When Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan sent an email asking, "What was the moment that made you a feminist?" they got some passionate and powerful results. Some answers were predictable: listening to "the screech of misogynist lyrics," watching Anita Hill testify against Clarence Thomas, and reading Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Susan Faludi, or Katie Roiphe.
Other discoveries were more nuanced. Jordan Berg Powers, the only male author in the group of 29, wrote, "My mother, I have grown to understand, is my feminist role model, even if she never called herself a feminist." (His essay is called "Cross-Stitch and Soap Operas Following Football.") Powers' mother taught by example. So did the parents of editor J. Courtney Sullivan, whose glamorous mother worked in television and public relations while her father, an attorney, worked from home and took care of the laundry and dinner. Sullivan's mother was too busy carving a unique path to worry about labels.
She was not alone. Many contributors resisted the label although they embraced feminist action. In "I Was an Obnoxious Teenage Feminist," Jessica Valenti recalls that at age 13, she did not consider herself a feminist when she participated in the DC march for reproductive rights. "I don't know that I ever even thought about it. I knew that I believed in the right to abortion, I was all too aware of sexism and I was a superopinionated, loud teenager. Yet identifying as a feminist never occurred to me."
Elisa Albert came to feminism through comedy when she performed the role of Vashti in a middle school Purim play at Temple Emanuel Community Day School of Beverly Hills. She sang "I'm Gonna Wash That King Right Out of My Hair" and the audience ate up her rebellion. In "The Right Pitch," Colleen Lutz Clemens became a feminist "on the marching band field." Courtney E. Martin declared, "...fishnet stockings made me a feminist" in "Not My Mother's Hose."
Feminism can be an asset, an attribute, a cause or a calling. It can even be a curse, depending on your point of view. It certainly shaped the opinions of these bright, young writers. The authors cross cultures, socio-economic classes, and sexual orientations, and each one shares her unique awakening. Often they reverse earlier opinions or redefine justice. Sometimes they stumble into their insights. Other times insights barrel into them. I loved each author's unique voice and was especially delighted to find that Li Sydney Cornfield, Marni Grossman, and Joshunda Sanders are all graduates of my alma mater, Vassar College. The way they grappled with complexities made me proud.
What do you have in common with these writers? How do you differ? Could your experiences have influenced theirs? They freely admit that an earlier wave of feminists shaped their perceptions and experience. When feminism clicks there is no going back.
About Courtney E. Martin:
Courtney E. Martin is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters and co-author of The Naked Truth. She is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and the Book Editor of Feministing.com. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
About J. Courtney Sullivan:
J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the best-selling novel Commencement. Sullivan is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Elle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, and In Style, among other publications.
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