A Letter to My Nieces

To Savannah and Landri:

Every year, you get books from me for Christmas. I try to pick things that you’ll like and with strong female characters. I know you don’t read quite as obsessively as your grandmother, mother and I do, but I’ve always hoped that with the right book, the balance will tip. I also know that history probably isn’t your favorite subject.

But this year felt different. Maybe it’s because you’re teenagers. But more likely, it’s because of this horrible election season. It is always hard to be a feminist, to believe in equal rights for women. But it’s been so much harder this year, with Hillary’s campaign and ultimate defeat. The world feels uncertain and scary, and you’ll be coming of age under a president who has no respect for women. What impact will that have on your future? On your self-esteem? On how you approach your career and your relationships with others?

I flipped through Dead Feminists at a bookstore several weeks ago. I liked the looks of it. I liked that I didn’t know every single name listed in the table of contents. I thought about it long and hard, read this review, and then I bought it. Of course, I also did that thing I so often do—I read the book before I wrapped it.

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Girls, I know I can’t make you read this book, but I’m really hoping you do.  Make your mom read it too. Talk about it as a family.  Each feminist is chosen with such care—and each woman’s story connects to current events. The articles are brief and the art is stunning. I hope this book will serve as a gateway for you to explore more about women’s history.

But what I loved most of all is the obvious passion the authors/artists have for social equality and justice. We all need some inspiration right now, and I hope this might be a spark for both of you. There is so much to life (even life in junior high and high school) beyond drill team and dance and boys. Volunteer. Get involved in an extra curricular activity where your mind matters most. Don’t be afraid to be smart. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. The feminists in this book had extraordinary courage, but it didn’t magically happen when they were grown ups. It started when they were young—and it’s time for you to start too.

Merry Christmas—and here’s to a 2017 where more women find their strength. And if you ever need to add to your list of feminists to admire, just let me know. I’ve got loads more books I could send you.

 To Lucy and Schafer:

Little ones, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. Hopefully, your memories of this period in history will be vague. But I have a feeling I’ll be stockpiling copies of this book for when you’re older.  Your moms and I will do everything in our power to raise you to be strong, feminist women, just like us.

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On this historic election day. . .

The polls don’t close for another several hours, but I’ve already been teary several times today. We still have a long way to go before we get anywhere near gender equality, and yet, this day still means so much to me as a feminist and a historian.

Today is a profound response to:

  • The guy who walked into my apartment during a party, spotted my “votes for women” banner and started spouting off on those crazy feminists and how they are ruining the country. I looked him straight in the eye and said “Yes, you’re in the home of a feminist liberal and you’re drinking my booze. You can either shut up and stay or walk out the door.” He stayed. We didn’t become friends.
  • The guy at the bar who was trying to pick me up. Don’t remember how the conversation shifted, but suddenly we’re talking politics or work or something. And then he said “Don’t tell me you’re a F%&*ing feminazi.” He didn’t understand why I started yelling at him. Also, he didn’t get my number.
  • My grandfather, who didn’t understand why I was “wasting” my time studying women’s history. Of course, he may have been more upset about the African-American portion of that work.
  • The many men at various meetings that end up with this look of amazement and surprise when it becomes clear that I do know what I’m talking about and they can’t  pull one over on me.
  • Those that questioned whether I could handle the ED job–because I’m a woman. And how can a woman lead? Especially in Dallas?
  • My former colleagues at the now defunct Women’s Museum, who wished the timeline was a little less negative–and chose to shy away from the more difficult topics surrounding women’s history.

Today, I’m wearing white and purple, for the women that came before me, fought this fight, and made my current life possible.

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I’m thinking about Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul–as well as the countless others who fought beside them. I’m thinking of the tears I shed when I was in Seneca Falls, standing in the ruins of the building that started this movement in 1848.

And now I’m going to attempt to get back to work, as Hillary would, because there is still so much to do. But first, I might sneak a peek of the livestream of Susan B. Anthony’s grave–and cry just a little more, before the big tears come tonight.