I work with students from around the world, as a private English language tutor. I am lucky in that I spend my days in cafes, sitting at tables with students from Russia, Japan, Korea, France, Spain, Mexico, and other countries.
Some days we parse out which words are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. We construct complex sentences or we deconstruct abstract grammar concepts. Other days they just want to chat, and we cover everything from politics, to history to cross-cultural communication styles. These are my favorite sessions, when we can break down the barriers between us and get REAL.
Today, a young student from Russia asked me why I referred to myself as a “Radical Feminist” in the title of my upcoming memoir –Experiments in Living: How a Radical Feminist Endured Motherhood on a Suzuki TS250X.
I was happy that he had read my blog and was curious about my writing.
“Great question, which word are you asking about “radical” or “feminist?” I asked.
“Well, I know what feminist means but radical makes me think you hate men. It is so extreme.” he said.
From there a discussion ensued that began with the liberation of African Americans and the MLK Movement. I told him how many white people felt that any form of “Black Nationalism” or black power was a threat to or indictment of white culture. We talked about how the liberation of one group does not have to demean or limit another, and how women’s liberation is about empowering women, not hating men.
My journey into feminism began back when I was 13 and going over to a boy’s house to play Monopoly.
As I was leaving, my mom said, “I know you are good at Monopoly, but let him win. Boys like that.”
I proceeded to purchase many houses and hotels, and to buy up all the properties on the board.
I cannot blame my mother, whose rhetoric was steeped in her 50’s upbringing and the fact that she attended college just to get her M.R.S. degree.
I am not my mother. I am not my grandmother.
Now that our son has turned 13, I can see how this formative time will set the foundation for many of his decisions and relationships.
Last month my husband and I threw him a birthday party. Both boys and girls came to his “dinner and a movie” event, which started at a local hamburger joint. After eating, the boys all stood up to go and the girls started to clean up the wrappers and cups.
“Woah. Hold the phone!” I intercepted. “Here’s how it works, boys, you ate the food – now you must help clean up too.”
My husband proceeded to assign duties, role modeling.
I re-direct and educate and empower and discuss and enlighten others on a daily basis about the role of women in our society, in our homes, in our schools, and at our jobs.
This is a daily choice and by having these discussions I encourage myself and others to question our assumptions about what it means to be a girl or a boy, a woman or a man.
Who decided that females must cook and clean for men? Who decided that, in order for men to feel confident, women must be less than, demure, apologetic?
Any real man can handle a woman who is powerful, and will support his woman in developing her intelligence and creativity. He will see her evolution as an asset to his own life.
As women, we were born into these bodies and into this American culture at this period of time, but we do not have to accept others’ ideas about what that means for us, what we can (or cannot) do, how we should dress or what we should say.
We are free, and yet we also have the legacy of those who came before us, setting the stage for that freedom and remembering that the each day we make decisions and statements that show us: the Personal is indeed Political.