Growing up with five younger brothers guaranteed I would be a feminist. My mother had five brothers as well. For a good 16 years I was taller and stronger and smarter and better read. Looking at old pictures that show me towering over my brothers, I mourn lost opportunities for cutting them down to size:) I recall asking the nun preparing us for Holy Communion why the boys went up to the altar first. “Because they are closer to God since they can be priests,” was her reply. At that moment I became a feminist. I confess I was less interested in solidarity with women than in besting men. I felt outraged when my brother could be an altar boy and I couldn’t, even though my Latin was infinitely better.
Sixty years later, I still adore intellectual competition and debate with men.
My immediate neighborhood had no girls to play with, only boys, so I coped by becoming a tomboy, passionately interested in baseball. My brothers used to challenge their friends to ask me a baseball question I couldn’t answer. My family always encouraged academic achievement. I was a shy intellectual in high school; my friends hung out at the high school newspaper and the debate club. None of us dated. I concluded that smart girls didn’t attract men unless they deliberately played dumb, something I refused to do. Besides my ideal male was Jack Kennedy. Crushing on JFK was good for me. I immersed myself in politics and American history.
Although my mom started college when I did, she was in what my brother Stephen calls her creative phase when I was growing up. A full-time mother, she sewed most of my clothes, canned tomatoes, made hats, made sock monkeys when she wasn’t taking care of six kids and incredibly active in her local church. My father was the brain; we minimized my mom’s great intelligence. I didn’t want to be my mom. Imagine my confusion when she graduated from college the same day I did, with a straight A average. She had become a feminist and 60s radical, fully committed to the civil rights movement and protest against the Vietnam War..