The Big F

In thinking about what I can say about this subject, it dawned on me that I am a post civil rights child. Born in 1969, I have only benefited from the people who have fought and struggled for equality in the United States. My parents can tell first-hand accounts of back-of-the-bus treatment, of racial slurs and separate but equal bathrooms, lunch counters, drinking fountains, etc. And my mother can tell stories about having the right to vote back in the day when the majority of people felt she and other women like her were too ignorant to vote.

So when I think of feminism, I’m really benefiting from the toil of others. Most days I feel as if I’m stepping on the backs of the smart, brave, beautiful women who came before me. I appreciate their efforts and am proud to call myself a feminist, and I’m proud of its rich history—all of it.

Over the years, I have wondered about the place of a middle-class black woman in today's society. My problems are just like my non-black counterparts: I worry about everything from the state of the world to the price of milk. Yet, I feel when I go through the doors of a grocery store, I’m looking for other faces of color—female faces of color. Massachusetts is not the most diverse state in the union.

And while I’ve had great job opportunities, I have this constant feeling that I have to work three times as hard to fit in, yet fly under the radar—in other words, I have to be accepted. Not because I worry about job security. It’s because I’m never quite sure I’m being paid as much as the man (or woman) next to me. These are the thoughts I’m constantly having as I black woman. I was born with a healthy sense of skepticism; I question all motives and never take anything at face value.

Irrational or not, digression or not, my feelings about feminism are tied to civil rights. Maybe it all comes under the header of “do unto others.” I’m going to quote a passage I wrote about the Dodge Poetry Festival:

Probably the most important message I took away was something poet Taslima Nasreen said: “We [women] cannot be free until we are all free.” There are women in all corners of the world suffering. Not one of us is safe unless we all have the freedom to live our lives free of oppression.

I cannot imagine a time when I could not vote, work, take birth control pills, wear pants instead of a skirt, sit wherever the hell I wanted, or order dinner instead of cook. As far as I’m concerned, these are inalienable rights.

So what are the five things feminism has given me?

The right to choose
The right to vote
The right to use contraception
The right to smash the glass ceiling
The right to wear pants

(Thanks Twitches and Chief Biscuit for helping me tap into my inner feminist. If you're reading this and want to try this meme, consider yourself tagged.)


Kristine said…
Great post.
Looks like we are the same age. I too feel like I have to work three times harder than my counterparts. I was watching a movie recently where they called that "black tax". I'd never heard of that...
I'm glad you wrote about feminism. I remember as a kid listening to my mom talk with some friends and one of the men would inevitably say, " That's because you are a feminist!" to my mom. I did not know what the word meant but I knew whenever that guy said that remark, there would be a lively debate just around the corner...
chiefbiscuit said…
Oh thanks January ... I got such a shock to see my name ... I am humbled (I don't want that to sound silly - but I am.) I can only imagine the undercurrents in your life. I admire the strength you convey in your blog - the way you personify for me the song 'Black Pearl' - what a beautiful song that is - what beautiful people we all are - all of us women! :)
twitches said…
Watch out for that birth control one - the right-wing faction wants that right to go away, too.
bostonerin said…
I look at what the women who have come before me have done and I'm amazed, too. In the times that we live in, we can take a lesson from their activism.

The other thing that I struggle with, as a feminist, is the culture that we've created where women don't support one another--where success is whispered about, beauty is the end-all be all, and we take one another down a peg instead of raising all of us up a notch.
January said…
Kristine, you'll have to tell me about the movie you watched.

CB, I love reading your blog. The honor is mine, and the admiration is mutual.

Twitches, I'm worried that Roe v. Wade will disappear if another Chief Justice is replaced under the Bush Administration.

Erin, yes it's disheartening that women sometimes tear each other down as soon as they get to the next level.
ren.kat said…
I am new to blogging, but while surfing around (mostly with the pt links) I have seen this meme and it makes me so happy. I grew up taking feminism for granted. I never thought that being a woman would make any difference in my life. To be honest, it rarely has, but now I see that so many of my generation take it so much for granted they don't see the slipping away of respect and equality. I'm familiar with this soapbox so I'll stop here so as not to spam your blog- but thank you. (AND thanks so much for the Oliver poem- one of my absolute favorites!) I'll be back.

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