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What Is Feminism? by Darrelyn Saloom


PUBLISHED: December 4, 2012

Darrelyn Saloom

Editor’s note: The following post is part of a series in which a diverse range of women writers discuss their definition, idea, or experience of feminism. For more background, take a look at our Fall 2012 issue, which features “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay. You can find other pieces in this series by clicking here.

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My five-year-old granddaughter is smart, strong-willed, and brave. She is a keen observer and wants to do everything herself. She likes to sing, dance, wash dishes, and fold clothes. Thanksgiving Day she told me, “Girls are the cleaners and boys the mess makers.”

I nearly choked.

My response was that not all girls are cleaners and not all boys are mess makers. It was a lame thing to say because on Thanksgiving Day, the girls were the cleaners and the boys were the mess makers. She simply told the truth, a sign of a budding feminist.

At the fast rate she’s maturing, I imagine we will soon be able to discuss the crushing tide of social, political, legal, and economic inequality she will face as a woman. I’ll remind her of the way she taught herself to swim by watching her older brother and tell her I believe she is up to the task.

Until then, I will support her passion to clean and to dance and to sing. She has found her voice at a young age. And my hope is she holds on to her wave of enthusiasm and never lets go.

If she ever asks, “What is feminism?” I’ll tell her it’s an equal rights ballad sung by women who refuse to be drowned out. Our foremothers have written the first verses. But the narrative is unfinished. There are more lyrics to write and rivers to navigate.

At its core, feminism is both life raft and love song.

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About the author: Darrelyn Saloom (@DarrelynSaloom) has published with Writer’s Digest, Tweetspeak Poetry, and Boxing.com. She co-wrote Deirdre Gogarty’s boxing memoir My Call to the Ring (Glasnevin, 2012), which was excerpted in VQR’s Fall 2012 issue, but her pugilistic passions are confined to a keyboard.

