A few weeks ago, a couple of friends and I had an interesting and enlightening discussion on feminism, and at the beginning of our thread, terms like glass ceiling, the second shift, and benevolent sexism were bandied about.
I mentioned an article I’d read decades previously in which the author said she wanted a wife. Even though it was a tongue-in-cheek piece, I got it. I got it loud and clear. Forty years later, I can still recall my reactions. Caught somewhere between amusement and annoyance, I stopped reading and sat quietly thinking about all the things Jessie Bernard had written about the differences in perception of a woman’s marriage and a man’s.
I didn’t have to be a researcher to know she was right. All I had to do was look around—at the people I knew and at the ones on television, in books, and in music. Remember the catchy lyrics about bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan? And how about innocent little Snow White cleaning up after those little dwarves? Pretty sure she cooked for them, too. With just a little scratch beneath the surface, that becomes a weird story. Did I actually read that to my daughters?
Speaking of reading to children, one night after story time and nightly prayers, I tucked my four-year-old little girl in and prepared to leave the room. Her words stopped me before I got to the threshold. “Mama, you’re just like Cinderella,” she said with the sweet innocence of a child. I turned around and sat down on the side of her bed.
“What do you mean?” I asked, halfway afraid to hear her answer.
“She does all the dirty work, the stuff no one else wants to do.” She said.
“You mean like cooking?”
“And folding clothes and washing dishes.”
“Yeah, but I’m the mommy, and that’s what mommies are supposed to do.”
“What about when she married the prince? Did she have to wash his clothes, too?”
“Look Babycakes, I don’t know. It’s just a story. Time to close your eyes and go to sleep. Night, night. Love you.”
From that night forward, I was “woke.” I wasn’t a radical feminist, just a woman who became increasingly aware of the traditional gender roles of men and women and the shifting mores of our society.
When my friends and I had our recent messenger discussion, one of them said she hadn’t read much feminist literature but that she had read widely about intersectionality. I told her I’d have to get back to her on that because at that moment, it was a new term to me. Although there are several definitions, here’s the one I like best. Google provided it.
“The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
I like it. The term resounds with me. It’s not sufficient to look at someone and think of her gender as being the only role or status. Is the woman black, white, polka-dotted, Jewish, brown, mocha, old, young, transgender, wealthy, and/or ___________ _____________? Fill in the blanks. All of our roles overlap to describe who we are. While I don’t see it as a novel idea, I have to admit that I’ve been focused on gender without consideration of how the other descriptors could work to broaden or restrict a person’s self-image AND the way others react to her.
My new goal is to write a short story about intersectionality without spelling it out. I can’t say writing fiction with feminist undertones is easy. Writing, to me, is never easy. BUT, I know more about feminist issues and am only now exploring intersectional ones. Wish me luck. Better yet, toss me some ideas.