My mother was part of the 70's feminist movement. Back then, she drove a battered Toyota Celica with a spider cracked windshield, and the de-hinged driver seat was held in place by a bike rack, but the bumper was plastered with stickers that read: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" and "Question Authority" and "Women, Take Back the Night." When she attended assertiveness training seminars, I listened. I eavesdropped on her conversations with her womens group about all the things that kept women back. I got to march in an ERA rally, and we went to many female centric festivals where I walked comfortably among a radical community of artists and lesbians and Buddhists and Sikhs and jewish mystics and tie-dyed psychics and healers and dreadlocked goddess worshipers and crystal-toting witches and professors and philosophic lay abouts. I loved them all.
And yet I went to a Catholic elementary school where the girls weren't allowed play with the boys and where we had to wear dresses as uniforms. I was confused. The God represented at school seemed exclusionary and wrong. I felt I was being tested by a higher spirit to fight the injustice presented to me. I felt I had to carry on the battle as I was taught outside of the school walls, like I was a child solider for women's rights. I played kick ball and dodgeball with the boys regardless of the rules. I got into shoving matches with boys as I stood my ground against their ignorance. I'd say things like, "Tatum O'Neil is a good actor." While my classmates shouted that she was an AC-TRESS. And I'd say, "Men and women act so they are both actors." I could never get this to catch on. In fourth grade, my mother was called by the principal because I nonchalantly questioned the priest's stand on abortion in front of my class and my teacher. He was making a passing comment about the evils in the world and after he rattled off abortion as one of them, I raised my hand and said, "What if a girl is raped or in trouble or can't have a baby?" I remember the room going mute. They were aghast, looking at each other. I was regurgitating the feminist rhetoric for sure because they were the ones that shouted that I could do anything. They were the ones that celebrated goddessness and the power of my girlhood. Not the red-faced priests or the nuns in bondage.
At the end of fourth grade, I signed up for the annual talent show. When I told my mother that I was going to participate, she said, "What will you do? Dribble a basketball across the stage?" Which I felt was a fucked thing to say considering all her boisterous friends claimed I could DO ANYTHING. Everyday after school I practiced my act. I put on the music and did my thing for hours until my mother got home from work. When she took me to the auditorium the night of the talent show, she still did not know what I was going to do. I handed Sister Mary Theresa my album and told her to play the first song. I walked out on stage and though I was nearly blinded by the lights overhead I could see many parents and the smattering black and white of the priests' suits and the nuns' habits. My music began and at the top of my nine year old voice I belted out Helen Reddy's I Am Woman. "I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore and I know too much to go back and pre-t-e-e-end." I could hear giggles in the audience, but that didn't make me feel bad. I felt they were diggin it. When the bridge came, I really went for it: "Wwhhoooa, YES I am wise, but it's wisdom born of pa-in. Yes, I paid the price, but look how much I've gained. I am strong. STRONG. I am invincible. INVINCIBLE. I am wwoooo-mmaannn!" I was thrilled, man. I felt charged by saying things so powerful so loudly, and I could see my mother just beyond the lights sitting on a fold-out chair with her mouth slightly open.
Afterward, the nuns laughed and shook their heads at me. They made comments that I took too many vitamins and that if they didn't watch me close enough I'd be "swinging from the chandeliers." But I really thought I was the child solider. That I was fighting the good fight.
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