I first discovered this thing called feminism, as a teenager in the mid 1970s, by way of 'Free to Be...You and Me.' The songs and stories taught me, among other things: no one did housework because they liked it, boys could play with dolls, and most shockingly, you didn't have to marry the handsome prince to live happily ever after. That was mind-blowing stuff back in 1974.
It was part of a whole slew of suddenly-mainstreamed feminism that infiltrated our open hearts and minds. I saw the first single and happy women on TV shows: That Girl, starring and produced (!) by Marlo Thomas who would go on to make FTBYAM; and the Mary Tyler Moore Show (featuring my first role model, the looking-for-a-husband-but-still-way-cool Rhoda Morgenstern). Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match that was supposed to settle for all time The Battle of the Sexes (ha). And 1975 was declared International Women's Year (see my awesome poster in the photo) and I went around saying "A woman can be anything she wants to be. Why not?" and stuff like that.
Don't for a second assume I was doing anything political. I lived in a middle-class suburb of Toronto and I was spending all my time at the mall. But feminism was in the air and it planted some very powerful seeds about how I could live, what I could want and who I could be. I'm not even sure I used the word 'feminist' but I certainly absorbed every feminist message my 13-year-old brain could process. It was a way to understand and conquer the things that seemed odd or unfair about the world as it was.
The downside, I quickly realized, was that it didn't make me super popular with the guys, what with me parading my smarts all over the place and not taking any shit. And there weren't a whole lot of other people I could talk to about this, no internet or blogs to find my community. All I could do was try to catch any bit of popular culture that validated this new world view.
Although I still believed in everything feminism taught me, over time I lost touch with that empowered teenager. Maybe it was the Backlash, maybe it was my apolitical circle of friends, maybe it was just other distractions. But when I went looking for feminism again in 2001, it was really hard to find, especially for women under the age of 40.
Every time I tried to talk about it, I got shut down. 'Feminism? That's for angry, man-hating hairy-legged dykes' is a pretty good distillation of what I was told by both men and women. Well, who wanted to be that, right?
Then I found a copy of 'Bust,' and the later 'Bitch,' and they were my first gateways into the amazing feminist communities, many run by and full of young women, that inspire and sustain me today. I made a film about my own journey called "I Was A Teenage Feminist," and many young women stumble across it by googling 'feminism' or searching the word on YouTube. But is that enough? How does today's 13-year-old girl (spending all her time at the mall) find her feminist community?
Part 1 is here.