a monthly column
by A.C.E. Bauer
I’m a feminist.
It used to mean something, back when a feminist was a womyn who lacked humor,
never shaved her legs or armpits, didn’t wear a bra, worked outdoors topless,
marched for equal rights and against pornography, and sported buttons with “59¢”
printed on them. I didn’t fit in.
See, I grew hair on my legs and in my armpits, but balked at “womyn.” And I kind
of thought that humor is what kept people from killing each other. Going topless
was out of the question—as far as I
putting on a bathing suit imme-diately before jumping in and changing out of it
immediately after a swim was as risqué as I was ever going to get. And wearing a
bra was much more comfortable than going without. I did own a 59¢ button—I even
knew what it meant. And I did attend a few marches.
But young, clean shaven, white men still ran for political office, became
businessmen and judges, and decided which laws could be equal for whom. Well,
we’d see about that, I thought.
I went to law school. What an eye-opener.
Intelligence, power, grinding work oozed from the place. In a school that had no
real grades and no rankings so as to discourage cut throat competition,
competition ran the joint. I quickly became alienated. Still floundering in this
environment, I approached my small group professor—one of the assigned mentors
for first year students—and in an empty lounge, told him my tale of woe. I had
discovered, to my dismay, that the law wasn’t about changing the world and
making it better, but about preserving the status quo—all about preserving the
status quo. He looked bemused. “You mean, you didn’t know that?” Actually, he
was much more polite, but that was, in essence, what he said.
So I joined the women’s group, worked at our local Legal Aid office, poo-pooed
the elitist journals, power hungry Federalists, glory crowned judicial
clerkships. Of course, that’s where the power was—where the clean shaven, white
men who would run for political office, become businessmen and judges and decide
which laws could be equal for whom congregated. Some women were there too. And
some folks weren’t white. But I was, vaingloriously, above all that. And as I
approached graduation, I set my sights on Legal Services work—I might not run
the world, but I’d bring justice to the poor.
I did my best to bring justice. But justice didn’t want to come. The poor
remained poor. Any inroad into improving the system was met with enormous
opposition—not by people of ill-will, but people with vested interests. There is
a difference. The structures in society are in place because they benefit a
large number of people, and trying to change those structures to help people who
are left out by them is, well, like using existing laws to change the world. It
ain’t going to happen. Laws are there to preserve the status quo. The structures
are in place to preserve society as it exists. It took a war to institute
democracy in the United States, a second one to get rid of slavery, and decades
of social upheaval to put Civil Rights on the table. The social wrenching needed
to really help the poor wasn’t taking place. Besides, as the 1980s pushed into
the 1990s, helping the poor became unfashionable. President Clinton instituted
“welfare reform,” a code phrase meaning getting the poor off the rolls—not out
of poverty, mind you, just off the rolls.
I remained a feminist, however. The majority of my clients were women. I fought
for recognition, fair treatment, a bit of salvation for their children, if that
was possible. But the fight wore me down. Besides, I was writing, and taking
care of children of my own, and decided to cut our family’s standard of living,
leave the law and spend time with my muse and my kids.
I don’t pretend we became poor—I am intimately aware of what poverty entails.
But we cut back, a lot. I no longer expected to change the world, let alone
usher in justice. For a while I toyed with being “an island onto myself.”
But, see, I had kids. Girls. And I was a feminist. And I continued to see young,
clean shaven, white men run for political office, become businessmen and judges,
and decide which laws were equal for whom. Granted there were more women in the
mix. And not all were white. But I looked at who ran our country, our courts,
our businesses, and the clients I left behind at the office, and I couldn’t
reconcile myself to it being fair.
So I’m on a different tack now. I was given a shot at power but missed the boat,
way back in my vainglorious days. So I’m not going to go in for large battles
any more, but there are many small ones I won’t give up. My kids will get the
same shot at success as their peers, regardless of gender. I will donate time
and what money we can to help local organizations aid those who need it. I won’t
let people say or do outrageous things around me without being called on their
behavior. I’ll support female-run businesses, women who run for office, women in
all lines of work and life.
It may no longer matter, but I still don’t shave my legs or armpits, still own
that 59¢ button, and I still know what it means. And every single time someone
tells me feminism is over, I tell them, not by a long shot, thank you very much.
Not while my kids are in this world. Not while women have lives to live,
businesses to run, countries to govern. I will always like jokes. I will
continue to wear a bra. And I will remain a feminist. You can count on that.
A.C.E. Bauer has been telling and writing stories since
childhood. She took a short break to write dreadful poetry, and
then a longer one while she worked as an attorney, writing legal
briefs and telling stories about her clients. She has returned
to fiction, and now writes children's books and short stories
for all ages. She was a finalist for the Tassy Walden Award: New
Voices in Children's Literature in both 2001 and 2002.
her stories has appeared in Ladybug magazine, and a
middle-grade, magical-realism novel is scheduled for
publication. Born and raised in Montreal, she spends most of the
year in New England with her family, and much of the summer on a
lake in Quebec.