If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! — Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
In an attempt to get out of bed in the morning and take off (read: launder) my HRC t-shirt every now and then, I’ve been spending some time in search of hope. Hope I can believe in. Truly. Because seriously, the shit show is about to begin. There are only NINE DAYS left of President Obama living in the White House. Heavy sigh. While hope often can be found in a bottle of red wine with my husband while watching “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” at the end of the day, desperate times call for out-of-the-box solutions.
So I went and had tacos with a friend’s 22-year-old daughter, Megan. And yes, friends, the hope was palpable.
During the holidays, I attended a gathering with Megan’s parents, whom I know through my oldest son. Megan is in her first year at Harvard Law School. As I thought about catching up with them at said gathering, it occurred to me: Megan was one of the people who was going to turn this country around. Not just in a “youth are our future” bumpersticker sorta way, but this woman in particular. She made a near perfect score (99.8th percentile) on her LSAT before graduating from Rhodes College last May. And she’s at Harvard. She is one of those people who will get shit done (our shit, to be specific).
Megan kindly shared breakfast with me at Taco Joint during her two week holiday break. At 22, she is one of the 20% or so of Harvard law students who went straight from undergrad to law school. After majoring in finance/economics at Rhodes College, she is on the public interest law route at Harvard.
I asked what had changed for her and her Harvard peers since November 8. Before the 2016 election, she shared, her path was likely headed toward public defender work. Actually, it probably still is. But what she sees beyond that is different post-election (she didn’t call it a shit show, but I feel we were on the same page).
While Megan will no doubt be a powerful PD post-Harvard, she will not be your average attorney. She will be an attorney with a Harvard law degree. A white, beautiful, straight, upper-middle-class, Southern woman with a Harvard law degree. She has certain privileges she is keenly aware of … and plans to use those privileges to access certain power structures. Maybe she’ll be a civil rights attorney or a feminist lobbyist down the road. Post-election, she and many of her classmates feel a tug to go big picture at some point in the future. And thank you baby Jesus she feels that way. Because, shit show.
Feminist lobbyist. I could feel the hope rising at the idea that the future of American women will be, in some way, in Megan’s hands. Megan has a passion for feminism, so I asked her about that. She sweetly schooled me in American feminism, which apparently I didn’t learn in the Waxahachie school system or Baylor University. You just don’t know what you don’t know, right? In an attempt to educate myself, I asked Megan for some reading suggestions on the subject. Here are a few of the books she recommended. I ordered three of them today.
So here are the basics of the first, second, and third wave of feminism in the United States, described in about the time it takes to eat one breakfast taco:
• First Wave (1830s-early 1900s): During this phase, women basically were not considered property anymore (#relationshipgoals), fighting for contract and property rights before finally getting the right to vote in 1920 (50 years after black men got that right, and we know how low they were on the totem pole). It was during this time that Sojourner Truth gave her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at Seneca Falls. I’m not sure I’ve ever read that until today. If you haven’t, it’s a quick and beautiful read.
• Second Wave (1960s-1980s): Women worked hard during WWII, and this wave made sense, timing-wise, with their quest for more rights: reproductive, workplace, sexuality (birth control pills came on the market in the 1960; birth control became legal for all women in 1972 (WHAT??); and abortion became legal in 1973. Black feminism became more of a deal during this Second Wave (remember: they were fighting for civil rights at the same time). Megan recommends reading The Feminine Mystique and The Second Sex (actually she recommends only reading the intro on the latter as it’s hard to get through), as well as In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and the essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by black feminist writers Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, respectively, to get a feel for this era.
• Third Wave (1990 to, perhaps, November 8, 2016): Interestingly, Megan explains, the backlash to this third wave happened simultaneous to the wave itself: While campus rape was front and center, women were told not to go out, not to go to parties, to get back in the house where they belong. We’re still working on equal pay and still tweaking (although it often is more of a battle than a tweak) reproductive rights. Books like The Beauty Myth and Backlash tell the story.
“If Clinton had won, it definitely would’ve ended the Third Wave with the crowning achievement of the first woman president,” Megan said. But perhaps her NOT winning ended it, too, kicking us into the fourth wave on November 9? That’s Megan’s theory. This is not at all my area of expertise and even my mad Google skills can’t fake it here.
But it’s interesting to see where I fit in (born and growing up in the Second Wave, becoming an adult in the Third, pissed as hell and excited for the Fourth). It’s also interesting to look up the word feminism: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Who wouldn’t want to be that? And why in the hell is/was this a political grenade?
So Megan believes the Third Wave of feminism ended on November 8 and the Fourth Wave began. Issues involving immigrant women (specifically with domestic violence), women in prison, reproductive rights, fair wages (for all races of women), maternity leave, LGBT rights (regarding discrimination and a transgender’s right to use the appropriate bathroom), health care, and campus rape will be the subjects of this battle — with Trump as a “daily reminder of what we’re up against.” And this time, we have a true shot at intersectionality.
“I’m hopeful,” Megan said, as we wrapped things up. “Now, if Trump blows up the world …” She trailed off, both of us hopeful, but not forgetting the shit show.
Megan’s advice to me — a 49-year-old woman with, at this moment, more money and power and time than she has? Support progressive candidates, fund progressive causes, volunteer, and show up for local politics — especially in my state of Texas. A suggestion for the less activist minded: Get together and talk. During the Second Wave, “consciousness raising groups” did just that. They changed the narrative. So can we.
We all have our place in this fight. We all have our gifts. We all have our experiences. We all have our passions. So while I blog, call my legislators, post action items on social media, and organize friends to go to the Women’s March in Austin, Megan is hitting the books in Boston.
Study hard, Megan. You are the hope we can — we have to — believe in.