

One year, our Christmas tree just would not stay up. Until he screwed the stand to the floor. Right through the carpet.

I’ve watched him open up computers, fiddle around, button them back up and suddenly they work again. But once they’re loaded up, he’s got no use for them.

He has six children. Six times (Daddy, fix this times the number of toys each child has owned and/or touched and/or played with) plus (the number of friends who have visited our house times all the toys they’ve broken while here or brought because the toy was broken and they wanted him to fix it) equals roughly a metric fuck-ton of broken. 

No child has ever walked away without a working toy and a hug.

Ever.

He’s fixed tons of motorcycles, including that one I wanted to try. That little Sportster a woman rode. So I said, “Hey I bet I could ride that! Let me walk it into the garage!”

He stood back. I hopped on, kicked up the kickstand, took one step forward and then just keeled over to the side, unable to hold up the weight of the bike.

He fixed that, too.

Cars. Appliances. Skinned knees. Bruised egos.

He’s fixed all that.

The one thing I love the most, I can’t fix.

He’s said that to me a lot over the last three years. With a sigh and a sense of regret so thick I sometimes can’t breathe in the same room with it.

It’s not your job to.

That’s always my response. With a sigh and a sense of shame so thick I feel my throat closing.

Only I can fix me. We both know that.

But I’m no mechanic.

I flounder, searching for things that will work. Things I can manage. Things that will stick. 

Therapy and vitamins. BDSM and yoga. Old friends and new. Reading and writing. 

Changing how I view myself and the world around me. Changing how I confront the things that make me uncomfortable. Changing my life and how I want to live it.

That’s a lot of change to try and understand, let alone embrace.

He can’t fix me.

But every time he hugs me and tells me he’s proud . . . 

Every time he sits with his discomfort while I flit about in the breeze . . . 

Every time he lands a kiss on my forehead and a good girl in my ear . . . 

Every time he supports and encourages . . . 

He helps put a piece back in place.

He’s a mechanic who loves nothing more than when things are fixed. 

Except me. Even if I’m broken.