22 Comments

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cynthia newberry martin's picture
Yes, seeing the truth more clearly through the eyes of a child, and thereby the hope…I love this story and the way that it reminds us we are not done. It makes me crazy to hear people talk about feminism in the past tense.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Or worse, Cynthia. Anyone who talks about feminism in the past tense must not keep up with the news or follow social media. Sexist comments abound.
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Shirley Hershey Showalter's picture
Your transparency about your first reaction, followed by your more studied response and your lyric conclusion show that feminism does not have to be doctrinaire about content. At its heart, feminism is just about loving girls and women into becoming who they are at the core. Lifeboat and love song. I love that combination. Thank you, Darrelyn, and give your granddaughter a hug from me.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Ha! Yes, children will shock you because they express what they observe without an inner editor. And Mary-Jane gives me plenty to think about. I agree that we need to love girls and allow them to become who they are at the core. I also think it’s time to speak up and remind the world that Feminism is not a bad word.
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Joe Ponepinto's picture
Well said. Too many men (and women) view feminism as a militant and misguided movement. Blogs like yours help remind us of its true purpose.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Thank you, Joe. I agree and am thrilled VQR has provided a platform to have this conversation. Thanks for chiming in.
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Dave Malone's picture
Wonderful post. I am hopeful that women and men both will “nearly choke” when we hear these things from our children. I was very sobered once when while jogging, I observed a mother helping a child store toys on the porch. She urged the young girl to put toys in appropriate bins with, “Those go in boy toys. These in girl toys.” I agree with your eloquence on this point: “I’ll tell her it’s an equal rights ballad sung by women who refuse to be drowned out.” But it’s also a ballad sung by men. Though I held feminist ideals in college, I didn’t live them and change my speech and behavior until I saw them lived out by a close friend a few years older than I. I am living proof of those changes that grew inside of me. I am a househusband, but also provider. And my girlfriend is both of these, too. But it’s not simply enough to reverse the role of “cleaner” or “provider.” The value comes in doing the tasks of home, work, life because you love them–not because of unquestioned tradition, which has perversely affected both women and men.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Good point, Dave. It’s a ballad that needs to be sung by men as well as women. And we need to live the ballad as you describe. Our children and grandchildren watch much better than they listen.
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Cyd Madsen's picture
This is an excellent perspective on feminism–she told the truth. The body of this essay reminds me of a short story I read years ago with a title and author I cannot, of course, remember. It was about a little girl on a farm who didn’t want to be with her mother in the kitchen cooking and cleaning and mending; she wanted to be with the men folk. She went and returned, having learned that the work of men was death and blood and the rawness of life. She preferred being in the kitchen with the women where life and nurturing were the work prescribed, their own power spoken. That, too, was a unique perspective, and told at the height of the feminism I grew up in. Years later I chatted with a Rhodes Scholar doing her doctoral work at UCLA in classical literature. Her stance on feminism was that it wasn’t oppression and inequality, but rather a paradigm shift. The power of women had always been private; the power of men public. She claimed that without private power those in the public could not survive and men were entirely dependent on the grace of women’s power, if they chose to share it. In our contemporary world, power is shifting, and whenever there is a massive shift of this nature, there is friction, resistance, inequality, and discord. The writings of Leonard Shlain are, unfortunately, categorized as New Age, but he’s spot on with all of his books and his observations. In The Alphabet Versus The Goddess he points out that before the linear alphabet came on the scene, all power rested in women and their biological programming for the image (women and men have different numbers of cones and rods in their eyes, different brains ). Once the alphabet took over as a means of communication and power, the goddess receded, taking feminine power with it. If we look at the contemporary world, we can see the internet taking over in all areas of power, and the image overpowering the written word. We’re riding on a new wave of feminism along with the wave of the image. I do see contemporary feminism as a life raft, carrying us all on this wave of change, but have not yet been able to express it so succinctly and beautifully as you. Feminism is also a love song to our power lost and struggling for expression in this new world. A lovely post. Thank you.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Cyd, thank you for your fascinating, lovely response. It’s funny you mention the story of a girl on a farm because a week ago my granddaughter insisted on helping to feed the horses, which she did, even though she could barely lift the feed buckets. I’m glad you see contemporary feminism as a life raft, too. (Always nice to know you’re not alone.) I believe we need to build a strong one out of love for the next generation. If my granddaughter is any indication, they will have no problems riding the waves of change.
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Carolyn Patin's picture
Carolyn Patin · 7 years ago
A thought provoking read. I enjoyed reading this story, as well as the replies from your readers.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Thank you, Carolyn. I’ve enjoyed the comments, too. Always love it when readers share their views.
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Jenny Fickey's picture
Jenny Fickey · 7 years ago
Hallelujah, Darrelyn! Someday I will use your words to describe feminism to my baby daughter. Life raft and love song. Your granddaughter and my daughter will add their verses to the chorus of their generation. And their brothers will be singing along.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
Such a sweet image, Jenny. I’ll take it to sleep with me. So glad you stopped by.
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Dave Malone's picture
Wowee, Cyd. I don’t know the short story, but I really appreciate the sentiment: “She preferred being in the kitchen with the women where life and nurturing were the work prescribed, their own power spoken.” That’s gorgeous. And so life-affirming. At family holiday gatherings, I have often been the only male in the kitchen as I’m cooking or helping clean up. It is great joy. I do hope there is a place on the life raft for men who believe in an ever-changing narrative that appreciates the wonders, passion, and resilience of both genders.
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Cyd Madsen's picture
Schooching over, Dave. You can sit next to my son-in-law. He’s a testosterone junkie if there ever was one, but I can’t cook a holiday meal without him. The shared power and time is the best and always the aim.
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Richard Gilbert's picture
Thank you for sharing such a lovely moment, Darrelyn. I admire how you show and say so much in so few words. Your granddaughter is a lucky little girl, too, to have a sensitive grandmother who is sharing so much with her.
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Darrelyn Saloom's picture
So kind of you to say, Richard. But I’m the lucky one. I have never seen a child so hungry to learn and eager to grow up. Look out world, here she comes.
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deborah cutler's picture
deborah cutler · 7 years ago
I am sure she will love the conversations she’ll have with you Darrelynn. I can’t wait to hear what comes out!
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