A Feminist Journey

Happy International Women’s Day!

In our last e-newsletter we announced that we are looking for guest blog entries about our feminist journeys, so here’s mine (at least the beginning!)

I have a million thoughts and memories around this topic, as some of my most important growth experiences in life have been in uniquely feminine and feminist contexts. It all started round about 1986. At the end of my first year university English 101 class my professor announced her regret that we hadn’t studied a single work by a woman writer the entire year. I don’t know what devastated me more: the fact itself or that I hadn’t noticed – either way, something shifted for me in a way that I had never felt before – I was angry, not personally, but as a woman (even though at age 19 I didn’t quite yet think of myself as a woman, as you will soon see!) At the beginning of my second year it came to my attention that there was a budding Women’s Studies department, so it seemed logical to head over thataways in search of my missing women writers. Off I went, and never looked back – here were not only the missing books, names, stories and information, but further an eminently sensible framework that when applied to pretty much anything, brought it into clear, if often painful, relief: feminism.

In the summer of 1987 I traveled from Ontario to join my then-boyfriend in Williamstown MA (USA) to spend the summer working there. In this first truly perfect summer of my life I had a zillion new experiences and relationships. On the feminist front, I traveled to Boston where I was ecstatic to discover a women’s bookstore, and another odd, yet very important thing happened. In the course of a casual conversation, a male friend said something to the effect of “Well, such-and-so is all very well for a guy to say, but Madeleine, as a woman what do you think?” I was thunderstruck – this guy just assumes that I’m a woman – it’s, like, obvious to him? Interesting that the reflection came from a man, but, wow, it just about reduced (elevated?) me to tears on the spot. And since then I have proudly thought of myself as a woman. And feminism has always just felt like the natural expression of that pride.

I returned home a changed person, and proceeded to become deeply involved as an activist, organizing No Means No anti-date rape campaigns, training and volunteering as a counselor at the local sexual assault crisis center, attending a multitude of marches, protests and celebrations (Take Back the Night, IWD, etc.), while of course continuing my studies. I loved it – the passion, the debates, the controversy, the deep relationships I created with other women (not to mention some interesting ones with men!), feeling like I was part of something that mattered and that was having a positive effect on people’s lives. Looking back I am struck by how my politics have changed: in 1987 I would have told you, for example, that pornography was completely destructive, capitalism was evil, men could not be feminists and motherhood was oppressive!

Fresh out of these formative years, the hand of fate decided that it would be interesting to watch me walk my talk in the form of me finding myself cast as the lone (and first ever) female in a crew of 30 male agricultural workers on an Israeli Kibbutz. So mouthy little urban shiksa thinks that she can drive tractors, fix gushing broken irrigation pipes, manually load hundreds of 10m long pipes onto elevated trailers, operate cotton bailers and put up with decidedly unsupportive co-workers? For the first couple of weeks I cried my eyes out every day when I came home from work – it was so incredibly hard in every way, but I knew that failure was not an option – and I totally came through. Six months later my body and consciousness were transformed (I even managed to win over my most hostile opponents) – talk about blood, sweat and tears! I have seldom felt prouder of myself, and often reflect back on the experience when faced with something new and challenging.

The next installments will have to wait for another post as this is getting a little long and I have work to do! Suffice to say that I am so glad to be on this journey as a woman and a feminist. Take good care of yourselves, have a great day, and send us your stories!

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