Book Review: “Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists” (And When I Knew I Was One Too)
After two weeks of waiting, and worrying Amazon had forgotten how to find my doorstep, I finally received my copy of Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists, a collection of essays on Third Wave Feminism edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. I’d been anxiously awaiting it since I read a review in Salon at the end of April.
Click is just what it’s subtitle sounds like, memoir style essays reflecting on the moments in their lives at which point each woman began to call herself a feminist (it also includes one man’s story, but I’ll get to that later). The concept of the “click,” as the editors write in their introduction, comes from Ms. in 1971. Jane O’Reilly wrote a cover piece, “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth” in which women realized the moments in which “they can no longer tolerate the sexism all around.” Martin and Sullivan capture that idea, but do so in an attempt to bring back the voice of feminism of younger generations. In the last few months, I’ve seen a few pieces asking what happened to the younger voice in feminism, particularly in abortion rights activism and girl power/angry rock feminism. Older feminists are beginning to feel that what they’ve worked for is now being ignored by those of us in our twenties and thirties. Rebecca Traister, also a contributer to Click and a senior writer at Salon.com, writes in response “We’re here!” Young feminist activists are here, those of us who define ourselves by our gender are here, we just look a little different than our foremothers who grew up in the 50s and 60s.
We were the generation of Title IX. The girls who grew up playing sports and had women role models. We never had to work for our equality, it was handed to us through the blood of our mothers. And we ignored it. That’s the claim at least. The women in Click are proving that it’s not true. Most of us no longer define feminism by what we wear (I’ve had this conversation with many a feminist– we like our bras, why would we burn them?) or by who we date/love/marry.
So the essays range from playing with Barbies in 1979, playing Vashti in a Purim play in 1989, geometry class and God, marching bands, and engineering. In one sense the book is a complete success, because it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: prove that there are moments in the lives of women by which they can define themselves. They succeed in proving that feminism is alive, and that individual women define themselves as feminists in very different ways. Feminism is as individual as love. The multitude of voices from different races and different ages demonstrate the depth of the ongoing feminist movement.
However, there is another voice that I find all but absent from Click. There is only one article written by a man. 1 out of 29. Does it make me a bad feminist to want more of men’s voices, too? We have been sidelined for millenia, begging for equality, only to leave men’s voices out of the new picture? I thought the third wave moved beyond that. Not that we’re forgiving and willing to accept anyone, but aren’t we supposed to allow men a voice too? Especially the ones that are self-proclaimed feminists as well. Being a feminist is not simply a woman’s perspective. There’s an oft-cited bumper sticker that proclaims, “Feminism is the Radical Idea that Women are People Too.” I know of very few men who wouldn’t agree. The singular male voice in the collection isn’t the only sign of a positive male presence, as the editors dedicate the book to their fathers. Fathers, as well as mothers, help shape young girls into feminists. Especially the ones who teach their daughters to repair pinball machines and about toy trains such as Olessa Pindak’s father. I give my father a lot of credit for my feminist views as well.
Of course, Sullivan and Martin couldn’t include every view. You’re limited by readers’ interest and attention span, as well as finding well written stories. Their book is an important part of the new feminist lectionary. I know when I have a daughter some day, that this book will be on her bookshelf.
I, like many women in their mid-twenties, have been a feminist since before than I knew what the word meant. Part of it comes from being the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter several generations back. Type A personality women like my mother and my grandmother pushed boundaries.
My mother, the oldest of 4, went to Yale Divinity School just a year after the first women priests were canonically ordained in the Episcopal Church. Mom was ordained a priest in 1980, and has served many roles in many parishes since. She was always my mother, but she was always everyone else’s mother, too. “Mother Jan” they called her at the first church I can readily remember. She kept her maiden name, and I grew up with my classmates asking, “Your parents are still married? Why does your mom have a different last name?” The easy and practical answer always was, “If you call my house looking for Rev. Gatza, it’s easier to have that be my dad, and Rev. Hamill as my mom. Two Rev. Gatzas, serving different parishes, makes things complicated.” Mom is a leader and a gatherer of people. She has a talent for building communities, as does my father, which I consider crucial in both religion and feminism. I remember a t-shirt she used to have in the early 90s that said “God is not a boy’s name” from a conference she attended.
I never once heard my mother use that f-word, feminism, so I don’t think I ever called myself one until I went to college. But as a post-Title IX girl, I grew up playing soccer and softball, then ran track in high school, before taking up Ultimate Frisbee in college. I was a better athlete than my little brother, who also played, but not as willingly or as passionately. (It’s a shame he stopped playing ultimate, he’s 6’4″ and can jump!) I think I defined myself more through the books I read as a young girl, however. My still-favorite book of all time is The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. I dressed up as the main character, Lady Aerin Dragon-killer, for Halloween when I was maybe 10 or 11. I spent my daydreams pretending I was out riding horses, slaying dragons, fighting demon-sorcerors with my Blue Sword. I wanted to be a hero like Aerin. And you can be certain that along with Click, The Hero and the Crown will also be on my daughter’s bookshelf. Maybe by the second time I read it, I knew I was a feminist.
Any time anyone has talked about women’s rights, I think “well, duh. I have a brain, a body, a soul, etc. I am just as worthwhile as any boy.” Standard gender roles didn’t cross my mind as a child either. Yes, Mom did the laundry, but Dad did all the cooking and grocery shopping. (I love my mom, but I’m not sure her cooking skills really exceed baked potatoes and marinated chicken.) So when I take to the kitchen to broil a chicken, or make palak paneer, I’m not doing so as a “woman.” I’m doing it because I can de-stress and get some time to myself with a beer.
And now, as I study sex, gender, and sexuality, usually within the Indian religious landscape, I have to be careful with my “feminist” vocabulary. The contributers to Click all know it’s a loaded word, especially in Academia. The movement is largely American and European, and largely white. African American women tend towards “womanism” which speaks to them in similar ways. South American women have their own movement as well, also similar, and generally taken from a stronger “liberation theology.” India is different, and as an export theology, smacks of colonialism if we’re not careful with the wording. And as postmodern as it sounds, I cannot call anyone else a feminist unless they will self identify as one. The moment I came to grok that not everyone can call themselves a feminist no matter their strength, no matter their status or religious beliefs, is the moment I knew I was really a feminist.
Martin and Sullivan prove that the feminist movement is not dead, and as long as there are women who believe in themselves and in others, it will never die. (And Grace Jantzen is rolling over in her grave as I use death-symbolic language to talk about feminism. But that’s another story for another time.)