Katy Perry has declared she is a feminist. I guess it's a good thing. Lots of young women follow her and she herself has sent out some good messages via her music. Miley Cyrus and J-Lo are evidently trying on the word too. Since so many of the younger generation have run from the "F" word for so long, this could be helpful.
However, Katy has said she doesn't really know what it means. A history lesson might be a good idea.
I went to college in 1970 and I didn't really know what it meant either. I believed in it, but I liked boys, so I wasn't sure you could do both. There was so much rage in the feminist movement against men that I didn't understand, and it made me stay on the sidelines.
Several years later, in 1979, I was working at Boston University as the Assistant to the Dean of Clinical Psychology. It was quite a responsible job, I had a bachelor's degree and like most of us in those positions, I was being paid $5.00 an hour, which was low, even then.
Tension was building on the campus. The faculty was threatening a strike due to low wages. They asked the clerical workers union to go out with them in solidarity. Even with my measly pay, I hesitated to join our union. It had been recently approved by the National Labor Relations Board, but I balked. Finally, one of the union leaders convinced me to attend one meeting. And in that meeting, I got a full-bodied history of women's labor history and the frightening injustices. Since most history courses don't focus on females in history, I had no clue until that moment. I became fired up. I joined the union, which was mostly women. I learned everything I could learn. I marched the picket lines as the unions went on strike at BU. I marched by day and made phone calls every night for weeks, helping to organize. While I didn't take an official leadership title, I became so well-versed in the issues that the union reps sent me to be the guest speaker for a half hour interview on a Boston radio station.
I was 27 years old. I had become enraged... as enraged as Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan had been and it took me months to shake that part of it. Maybe that's why the young women are afraid of it. The rage is real.
So, I became a feminist. I didn't march in picket lines anymore. I went back to work, stayed married for many years and raised two babies -- a boy and a girl. But I raised my kids with that philosophy that women are equal in every way and that we have just as much to contribute to the world as men. I taught both of them to question the prejudices that prevent us from that consideration. The prejudices are rampant and come from men and women. It's what we've been taught. It's time to unweave it.
And it is why I speak to women and coach women about stepping into their own dreams and desires, voicing them and living them. It is time to hear our voices, to sit at the table with the men to help solve the vast problems in the world, as Sheryl Sandberg says in her insightful book, Lean In. The old ways are not working. We need new voices and they are ours.
So, to begin the history lesson, Katy, Miley and J Lo, I would offer the films that Marianne Williamson so brilliantly used during her Sister Giant weekend in LA: Iron Jawed Angels with Hilary Swank, and Abigail Disney's amazing documentary, Pray The Devil Back to Hell. Put these on your big screen TV and find out what it really means. Then let's talk.
Follow Karen Fitzgerald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KarenFitzTV