Friday, March 28, 2014

We Can Be Heroes: G-L-O-R-I-A

When I was in kindergarten (in Sparta, WI) I had an unfortunate altercation with a bicycle. I remember very little of the actual event - I was outside playing with friends on our street and I was running. A boy (older than me) on a bike was riding towards me and we collided. The bike's kickstand punctured my left leg and left a gaping hole. I don't remember there being any blood (my mom said it was because the puncture wound went too deep to bleed) and I recall being given a Dr. Pepper while being stitched up. The stitching up part is also hazy but family lore tells me that the doctor told my parents that I had more stitches in my leg than anyone else he had ever treated. My mom held my hand the whole time and I got to eat dinner on the couch because I had to keep my leg elevated (I guess). Maybe this incident is the true explanation for why I don't like running. Running leads to puncture wounds.

What does this have to do with my final hero, Gloria Steinem? On the surface, not very much. I don't know Gloria personally so it's not like she sent me something during my recovery and that's why I admire her. The bicycle incident left me with a 4 inch scar on my thigh. When I was younger it was a badge of honor; kids thought I was cool. But as I got older that changed. The angry red mark on my leg was weird and I became very aware that anything, even a scar that was the cause of an accident, had the potential for ridicule. Perfection is where it's at (at least for some) and my scar was not perfect (even if it came with an epic story). So I proceeded to hide it; shorts and skirts had to be very specific lengths and I loathed any event that required a bathing suit (I imagine this also has to do with other things but that's a post for another day). My scar and I spent my preteen and teen years in a love-hate relationship.

College was probably the point in time when I became a feminist. I think I always had feminist tendencies and I certainly knew what feminism was (I was obsessed with the 1960s and 70s as a teenager so prime time for the women's movement) but I would not have declared myself a feminist before college. The word carried a negative connotation and I was not yet brave enough to defend what I believed (at least not all of the time). It's also when I started reading Gloria Steinem's writing (and Ms.magazine). Gloria made sense to me and most of her ideas and musings on gender, race, poverty, and equality were like what I believed. I believe in choice and I was finding the words to help me defend that belief. And then I read an essay entitled "In Praise of Women's Bodies" in the anthology Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. Gloria talked about scars and the emotional power behind them (she was talking about scars related to giving birth) but her words made me think differently about my scar. For men, scars are often a sign of bravery and why couldn't I think of my scar in the same way? I hadn't given birth to anyone but I had been brave in the face of a stupid childhood accident. I was fearless about it as a kindergartner and I would be fearless now. From then on my scar and I had only a love-love relationship. I see it as a part of me and if you believe, as I do, that our bodies tell our story as much as our voices, it is just one interesting story that mine can tell.

Gloria helped me to form the definition of feminism that I follow (the equality and full humanity of women and men) and from her I learned that it was okay to have fears; having fears makes us human. I always found her fear of public speaking and interesting one (I have a fear of bridges). Her writing always seemed like that of a trusted friend. Maybe because my feminism truly started with The Heidi Chronicles I was more at ease with a second wave feminist who didn't make me feel bad about my beliefs or choices. While I admire and respect many of the more radical writers and activists of the same period (and now), I feel more comfortable with Gloria. It doesn't have to be "either you shave your legs or you don't."

Like Diane Keaton, I also appreciate Gloria and her approach to aging. She celebrated her 80th birthday this past Tuesday. For someone who was often belittled because of her looks (one of her most famous essays was "I Was a Playboy Bunny"), she has handled aging gracefully and without the intervention of anything (except some hair dye). I love this quote from a recent New York Times article:

“Fifty was a shock, because it was the end of the center period of life. But once I got over that, 60 was great. Seventy was great. And I loved, I seriously loved aging. I found myself thinking things like: ‘I don’t want anything I don’t have.’ How great is that?” But, she added, “80 is about mortality, not aging. Or not just aging.”

Happy Birthday Gloria Steinem! Thank you for helping me accept me for me and develop a vocabulary and belief system I still have today. I can't wait to see what you do at 100.

This Is What 80 Looks Like
Gloria Steinem's website
Ms. Magazine

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