Defining 45 and Feminism

Photo of Flying Crow and me, on the Divide. By Kate Seely.

 

Following is an essay I wrote earlier in the year.  It’s long winded as I tend to be and of a different subject matter than I tend to cover. But thought I’d share it with you while I’m still 45…

 

I feel so far from what I thought a feminist should be. In any case, surely I am not your average feminist (if ever there was such a thing). I simply do not look the part.

Now isn’t that a funny thought?  What does a feminist look like? So you think you know?

Some of us have a preconceived notion based on our own experiences.  My experiences started early and started strong.  It was the late 60’s or early 70’s.  I was a young child.  My mother had meetings in the house; women’s meetings, League of Women’s Voters and ERA and PTA and what else I don’t know if I ever knew or asked.  But there were powerful memories of powerful women walking with such confidence through my front door with broad smiles, clear eyes, always I remember their eyes, looking down at me with a twinkle and a wink as wonderful as Peter Pan only real and quite large.

I was on the worn and faded Persian rug that defined the dark wood entrance, rolling back like a dog on scratchy wool and dark jewel colors, looking up at these women, my goddesses. I did not believe in Cinderella or want to be a fairy princess. (Peter Pan? Perhaps.) Although I have no idea what they were there to meet about, I was certain then that these women defined power, strength, wisdom, and goodness.  They were my role models and heroes.  They defined what I would strive to be.

They were women, all women, sturdy and tall and old and wise, or so they seemed from my little-girl-on-the-rug point of view.  And I remember looking up at these solid women with those clear eyes that would look me back directly, their short trimmed hair framing broad faces devoid of most makeup except the true red lipstick which was so common back then. They wore thick wool skirts to the middle of the knee, or at least that is what it looked like from down there on the rug.  Pantyhose, medium tan nylon that felt smooth and rubbery when I’d reach out to touch them.  And sensible shoes.  Always sensible shoes. Black or brown and low heels so you knew if you tried to run, they could still catch you. A fact that instilled both fear and safety to the observer.

They were giants from my horizontal perception and at once I felt secure and wanted to be like them.

Funny the things we remember.

That is how my feminist roots were formed.

But look at me now. I am not like they were. I am married and bake bread and am helping to get my son ready for college. Tell me, why do you suppose I thought they did not?

Somehow I still feel so different from them. I do not go to meetings. I run my own small business from home. I have long hair and wear a size one and cowboy boots…. Does this make me less of a feminist than they were?

Of course it is not in my appearance, but in my thoughts. That’s where the problem lays, the problem of uncertainty of the state of my feminism.

Here I am at almost 45 (doesn’t that sound more definitive that 44?) trying to call myself a feminist, but doubting myself.  Why? Well, what have I done to prove I am? I don’t have to organize, work together and fight for our rights as they did.  Or do I?

I seek to define a feminist so that I can find my own place and hopefully clarify who I am.  Don’t we all need to do that to some degree? Of course what I am hoping to find is that I am indeed a feminist.  I can be defined.  I belong.

To begin with, I ask myself, and I suppose you should ask yourself too, what is the average feminist?  I suppose she is something different for each of us, as long as it includes a strong woman with a sense of self. A good deal of which is based upon the impressions we formed as a child, and throughout our lives.  Many of us painted a picture of what a feminist looks like, acts like, is.

What is she?  Who is she?

I say again:  a strong woman with a sense of self. Wavering at times, or so I am learning, as we still are human, and I have yet to meet one who can stand up against it all.  But she has the ability to stand tall when need be, when she really needs to, when it really matters.  For her children, her partner, her work, her beliefs, her choices, her country, her self.

Is that enough to define what a feminist is?  I can define her how I choose, I suppose, since I don’t see many from my generation telling me otherwise.  Us forty-somethingers.  We are a quiet group. We consider ourselves feminists and benefit from the work of others and reach out just a little bit to pave new roads for those who come after, but the formula is ever changing, as is the definition.  Rather than staying focused on the single goal ahead, be it equal rights, equal pay, or opened doors, we simply slide into place at the board or kitchen table (or both) and assume we are welcome, and wonder why we may get sideways glances from the men – and women – seated beside us.

Without those meetings I remember as I child to clarify the image in my own thoughts, I wonder what happened to feminism?  Where is it now? It spread out.  It became mainstream. That’s good and that’s bad.  Good because maybe it means it is everywhere and so common we don’t even notice it is there any more.  Bad because we take it for granted now and no longer fight for it.  We risk letting it slip away.

