Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Celebrate Women: Couch "Potatoe" Feminist

At the end of my senior year of high school, the Vice President of the United States of America took a single mother to task. In one of the more famous "real life meets fiction" moments, Dan Quayle called out Murphy Brown, a fictional news reporter on a television show of the same name, because the character was single, pregnant, and choosing to have the child alone. The thought of a smart, successful woman raising a child by herself was apparently a threat to family values.

At the time that Murphy was in her heyday, my other favorite show, Designing Women, was winding down. Here was a show about a group of women -- married, divorced, widowed -- working together, laughing together, crying together. They addressed issues like domestic abuse, HIV/AIDS, mental illness, homosexuality, birth control -- and that was just the first season.

During high school, week after week, my best friend Tina and I would sit together and discuss the latest happenings on these shows. And while we were watching primarily for entertainment, these shows were teaching us how to be strong, compassionate, thinking women.

I never really talked about feminism with my mom. She's an incredible woman who has influenced me greatly, but I can't recall any conversations with her specifically about feminism or women's rights. I don't think my sisters or I spent time talking about it. Honestly, in my formative years, I don't remember any discussions with anyone about feminism.

But at the lunch table, in physics, after school, Tina and I would be talking about issues that were shaping us. We would marvel at Murphy's ability to be a part of the old boy's club while not losing her femininity. We would laugh about Mary Jo getting fake boobs and instead of feeling more demure, becoming really aggressive. We would swoon over Julia's most recent rant against whatever injustice she encountered that week. I think we both wanted to grow up to be any one of those women.

What has amazed me is that while I'm certainly not exactly like any one of those women, I've picked up a number of the traits that they modeled. Empathy. Compassion. Humor. Grace. Courage.

I was talking to Tina just this morning, trying to find a video clip for the post (which sadly, we couldn't find), and we started reminiscing a bit about these shows and just our general thoughts about feminism, and she said something really profound. She believes (and I totally agree) that feminism is just believing that women and men are equal. Not the same, but equal. And that when we're born, our default setting is feminist. Whatever stories and lessons we learn along the way are simply taking us closer to or further away from our natural tendencies of trust and acceptance.

All I know is that if being a feminist is cheering when Murphy Brown cuddles with her newborn son, and badly sings Natural Woman to him, sign me up.


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