Here is my slice of ’90s feminism. Background: I had gone to an all girls’ school in Boston, an old-fashioned place but with feminist values, values that were almost never questioned. I mean, why couldn’t girls do anything? We had no competition. (Especially not from our brother school, Bonehead Academy.)
The only overt disturbance in the feminist force I recall is when, through a long story involving dramatic lifesaving surgery by a classmate’s doctor on a friend of Gloria Steinem’s, well, guess who spoke at our graduation in 1986? When we’d discussed it, one more conservative classmate asked, lip curled, “Isn’t she a feminist?” Most of the rest of us were pretty much like, “Yeah!”
But then college was co-ed. And boys there were —who knew? — smart. They even raised their hands and talked in class. Can you imagine? They had thoughts, certain kinds of deep thoughts, that I wouldn’t have had in a hundred years. This I found intimidating. Especially when my own damn boyfriend turned out to be extra-super-smart. This I found very intimidating.
When I whimpered to my mother that I wasn’t sure I was smart enough, she made me read Carol Gilligan’s In A Different Voice, about how men and women think and perform moral reasoning in contrasting — but equally valid — ways. Jackpot! All of a sudden my political feminism — which already included working for abortion rights, etc. — had a deeper grounding in my own life.
That was just the beginning of the ’90s, but it made me a bigger activist — I worked for NOW for years after I graduated (the era when we began to define terms like “date rape” and “sexual harassment”) — and a stronger person, for the rest of the decade. Though my fashion choices, it should be noted, were decidedly less powerful. (Possibly worse than the 80s, when we had an excuse.) — Lynn Harris
P.S. I still wear boots with babydoll dresses.