“I’ll need your husband’s social security number.”
“Why? I’m the one paying the bills. My name is on the account.”
“I’ll need his information in order to give you any information. Sorry, that’s the procedure.”
My hatred could fill a football stadium. I hate the woman on the phone, the bank she works for, and my husband. I’m 65. I earn half our income. I have a Ph.D. for Christ’s sake. I am not good enough to access our joint bank account? Her tone, her insistence, throws me back 40 years.
I am singed.
When I was a very young woman and first married, I always had to go to the grocery store with my husband. He was the one with the checking account. He wrote the checks. That’s how it was. Months before, I had jettisoned the name my parents had given me and taken his. I had my Social Security card changed. I still have it, my signature written in teenage upright round letters, it’s a wonder I didn’t put a little heart for the dot on the “i” in my new name.
When I was divorced, I contemplated changing my name back to my birth name but, not liking it all that much, I considered by grandmother’s surname. I was suspended in indecision for months until I read an academic article on African American names in which the author noted that surnames were meaningless because, essentially, they were all slave names.
I thought to myself, every single name I would take is a man’s name, all the lineage is patriarchal. It doesn’t matter if I keep my married name or go back to my birth name or take another name because, you know what?, they’re all slave names. It doesn’t matter. It just really doesn’t matter one good God damn. So I kept my married name after I was divorced. It didn’t matter. It was, as they say, six of one, half dozen of the other.
There is something wrong with me. My frame of reference is all screwed up. I don’t live in the now. I live in the past. The oppression I feel is decades old, historical, quaint.
The women who were thrown in jail for organizing for the right to vote? I’m with them.
The women arrested for wearing bathing suits instead of wool dresses and stockings? I’m with them.
The one-room school teachers who were no longer welcome to teach because they’d gotten married. I’m with them.
The women who sat on the couch while the police officer walked their men around the block and told them to cool down and not hit their wives again? I’m with them.
The little girls told to stand back and let the boys go first, try first, be first? I’m with them.
The women stuck in secretarial jobs while the men they trained went on to run the company? I’m with them.
The women who were maimed or killed by illegal abortionists who thrived because of laws created and enforced by men? I’m with them.
The women who stuffed the envelopes for the candidates that would forget their promise to vote for the Equal Rights Amendment? I’m with them.
Last week, there was a headline in our local paper. “Woman elected head of [national law firm based in Milwaukee].” Really? What year is this? Is this remarkable? Why can’t the headline say, “Well-known attorney” or “Legal expert” or anything but “Woman?” I am to be glad for this? This is progress? Good fucking grief.
Tonight, my daughter suggested that I write about how feminism doesn’t really resonate with her generation even through she and many of her contemporaries are, in fact, feminists. And so I pondered this for the past several hours while I made a pumpkin pie with an actual pumpkin (the topic of another blog).
And this is what I’ve concluded. It’s hard to be a feminist if you don’t feel it. By this, I mean, feel it in your gut, feel it as a physical thing that you can point to, as in, “I feel it right here.”
In the 70’s, sitting around in our little teeny NOW (National Organization for Women) chapters, we spent a lot of time talking about our ‘click’ moments, the eureka moments when we got it about male privilege.
The ‘click’ was the going red in the face, humiliation- bubbling, speechless, mortified, physically galling experience of someone treating you as if you are lesser than because you were female. It was the horrible netherworld between indignation felt as a result of some male’s oppression and half-witting acknowledgement that the oppression might have been justified. Self-doubt, self-hatred, anger, rage, disbelief, belief. Nausea, vomit, retreat.
If you haven’ felt it, felt this, you can’t get what feminism is about for all of us old timers. It’s isn’t cerebral. It’s visceral. Visceral and all-encompassing. Constant.
“Would you say this to me if I was a man?”
“Would this be happening to me if I was a man?
Reading this piece over before I press Publish, I am struck by how disjointed and rabid it sounds. It’s about a million waving, frantic nerve endings waiting for the next insult.
It’s as if I was one of the African American men at the Woolworth’s lunch counter trying to explain how it felt to have the white store owner refuse to serve me.
I can’t explain. I can just say how angry I was, how hurt. How sexism demeaned me, made me doubt myself, made me weak.
Until it made me strong. Really strong.
So that’s my answer. Feminism then and now. It’s different, don’t you see?