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My Daughter, My Sister

Posted: 04/10/07 12:10 PM ET

When my daughter Emma was 10 years old, we marched together in Washington D.C. in "The March For Women's Lives," and I watched her become a feminist. I know that's a word she would use because she knows that the true definition of the word "feminist" is, simply, someone who believes that men and women should have equal rights. She had, of course, been well aware of sexism and our culture's obsession with objectifying young girls and women (all she had to do was look at virtually any magazine cover or television show geared towards her demographic) but this was the first time she experienced what it was like to be part of a larger community. This was a real "sisterhood" of women (and many, many men)-nearly a million strong, all united- fighting for reproductive freedom and fighting against women's second class citizenship. And I sensed an exhilarating new connection with her that day-different from the mother/daughter or even the best friend connection. I felt she became my sister, a person who not only believes in equal rights for all women but someone who will fight for them.

We called it the "click" back in the early seventies - the moment when we knew our lives were changed forever, the moment when we knew we were feminists and we understood deeply and profoundly why. My "click" happened when I was starting out in NYC as an actress. After several years of waitressing and doing Off-Off Broadway for no money, I was desperate to do a commercial. I had auditioned for many of them, with no luck, hearing feedback like I wasn't "conventional" enough, not "house-wifey" enough. I finally went to meet this commercial casting director and after taking some pictures of me, he called me and told me I was just the type he knew a couple of his director friends were looking for! And I should come back to his office and we'd discuss it! Well, I was thrilled. After years of strugging, my first professional job! So the first thing I said when I got there was "This is so exciting, when do I audition?" He just smiled and said "Oh no, you don't have to audition, the commercials are yours!!" I was ecstatic but confused...."but how..???" He then told me, straight- faced, that all I had to do was sleep with these director friends of his. I literally felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me. I was speechless but managed to utter something like ......"how dare you...... even think would...ever......" And then he looked at me with a look I will never forget-a mix of pity and amusement (I think he even laughed a little) and said "Look, I'm sorry but you're very naive to think you're going to make it in this business any other way" and he proceeded to list 5 very well known, successful actresses who had apparently slept their way to the top. He actually named names and I thought "how the hell does he know......they certainly weren't sleeping with this schmuck!" Devastated, I walked out of there and took one of my long NYC walks, sobbing the whole way. That was my "click". That was the moment I became a feminist- deep in my blood and bones. Somewhere between East 56th Street and the East Village, I became passionately resolved to never be devalued like that again, to demand respect, to have my voice heard and to help other women find theirs. And in an odd way I'm grateful to that pimp/casting director. Because of that experience, I was changed, stronger and more determined than ever.

And watching Emma at that march with a million other people, I knew I had a sister as well as a
daughter. There were all kinds of women and men there, black and white, rich and poor, all ages, some empowered, many disenfranchised. It was a world vastly bigger than her world in Southern California And she got it. I watched the beginnings of her activism, her feminism, her compassionate humanism. Her "click" will be different (if she even has a "click"), her feminism will evolve differently than mine, certainly the challenges in her world will be different from the ones I have faced. But our connection to the global "sisterhood" of women was the same that day.

I look at my amazing daughter today at 13 and see only her wondrous, powerful potential. I'm sure we all look at our daughters that way. And God forbid, someone ever tries to diminish or squash that potential because she is a girl, right? Hopefully her generation will live in a world that is more evolved where equal rights for everyone are a reality. But the truth is, it's probably gonna happen, somewhere, sometime. I pray Emma will never be devalued like that, that her dreams won't be laughed at or pitied because she is female, I pray she will never have to feel that humiliation, that rage, that deep sense of injustice- but she probably will on some level. If not personally, she will probably witness it happening to someone else. I'm not worried, though, because, no matter what, I know it'll just make her stronger. I'm confident that although it may hurt, she will be stronger in the face of it because of the sisterhood we felt that day in Washington.

My generation opened a lot of doors for women, but with this current administration, many doors are inches away from being slammed shut and there are so many more that need to be pryed open. And it is people like Emma, who, I hope, will continue to march and keep fighting after we are gone -until every woman, every human being, can live their lives undiminished and as first class citizens. I have faith that my glorious, brave, compassionate daughter/ sister will.

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