How did I become a feminist without knowing it?

Answer: I was raised by my grandmother.

I started thinking about this after reading a post that The Rotund has up on her LiveJournal*, dealing with a blatantly sexist comment.

Here’s the part of my comment that really got me thinking:

But then, I was raised to believe that I was just as good as any man. I didn’t learn about feminism, as such, but a lot of the standards by which my grandmother raised me were, in fact, feminist. We just didn’t call it that.

See, my grandmother came of age in the 50’s.  You know the stereotypical image of a 50’s housewife?  That was her.  She would bake cookies and was on the PTA and all that shit.

But she had another side to her.  Once her children were old enough to be left on their own (or to be left in charge of their older siblings), she went to work.  Not on a permanent, full-time basis, but when they needed the extra money, she would work.  (My grandfather was a carpenter, which meant money would get extremely tight in the winters, or when the housing market was slow.)  And when she went to work?  The family helped.  She didn’t go to work all day and then come home and do all the housework.  My father and aunts and uncles had jobs, and they did them.  She did every job you could think of – including working in a bomb factory during the Korean War.  Seriously.  If you ever piss this woman off, she could literally blow your ass up.

And she raised her children, even then, to believe that they could do or be anything they wanted, regardless of their gender.  In fact, when my aunt B became pregnant at 16, the biggest problem my grandmother had with the whole situation was that it would prevent aunt B from getting an education (meaning beyond high school) and being able to “make something” of her life.  She had the same problem with me when I became pregnant with Number One Daughter at 18.

She taught all of us girls – my 2 aunts and me – that we didn’t need a man for anything.  Despite the fact that she was married, she was a very independent person, always.  (Of course, the fact that my grandfather seemed to think that his role in the family was simply to go to work and then come home and sit in a chair might have something to do with that; my grandmother had to learn to do a lot of things herself, simply because my grandfather refused to do them.)  But she didn’t teach us to hate men.  While she seemed to give up on men after the one and only relationship she had after divorcing my grandfather, I don’t remember her speaking hatefully about men in general.  Specific men, maybe – but if that was the case, then believe me, they deserved it.

My grandparents divorced in the early 80’s.  Shortly after that is when I went to live with her full-time.  And I think, being raising me (in a single-parent setting; by that time all my aunts and uncles had left home so it was just her and I) after having gone through all of that may have had an effect on the WAY she raised me.

The first time I remember hearing the word “feminist” was in high school.  I studied Sociology and Current Affairs and the word kept coming up.  Thankfully for me, my sociology teacher was a great woman that did a whole section on Feminism.  At the time, I was more concerned with learning and getting good grades than really thinking about what I was learning, but now that I look back on it, I realize why I agreed with everything she taught us.

Because that’s how my grandmother raised me.

I don’t think – even now – that my grandmother would have ever called herself a feminist.  But that’s exactly what she was and is.  She has never let the fact that she is a woman stop her from anything.  And I’ve always admired her for that.

And I would never stoop to call myself an expert on feminism, nor a perfect feminist, but it’s struck me repeatedly the surprise I’ve felt when I learn more and realize that the beliefs I’ve always had were right in line with feminism.

Why the hell should I be surprised?  I was raised by a strong, independent woman.

* – The Rotund has mentioned her LiveJournal before, but as she has it friends-locked, I didn’t think it would be appropriate to link to it.  Normally I would have, but I don’t think that would be right in this case.

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2 Responses

  1. This is an awesome post. I think the same way of my own mother, though due to the fact that she and my father are fairly conservative, I don’t think I’ll EVER see her identify as being a feminist. It’s just sad to me, when I think about it. She grew up in a household where she had to learn ow to do everything, because her parents wouldn’t do them, she was a leader all throughout highschool, being president of the GAA for a while, and holding other positions in various organizations. Then she studied criminal justice in college, where she also became an expert marksman, and won awards at orienteering.

    After college, she married my father (which really took some begging on his part, since she wasn’t too keen on giving up her freedom), and bought a Harley, which she rode, rain or shine, quite often. She had to get rid of it when they moved out here to California, but she then want to work in the information security and computer security field, where she became one of the first female consultants in her field, and handled high-level government information (and dealt with the inefficiency that is bureaucracy). She became the first female president of the Los Angeles chapter of ASIS, before she “retired” from her career when I was in 5th grade, due to the high level of stress and constant east-coast traveling she had to do.

    Sorry for a post in your comments, but your story inspired me to think, and share the impact that my own mother had on me (even though we don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, I am still in awe of all the things she’s done in her life). And really, she is the one who (unknowingly), helped me respond so well to feminism.

  2. No apologies needed, integgy! I loved reading it! 🙂

    Somehow I get the feeling that a lot of “non” feminists inspired their children into feminism without knowing it – or without being able to acknowledge it.

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