Yesterday afternoon, with Barbara’s post simmering in my mind, I came across a piece that struck a chord: part written synopsis, part video Q&A (yay, Internet!) between Salon.com’s Joan Walsh and Gail Collins, author of the new book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present,” which Barbara wrote about a while back, it’s a must read (and watch).
And, given the gist of yesterday’s post–about the impossibility of shucking your seventh grade skin, and the eternal tyranny of the mean girls–I was struck by some of what Collins said in the final clip, when Walsh asked her about Billy Jean King, who Collins frames in the book as a real-life feminist hero. Talking about the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes,” in which King wiped the court with a not-at-the-top-of-his-game Bobby Riggs (who, even when he was at the top of his game, wasn’t all that threatening), Collins said the following:
The importance of it to me was that women who fought for women’s rights in the 60s and 70s did not get hosed down, or attacked by snarling dogs, or thrown in jail; they got laughed at. And humiliation and embarrassment was the great huge club that people used to keep women in line.
And, right after that, stars clearly in full alignment, I came across this piece from the Cornell Daily Sun, called “Where’s My Post-Feminist Manifesto?” In it, Julie Block writes:
As an American, fairly privileged girl in this day and age, admitting that you are a feminist and that you believe it’s still necessary to fight for women’s rights even among other fairly privileged girls can sometimes leave you high and dry in the popularity department.
While Block’s talking about coming to own the label “feminist” (which I wrote about some moons ago), the fact remains: That club Collins talks about? It’s pretty powerful. No one wants to be laughed at. We care what other people think, whether we’re talking about being dissed by those who believe that to be a feminist is to be a man-and-razor-hating lesbian, or being snubbed by the mean girls from seventh grade we’ve reconnected with and hope will be impressed enough with the way we’ve chosen to live our life that they’ll want to be our friend this time around, or our real friends, who’ve made different choices–and might or might not be dropping some snark about our own when our backs are turned. Oh sure, we say we don’t care, but Collins has done her research. The woman has chronicled fifty years of womanity. And I daresay, when it comes down to our choices, the fear that, to quote the Jerky Boys, they’re all gonna laugh at you–well, it’s a lot more powerful than we’d care to admit.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. In fact, among the many rays of hope Collins offered, this bit caught my ear:
If you look back in our history, the times that women tended to do best in the sense that they had more opportunity and more room to maneuver are always the kind of chaotic times.
Why would that leave me hopeful? It seems to me, the current world is nothing if not chaotic. (In fact, I wrapped a birthday present today in newspaper and had my choice of headlines: War. Unemployment. Swine flu…. God bless you, Tiger Woods.) So here’s to a chaos loud enough to drown out the laughter, and the strength not to care, to pick up the racket and serve it up anyway–exactly the way we want to–even when we do hear it. And then we’ll see who’s laughing.