Because my mother was a painter and a beauty when artists had patrons and a woman like that needed a man to take care of her, so she married a money man.
Because my mother’s mother was a beauty and her mother was, too, and that’s what people said: “She was a beautiful woman,” as if that was the only remarkable thing.
Because I was born in 1966, the year Betty Friedan and others started the National Organization of Women and challenged an industry which required flight attendants to quit if they got married, pregnant, or reached the age of 32.
Because when my mother had me, she stopped painting and started cleaning house and throwing dinner parties and smoking too many cigarettes and crying in the mirror.
Because my mother never told me that I looked pretty because she did not want me to grow up to be just a pretty girl. Because if I had a dollar for every time I wondered if I was pretty.
Because when they were having problems, my parents went to a therapist. In his office, he kept a wrestling mat for settling arguments. Because my father won.
Because when my parents got a divorce, my mother did not ask for any spousal support. Because she did not want to owe him anything.
Because every day after working overtime painting houses, my mother would cook my brother and me a meal and help us do our homework. Because when I visited my father’s empty mansion I was expected to cook for myself and babysit.
Because my mother was a manual laborer, she’d flex her biceps I’d feel her muscles, hard as wood. Because my mother is the strongest, fiercest person I’ve ever known.
Because I grew up in a house without a man and if groceries were bought, food made, bills paid, walls painted, roof mended, it was all her. Because no matter how hard she worked, she still didn’t make enough to support us.
Because when I was nine, a family friend gave me a kissing lesson. He had a mustache and smelled like sweat and I stood there like a good girl and he told me next time, I had to kiss back.
Because when I told my mother, I never saw him again.
Because we all saw Saturday Night Fever but I don’t remember what I thought about the idea that a woman is either a good girl or a cunt. Because nobody seemed to notice the gang rape scene but they played the record during recess and all the girls would do the hustle while the boys watched from behind a cyclone fence.
Because I can’t remember my teachers or what they taught me and I’m sure they don’t remember me, because I was a quiet and polite girl and didn’t matter. Because if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been interrupted, overlooked, undervalued, or ignored.
Because my friend Shannon’s mother stood at the highway entrance thumbing rides from men to support three kids from different fathers. Because once she took us to the grocery store for dinner and when the cashier told her how much, she cursed and threw the crumpled bills on the counter.
Because Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith and Kate Bush and Kim Gordon. Because The Yellow Wallpaper, The Awakening, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Bell Jar, Fear of Flying, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Because the first time I had sex it was just to get it over with because virginity was as cold and heavy as lead.
Because as an undergrad, I worked for $3.35 per hour and every day as I walked down College Ave. wearing my work uniform, men would pull their cars over and ask me how much. Because if I had a dollar for every would-be rapist I’ve ever met.
Because the first time I fell in love was with a boy with a cocked eyebrow and a Hitler youth haircut who earned himself a thousand dollars by sending a picture of naked me to a men’s magazine.
Because when I was 21, living nowhere, working crap jobs through school, I had an abortion. Because if I didn’t, I might be stuck there forever.
Because I believe you, Anita Hill. Because Monica Lewinsky. Because it wasn’t until 1993 that it became illegal to rape your wife in every state. Because even today, the Equal Rights Amendment has still not become a constitutional reality.
Because I went to school, had a career, and got married. Because if I had a dollar for every time I had to justify my choices, even to myself.
Because no matter how hard I work, I still bring home fifteen cents for every dollar my husband earns. Because if I had a dollar for every hour I’ve worked.
Because when my daughters were born and every day since, I have ridden unfathomable waves of power and love. Because powerlove explodes and sends me blinking and stumbling, arms outstretched. Because my daughters. Because how in the world could such magnificence be overlooked.
Because when my daughter was eleven, a boy at school put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Did you know that 99% of all rapes begin with some kind of casual contact?” Because he said it was a joke.
Because every woman I’ve ever known, no matter how smart and strong and capable, has had to consider exactly how she could live without a man. Because some never find an answer.
Because it’s time to try something different.
How about you? I invite you to write your own reasons for why you are (or aren’t) a feminist—in the comments below or link there to your own list of reasons.