Virginia Woolf said “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Despite the fact that I grew up in a time and place where this sort of forced anonymity had lessened, I still see it rearing its ugly head on a regular basis. I don’t think feminism has outlived its usefulness, and I don’t think it should be seen as a dirty word. We, and I mean all of us, still have work to do to get over the gender-based hang-ups that make a mess of things.
What puzzles me sometimes is how we go about continuing this work. Being female is different than it was two thousand years ago, hopefully better for most, and I think it’s important to acknowledge the progress that’s been made. At the same time, I’m not ready to sit on my feminist laurels and assume that it’s all fixed. Things have to be Pepto Bismol pink in order to be declared fit for use by females. There are still career fields that are seen as more suitable for one sex than for the other. There are still classes that teach women how to do something as simple as walk through a parking lot without getting attacked. Nope, we’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.
About a year ago, I was reading a book to a little girl. It was about one of the first young women in China to attend university, and I thought it was lovely. The small person listening, however, was puzzled. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the narrative or the pictures, and it wasn’t that I hadn’t read it with enough enthusiasm. She was confused because she just didn’t grasp the crisis of the story. It had never occurred to her that girls wouldn’t be allowed to go to school, and the notion that there had to be a first, and that it was a big deal, seemed almost ridiculous to her. When I explained it to her, she furrowed her brow and said “That makes no sense.”
This is where I think feminism has to live, in that moment where the gender gap makes no sense, where the built-up layers of history are seen as something that can be easily peeled away. This isn’t innocence or naivete, it’s an untainted sort of logic. I want to somehow freeze that mindset, preserve that matter-of-factness. Someone tell me how we get big people back to their default settings, so they can furrow their collective brows and agree that in a lot of cases, “That makes no sense.”