BY: CMarie Fuhrman
Get this. A feminist walks into a bar, face smudged with ash, thick Carhartt bib overalls, long hair tucked in a cap, perfectly manicured nails, and a strapping fellow by her side. They order two steaks, a beer each, and she has a salad, no dressing. She fidgets as she tries to adjust her thong underwear. When the check comes, he pays. He holds the door as they walk out of the bar, and she climbs to a diesel pickup pulling a trailer full of wood. He drives.
The funny thing is, she doesn’t know she is a feminist.
It’s me, at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, Montana for several years before my move to Idaho. The bar has changed, the man, too, the wardrobe is still the same.
I grew up rurally. A ranch kid. A tomboy. Daddy’s little girl. What I knew about feminism could be kept in a thimble for discussions around women’s rights were limited to how long a calf might be kept with her mother or when it was my turn to use the bathroom. I was born in 1972, women had the right to vote, Mom stayed at home, we were on the sunny side of civil rights, and Julie was the Cruise Director of the Love Boat. Things looked pretty good for us eighties ladies, but then, I was still a fledgling, under my parent’s wing, protected from many of the realities of society.
I can’t speak for my Mom, but she seemed pretty content in her roles as a mom, wife, and caretaker of animals and her own dying mother. My mom never focused on lack, even though she was raised with plenty, so I never knew what might be missing. I asked her once, not long ago, for her thoughts about feminism, about equal treatment of women, and she said it seemed like it was harder for women today than it was for her then. Today, she said, women don’t know where they stand and they have so much defining to do. My mom wears wonderfully red lipstick. Always. I’ve seen her dab it on before heading out to pick vegetables. I’ve watched her touch it and her hair up before donning a slinky satin nightie and heading to bed. Mom, I’d say, why are you putting on lipstick before going to bed. Because, she replied, I am going to bed with your father.
My dad, you’d never guess that he would care whether she had make up on or not, because he never said a thing to eight-year-old me when I’d put on an old t-shirt, jeans, and a ball cap and head out to the field with him. I’d be covered in engine grease, spackled in mud, wiping my brow with the back of my hand and he’d give me the same pat on the back that he’d give a friend who helped with the same task. He’d crack open a Budweiser and give me a sip of beer. I was one of the boys.
And I liked that. So growing up, even now, I have a multitude of guy friends. I want to get dirty, I want to buck hay bales, cut firewood, hunt, and be treated like one of the guys. But.
My mother got a hold of me one day after she caught me working a stump out of the ground in our pasture to ensure I understood I was also one of the girls. It was a hot day, August probably, I was sweating. I must have still been a preteen, (for after twelve or so modesty becomes something as uniquely irritating and innate as acne,) and I had tossed off my shirt. My mother. She came running from the kitchen, hair in curlers, dish towel in her hands and yelling my name. She covered me in the damp cotton as if I’d just climbed out of a frozen lake. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or scared. Later that week, she told me we needed to have a talk.
Cindy, she said, you’re growing up and pretty soon boys will start to act differently. There are some things you need to know. (Mind you, I had seen every episode of Fantasy Island by this time. I was no angel. I knew what happened between men and women and I dreaded this talk like I dreaded the first day of school.) It’s time, she continued, that you learned to bake bread and make pies.
Unless you have dated me, you’ll never know how handy that lesson came in. So I learned to bake and I got my period and I learned the boys can be interested in more than your Stomper collection. It was my Dad’s turn. Bug, (he always called me that,) Bug, he said, I don’t doubt that countless men will always be around to help you, but you need to learn how to change a tire and simple car maintenance. Believe me when I tell you that I am a catch.
This is not to say that my growing up was not fraught with some of the same difficulties as other women, but I was raised to take care of myself, be independent, and pursue anything, despite my gender. Enter college.
There are inequities in life that a simple rural growing and education are not taught you. I lived within an hour of Matthew Shepard and learned about hate, about discrimination. Teenage pregnancies meant that a woman would always wear a label and the one classmate that did, killed herself shortly after her baby turned one. I stopped reading Stephen King and discovered the more haunting writings of Audre Lorde, of Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker. I found out that classmates who did not grow up used to my brown face learned to understand me via racial discrimination. I interviewed for a job on a ranch in my college town because they didn’t want to have to “worry about me.” I became uncomfortably aware that women everywhere were still ranked as second class citizens.
My first career was in Exercise Physiology. A great place to become acutely aware of your body image and take on an eating disorder. I went from trainer to club owner and at Chamber of Commerce meetings, I was expected to show up in a dress, and being willing to serve iced tea. If I was not thin, bog breasted, and interested in powerful men with powerful money, I was an outsider. This was Texas then. Probably still is.
I spent 17 years helping women who were morbidly obese. And I became an advocate not only for the rights of women, but for marginalized women, for women who did not fit the mold. It was excruciating to hear their stories, exhilarating to watch their success, and in the end, exhausting.
As you know, I am back in school now. Writing the occasional article in a fitness magazine about body image wasn’t enough. I have more stories to tell, I am training that story tellers voice. And in doing so, I have learned how much of my heart cries about women’s issues and how my writing works toward equality, toward empathy, toward education.
Now it goes something like this. A woman walks into a classroom on the University of Idaho campus. She is wearing boots, jeans, a blingy belt and she carries a pocket knife. She wears comfortable underwear. Her nails are still manicured and some days she offers more than a ponytail to present her hair. She keeps a keen eye out toward injustices toward women. She teachers about sterilization of Native woman. She writes poems about strong female presence. She brings younger writers into a classroom and opens discussion on everything from periods to sleeping around. Later, she’ll drive home in a too big pickup and it won’t matter who gets the door or the check. It’s no joke. It never was. My idea of feminism is the same idea of equality that my parents unknowingly instilled in me. The same opportunities. The same education. And the same freedom to choose thong or regular underwear, naked or polished nails.
I don’t put on lipstick before bed like my mom. And now that my dad has passed I can’t thank him again for teaching me how to sharpen my knife. But I have some slinky things hanging in the closet. Somewhere between the camouflage and the pink pussyhat.