“We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” —
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Here in Chicago, we’re eagerly anticipating the Printer’s Row LitFest. June 8th and 9th will bring a bevy of programming and guests — including famed YA author, Judy Blume.
Somehow in my own adolescence, I missed adventuring with Blume’s 1970 classic coming-of-age novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Yet, I’m sure that, should I venture into the recesses of my old bookshelves (yes, I still have each and every one of my childhood books — it’s a distinct possibility that I will be crushed to death by books . . . hopefully at a ripe old age) I would find a copy purchased by my mother and given to me at an appropriate pre-menstrual junction.
The thing is, at that age, I was having none of that talk. Bras or periods or adult underwear (I liked my fairy print, okay?!). I was wearing three shirts at a time (one was technically an undershirt) even in the summer and pulling them up at my neck to make sure no sexy . . . neck fat? was showing. I was getting showered and dressed with my father relegated to a different floor and the door locked.
And I have no idea why these things occurred! I had no history of sexual abuse, no body-based teasing, and a perfectly non-repressive family environment. My mom may not have exactly called herself a feminist, but she acted like one.
No topic of discussion was off-limits. And in case I didn’t want to hear such information from the woman who gave me birth (which I did not), books covering menarche rites cross-culturally and ’90s classic computer software such as the “Let’s Talk About Me” series were provided . . . and mostly promptly shelved by an embarrassed daughter.
Rachel Kaude Nalebuff’s My Little Red Book, an anthology of stories about first periods from women of all ages around the world, was a wonderful find amongst the shelves of a dying Borders for my feminist book collection, but had I received it in my own ‘tweenage’ years, I would have rejected it summarily.
Is it as simple as a rejection of and ultimate return to the values of our mothers? Given the closeness of my own relationship with my mom, I can’t imagine that being the answer. Rather, I sometimes wonder if feminism, like a bra with underwire, is simply something you grow into.
Now, at twenty-four, I couldn’t be a more sex-positive, body-positive, fat-positive, everything-positive feminist. I casually wander past my bedroom windows fresh from the shower and say things like, “If people are looking, they can enjoy the show!” My mom buys me The Pop-Up Book of Sex for Christmas, and I proudly display it on my fireplace mantel (which doubles as an expanded bookshelf for the dozens upon dozens of feminist tomes I now own). I e-mail lube recommendations to my friends and post articles on slang terms for menstruation to my FB (the foreign ones are the living best: in France, they say “Les Anglais ont debarque,” or “The English have arrived”).
But I’m an adult and ready to be one (not just at twenty-four, of course, but for some time now). Maybe, however much we claim our womanhood and our feminism proudly now, these remain identities only accessible after phasing through some of those dreaded “I hate being a girl” moments. Maybe our younger selves are more in touch with their futures than we realize when they cling to arrested development and fairy underwear with all their might. After all, the reality is that being a woman and a feminist is scary and exhausting and frustrating and painful and isolating and all kinds of terrible things in addition to its exceptional beauties.
As our girls grow into women, they are rewarded with so many wonderful new experiences. But, merely as a consequence of their gender, the price they pay for their adulthood is steep. The knowledge that they themselves and/or their sisters are daily being bought and sold, dying of unequal access to basic health resources, suffering under crushing beauty standards and receiving unequal pay for equal work is a heavy burden to bear, especially when it’s not clear what one can do to affect change.
Feminism is an adult responsibility and however much Judy Blume our girls read, they often simply aren’t prepared for what it entails.