I have been asked several times by Marlborough girls if I am a feminist. (In fact, I was recently interviewed for The UltraViolet on this very topic.) Anything with a label is complicated, and feminism is no different. I often hear women say that they are supportive of equal opportunities for women, but that they do not consider themselves feminists, which is a sentiment I have also heard from many students throughout my career as an educator.
Over twenty years ago, I was teaching an Honors 10th Grade English class, and we diverged from our reading when the topic of feminism came up. This was a class of smart, savvy, and articulate girls, yet not one student identified herself as a feminist. I was surprised by this response, until I heard from the girls that they viewed the movement as an arcane and singular event that was stuck in the ’60s and had more to do with bra burning than idealism. They all agreed, however, on the concept of equal rights and opportunities for women. The belief was there, just not the label.
My daughter, once a proud and pink-sprinkled girlie girl, grew into a confident woman who is far faster than I to call out someone’s intentional or unintentional sexism. I stand in awe of her sometimes pointy elbows as she navigates her 5’3” self through the business world. Her own daughter is a robotics loving, dress hating, whirling dervish force of nature who marches to her own beat. Yet in our love of being women and our desire to be understood and supported for who we are, we are all feminists. We are also acutely aware when we see subtle and not so subtle sexism.
The truth is, there is no label to describe our girls, and no definition for the world they will navigate. The graduates of today will decide whether to go for a career and manage other choices around that decision, or perhaps take time out to focus on their family. They will also demand more of their workplace and critically assess what is being offered to them. (I cannot imagine a Marlborough woman accepting 70 cents on the dollar!) They will think about partners differently, with all of the fullness the word implies. My goal is to help and remind them to be resilient women who don’t shatter with adversity. They will need the ability to pick themselves up when they face difficulty, as that is the greatest indicator of success. It’s hard to learn without practice, and their support group of adults will be on hand to offer understanding, but not to fix everything.
I believe that feminism is a label to identify strong women, with no political overtones. My three sisters and I were raised by a strong mother who taught us self-reliance, honor, and empathy. She also taught us to own our mistakes and to pick ourselves up when we fell down. We are all as different as can be, but we have never abandoned those attributes. Perhaps resilience is the new feminism.