After posting about the feminist blog awards the other day, I found myself wondering if there was a defining moment when I became a feminist.
I think it was more of a process than a moment, which was kick-started when my mother re-married and moved us from the city to the country. But the process had its moments.
I was ten years old. My life in Ottawa had revolved largely around swimming. There was nowhere to swim in Kinburn. There was not much of anything to do there.
There was so little to do, in fact, that my mother, an atheist, signed us up for confirmation lessons at the local United church.
Debbie took to it and progressed through the religious hierarchy to eventually become a Sunday School teacher.
I balked. It was boring. It was stupid. I hated it. I railed against it. But no amount of whining or complaining would persuade my mother to let me drop out. She said it was character-building to complete the things you started, even if you hated them and even if they weren’t even your idea in the first place. (Personally, I’ve always believed she just wanted some alone-time with her new husband.)
When the lessons were complete and it was time to get confirmed, I informed the young red-headed minister that I would not be participating in the ceremony. He looked at me like I had sprouted horns.
“Of course you will,” he said.
“No,” I replied, “I won’t.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because I don’t believe in God,” I replied.
He looked shocked and horrified, but what could he do? He couldn’t possibly insist I get confirmed after that. He had no choice but to let it go.
And that, mercifully, was the end of my days as a church-goer. It was also pretty much the end of my interactions with the young red-headed minister, much to his relief and mine.
Except for the time he knocked on my door a couple of years later and asked me to sign his anti-abortion petition. I was about 12 or 13. There were no adults home. I refused to sign it. He argued with me. I argued back. Finally he pulled out photographs.
“This,” he said, thrusting a photo in my face, “is a photograph of a green garbage bag full of murdered babies.”
He then told me that these poor babies screamed and cried as their limbs were pulled off during the barbaric procedure.
That’s when I asked him to leave. He turned an angry shade of red and left.
I don’t think I understood the political implications of reproductive choice at the time, so this probably wasn’t a defining feminist-making moment. I just didn’t like the guy, that’s all.
Actually, you know what? This wasn’t even the story I set out to tell you. I got sidetracked.
The story I was going to tell you was about the other thing my mother signed us up for when we moved to Kinburn. It was 4-H. I was quite excited about 4-H. I couldn’t wait to meet my calf and raise it up to be a cow. A calf was worth giving up my friends, city life and swimming for.
So imagine my confusion when I arrived at my first 4H club meeting to discover a table set up with scissors, tape measures, pins, needles, and other sewing supplies.
The leader instructed us all to take a seat, and then she introduced herself and said we were all going to be making pretty dresses over the next 8 weeks.
“Excuse me,” I said, “But I’m here to raise a calf.”
Everybody laughed and laughed.
Well it turned out that girls didn’t raise calves in 4-H, they sewed dresses. Only boys raised calves. There could be absolutely no exceptions to this rule, nor any discussion of it.
And that, I believe, was my first defining moment. It was followed by eight weeks of relentless arguments about discrimination to anybody who would listen and even to those who wouldn’t. My mother had to make the dress because even though I was not permitted to drop out of 4-H, I absolutely refused to sew. Not sewing was my very first political action.