After hearing the rave reviews, we just started watching Mad Men on DVD. After only two episodes I understand how compelling the show is, not just because of clever dialog set in a fascinating time, but because it is like watching a well orchestrated car wreck. Red meat, chain smoking, drinks before noon, these are nothing compared to the devastating treatment that every woman on the show endures. It is like watching a worst case scenario doomsday movie, but then you realize it’s not fantasy. These women could be my grandmothers and they were on the front lines of this seemingly impossible war against militant, but oh-so-gentile, sexism every day.
Discovering feminism in college was like finding out there were new shades on the color wheel. I was born in 1979 and have never withstood a fraction of what women fifty years ago met each day, but I took to the canon of modern feminism like that fish on a bicycle took to water. Exploring my identity as a woman gave me the Goddess, a sense of independence, and inspired my entire academic path. It also armed me against a few of the demeaning pitfalls that mark the experiences of most nineteen year old girls.
Almost a decade later, my feminist edge begins to dull and my sharp critique of the media become a little less strident. Removed from the sphere of activism and late night dorm room rants and now living with a man who teaches me to laugh at my own earnestness, I have shed most of my intense radicalism. Though my liberal backbone remains strong, I find that opinions intended to shock and exclude the uninitiated hold little allure now. I had to marinate in the purest feminist ideals so that I could eventually emerge a woman who could survive in a world that may not be as damning as 1960s New York, but certainly still nurtures chauvinism and enduring double standards.
I cannot be alone in this sort of evolution from blatant f-you feminism to a more internalized sense of power and presence. Two of the most important voices in my feminist education seem to have found themselves on similar path: Sinead O’Connor and Ani DiFranco.
“No Man’s Woman” and “Not a Pretty Girl“? These were my anthems and I still need them sometimes to remind me of who I was, of the bits of steal at the foundation of this softer persona I now use to greet the world. Sinead has since had her own odyssey of faith and discovery and speaks to God rather than the men in her life in albums like Theology. Ani just released Red Letter Year, and though I will probably never love her newer music like I did those essential first eleven or twelve albums (yeah, she’s wicked prolific), I still respect what she is creating. The righteous rage still burns, but she looks at the world as a mother now, and as I near that phase of my life, I think I can understand how her anger smolders at a different temperature. The love of a lioness for her cub is much more evocative than rebellion for the sake of pissing someone off, and her music speaks to me in this new space
When I skip the feminist blogs I used to read avidly and instead seek sites about the soul, the environment, creativity, or the politics of race, am I abandoning the feminism that gave me freedom to engage in such topics? Or, instead, can I satisfy myself with the belief that the ideas are integral to my work and that women’s wisdom is working its magic at every turn? Can I find a way to follow my own path without worrying that I forget my sisters who redraw their feminist stripes every day so that the rest of us do not have to?