A number of years ago, I had a part-time gig at an elementary school where I taught afterschool classes in art and film classics. One warm June day, it was decided that the kids could spend thirty minutes in the playground. As I watched a scene that was a combination of raw energy and mayhem, I observed a small girl of about eight years old walking away from the three-tiered jungle gym. She was crying. I quickly approached her to find out what the problem was. She pointed to a skinny boy with black hair perched at the pinnacle of the metal bars. He was grinning proudly. She said, “He told me only boys were allowed at the top.”
With a mixture of rage and passion that probably seemed out of whack to the full-time teachers watching me, I called him down from his seat of glory and read him the riot act. As he skulked away, I explained in no uncertain terms to the still-shaking girl that she could go anywhere and do anything she pleased. Then I thought to myself, It’s the 21st century and nothing has changed.
That story, and other remembrances, came to mind while I was reading the engaging anthology Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. Editors Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan have fashioned a book that speaks to how much women who care about feminism have in common. With an ongoing intergenerational dialogue between women who self-identify as feminists, that at times is tinged with a undertone of anger and resentment, these voices remind the reader of a fundamental commonality. The high profile schisms that accompanied the Obama vs. Hillary primary race; older women questioning where younger women stand on their support of abortion rights…These divisions become neutralized and I can envision Rodney King asking, “Can we all get along?”
Reading Click will help one generation to understand and appreciate what experiences have informed another group of women—through personal histories other than their own. The contributors range in age from 18 to 41. As someone who is in the middle of a wave, the stories resonated for me reigniting my anger, evoking compassion, and reminding me of the days when I wondered if I were alone in thinking that something outside of me—in the culture–was wrong.
When I read Miriam Zoila Pérez’s contribution, which painted a picture of her political arguments with her “conservative” father, it made me vividly recall an afternoon when I argued with my parents about Marilyn French’s best seller, The Women’s Room. The intensity of my emotions from that conversation came back to me with absolute clarity.
What makes Click such a great read is that all of the offerings bring something different to the party. Elisa Albert had me laughing out loud with her deconstruction of the Jewish holiday Purim in her piece, “I’m Gonna Wash That King Right Out of My Hair.” Each of the twenty-nine essays has unique insights and observations to share.
Karen Pittelman discusses her realization that “when we bury our stories, we bury one of our greatest political strengths.” She writes, “What I love about feminism is the idea that telling the truth about our lives is a radical, transformative act.”
In the opening sentence to her essay, Marni Grossman states, “Sometimes it feels as though feminism was my consolation prize for surviving an eating disorder.” She points to the tyranny of the societal message “that our value is in our sex appeal,” and imparts that “putting down the laxative and picking up Naomi Wolf was the most political act I have ever committed.”
As she evolves from questioning if the work of her war correspondent boyfriend is of greater relevance and “more serious in the eyes of the world,” Alissa Quart comes to terms with her relationship, which eventually grows into a marriage. Simultaneously, she achieves awareness that her contributions—and the female writers that she emulates—could be “as searing, in their way, as investigating bullets, presidents, and dictators.”
Deborah Siegel shares how Anita Hill’s “ordeal” was the vehicle that “framed a younger generation’s understanding of women, politics, and power.” More specifically, it was Siegel’s “inauguration to feminist activism” and her eye-opening recognition of the anti-feminist backlash it unleashed.
Raised by parents, aunts, and grandparents who built a foundation for her being “nurtured into feminism,” Marta L. Sanchez tells how a rape at age sixteen “instantly made me a feminist.” Her belief system was shattered the day that a 22-year-old acquaintance offered her “a ride to church” during Christmas week.
A feminism that “fit” was the moment everything crystallized for Mathangi Subramanian, who authored “The Brown Girl’s Guide to Labels.” In her second semester of graduate school, Subramanian discovered the work of Chandra Mohanty, “a third world feminist” who deconstructs how “western feminists fought for the right to work, while third world feminists acknowledged that women did most of the world’s work, and were…fighting for the right to rest.”
Janet Tsai examines the stereotype of being a “nerdy, smart Asian kid” who questions the authenticity of her admission to a “highly selective, innovative, start-up engineers college.” Why is the prevailing notion that if the college has achieved a fifty-fifty gender parity, that the women can’t possibly be as smart as the men? Tsai ultimately confronts “gender differences in the sciences,” and gains understanding on why it triggered doubts about her talents and abilities.
Many of the essays are laced with individual responses to the impact and examples of mothers, and the behaviors that they modeled. In that respect, the reactions reflect how each generation is influenced and shaped by the preceding one.
Ultimately, this volume—that pays homage to the Jane O’Reilly 1971 Ms. magazine story, “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth,”—will offer a new source of anecdotal enlightenment to a continuum of women. How fortuitous it will be if it sparks an acknowledgment of the inherent connection between everyone’s struggles.
Hopefully, Click will fall into the hands of girls growing into womanhood, including the one from the playground who was informed, all too early, of her alleged limitations.