“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” -- Kate Chopin, The Awakening
My garage is like the worst metaphor for my brain. For as long as I can remember, as an adult with any kind of storage space, I've packed that space with every note, every cheese plate and tiki mug, every book and CD (yes I grew up when those were still new), tape, and album. Every now and then I declare some sort of decluttering initiative, sometimes with better results than others.
I went through this purge when my Mom got sick three years ago and when I left the magazine, getting rid of discordant pieces of life, and declaring, "Let go of what no longer serves you!" though those bins of college papers and outdoor entertaining decorations might still serve, or so I say when I give up halfway through. Sometimes I'm glad that I didn't throw half this stuff away, like today, when I found this purple folder filled with papers from the NOW Young Feminists Skill Building Summit, held in D.C, 1997.
Some of the materials looked quaint and archaic -- look, CompuServe addresses! But flipping through it, most of it seemed pretty similar to the conversations of 2016. "Making Your Schools and Workplaces Women-Friendly," "Organizing Around Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues," and "The 'F' Word: Calling Yourself A Feminist and Acting On It." Protecting women's health. Advocacy for workers. Eating disorders and body image. HOLY SHIT IT'S ALL THE SAME.
What's different? Well I'm nearly 20 years older and I have a house with a garage in the suburbs, a husband, and a 10-year old. I've had an 18-year career. I am not the youngest one at the table. I am not the oldest.
I can certainly tell the 20-year old who was collecting pins at the gift shop (that would be me) a thing or two. Like I should really appreciate how stinking privileged I was. And that, at times, I was going to have a difficult time being taken seriously in my 20s and parts of my 30s, and occasionally I didn't help that cause when I backed down or believed a bunch of crappy male bosses (and some women) who treated me like I was less than. That deals really were done at the bar or on the golf course, and I really shouldn't care so much about proving myself to the entire world.
The entire world really didn't care.
But I probably wouldn't have listened though, earnest as I was. I had to go out and live and work 20 years, be told I was "too enthusiastic," "too young," "too idealistic," "perfect," "not perfect," and "too emotional". Boy, bye.
Now I am none of those things, except maybe too enthusiastic, only that there is no such thing.
I'd tell that little feminist that people would feel threatened and try to belittle her. And to not accept that. To stand tall in all the things she believed in. To put herself at the top of that list, under God and family. (She would be sad and perplexed, standing there in her Gap overalls and Doc Martens.)
I'd tell her to guard her heart and her brain, and to please, please, please attend that session called "Getting the Most Out Of The World Wide Web And The Internet." She didn't go to that session -- instead she probably went to the bar for 99 cent Rolling Rocks, though. (I'd tell her to stay away from that stuff too, but she definitely wouldn't listen.)
It's not too late to tell her because, well, I'm still here. The only bad thing would be if I put those notes back into their box, relics of another time. Because they aren't. I like to think of the purple folder like a time capsule, saved from her and sent to nearly 40-year old me.
"You gonna put them back in that box and go to Target?" would say the girl in the overalls. "That's lame." It would be. So stand up, little feminist. You're not so little -- and you never were.