So I find myself grasping to ensure I don’t lose what others fought so hard to give me, and wonder if I am doing enough for those who come after. What can I do? Start by thinking, as I am doing here and now. Considering my place. Defining feminism and my place, my role.  Start by understanding who I am as a woman and what am I willing to do to retain my rights, my choices, my place.

Now is the time for me to consider this as I approach losing my definition of “mother” next year when my only child heads off for college.  Where does that leave me? I seek self definitions.  I feel lost without. What words will suit me? Forty-five.  Middle aged.  Married.  I need more.  How do I define myself now?

I begin by defining where I am.  I am softly settling into my middle years.

Next year I’ll turn forty five.  I’m in the middle, I guess.  The middle of my life, of the world around me, of the family I’ve raised and the grandchildren I await.  My middle years.

I define myself as “in my forties.”  Can I say “mid life?”  I can, but do not.  I’m still too young for that, I think.  So where am I?

In between my friends who have grandchildren, great grandchildren and back pain and contemplate or enjoy retirement and are tired of the cold – and those who have little ones or no children at all, no career or land or marriages under their belt to feel the discomfort of the tightness a little bit of age brings.  Just a little bit.  I still feel as fit as when I was twenty.  Maybe more so. But I no longer want to wear the tight jeans and short skirts.  I’m learning to dress like a woman.  More simple.  More refined.  Classier, my mother says.  Finally…

Who teaches us these things?  Do we have role models that show us how to define “growing up” and “middle aged?” And if so, who would our role models be? Believe me, I don’t strive to look like those ladies who came to meetings in my mother’s house back in 1972.

And yet at times I am left feeling lost. I imagine I am not the only one. I’m starting to think I am part of or the product of a lost generation, or perhaps a mere sub generation. It is hard to define.  I do not feel we are defining ourselves.

We are in between the baby boomers now in their fifties and sixties, and the slackers or millennium generation in their twenties and thirties. They have definitions.  They can fit in and belong. Stereotypes, I’m sure, but such are generational classifications. They still provide us comfort with an all-purpose understanding, a simplicity of what might otherwise be left constantly ambiguous. Such labels allow us a solid sense for belonging or separating, depending on which we choose.

What defines us in our forties?  What is our pigeonhole?  We had no wide spread childhood traumas, connecting wars or colliding rebellion.  We were neither dirt poor nor spoiled rotten.  We listened to southern rock or disco and the five o’clock news and nothing was very radical or exciting but nor did we complain.  We were rather quiet.  What did we stand for, and what did we fight for? What have we given up as we approach and settle into our middle years?

And where are we now? Betwixt and between.  Somewhat solid though I wonder if maybe we are led to believe we never will be.

Interesting to consider.

And as women in this sub generation, we are even more difficult to define.  We do not have boundaries, do not share boundaries, are scattered and separate and do not have our center hold.  We never thought we needed strength in numbers so we spread ourselves thin.  Thin relationships, thin memories, thin ambitions and dreams.

Those before us fought for their place.  Those after us assumed their place was solid.  We saw both sides and know what both feel like just a little bit – the insecurity and confrontation and the expectations and assumptions.

My sub generation didn’t have to fight for it.  We were handed it, fresh and new and exciting.  We took it for granted. Sat back and enjoyed it. We were allowed to choose what we wanted to do with it.  Most of us, the daughters of the women who fought to give us the choice, chose to be mothers and wives and maybe take a career or leave it when our children or husbands needed us. And I still don’t know if this is not perhaps the stronger choice a woman can make, or the weakest.

I am lost.  I seek to find my place.  In desperation, I softly moan and hope to be heard.  Heaven forbid I stand up and scream out.  But what I say is the same.  It is a cry to my feminist roots.

Are we still sisters?

Is feminism still alive and well or is my generation letting it slip away?

What about those that follow me/us?  The young ones.  It is done for them.  The women are equal, aren’t they?  Or are they?  It appears they have nothing left to fight for, and so they don’t.  Perhaps their struggles now are not based on the male/female rift, but on the economy, work ethic, education, a continually expanding urban and global work force.

I suppose we all have our challenges.  What I once felt I would have to fight for perhaps has already been fought.  That battle won. Now I have others to fight, if I dare be so bold. And now I should pay my due respects.

So here’s to that giant of a woman when I was a little girl on the rug.  That one with the sensible shoes and cropped hair and very bold, bright Peter Pan eyes.  Thank you.  I may not look like you, but today, I feel like you.

 

A portrait of a feminist today. This one wearing cowboy boots instead of sensible shoes. Photo by Bob Getz.