I converted to feminism at an early age, although it would be many years before I would even hear, much less understand, that word.
When I was 7 years old my best friend was the son of “intellectual” parents, a rare breed in my New Hampshire town of 6000 souls. And even rarer, his parents were Democrats. As appropriate for the son of intellectual Democrats, one day he taught me how to make campaign placards. We each nailed two sticks together in the shape of a Christian cross and glued them between two squares of cardboard. I scribbled “Nixon / Lodge” on mine while he lettered “Kennedy / Johnson”. Around my house we marched, waving our signs to the quiet amusement of my mother.
In sixth grade we two debated the merits of the presidential candidates in front of our class. He supported Johnson; I was a staunch Goldwater man. He whipped up the class with all the passion and emotion Democrats brought to that campaign. I was cool and logical. Parents called the school board complaining that our teacher encouraged “divisive behavior”. The second debate was cancelled. In the mock election that followed, Johnson won by a landslide.
That same year I was smitten by my first love. She was exotic, beautiful, smart, and funny. Every day we ate lunch crowded together on long, green benches folded out from the wall of the gymnasium. There was never a lull in the conversation.
One day our talk turned to plans for the future. I hoped to be the first person in my family’s history to go to college. She wanted an education too, but “there probably won’t be any money left after my family puts my brothers through college”. Oh, are your bothers older than you, I asked. No. Smarter? Of course not. I became quite agitated. “That’s crazy!” I exclaimed. “That’s the way it is”, she replied.
Here I was, a New Hampshire Republican weaned on the mother’s milk of self-reliance, initiative, and advancement through merit. And here was a wonderful, smart person – my friend – and she saw a very limited future. Was she not self-reliant? Did she not show initiative? Did she lack merit? No. She was a girl.
To this day I don’t know which makes me more angry: the blatant unfairness, or her quiet acceptance of it.