I think I became a feminist when, in 1950 at the age of 12, I wrote an essay about Susan B. Anthony for an assignment on Our Heroes. No one else in my seventh-grade class chose a woman. I felt important.
In my 45 years as a history teacher in private schools for girls, I found a way to throw in feminist analysis for every period and every country we studied. My grandson learned the Bechdel Test (does a film feature two [named] female characters who speak to one another about anything other than a man?) when he was six and applies it faithfully – at least when he is with me.
Sure, I have made a few slips like taking a husband’s last name both times I married. But imagine how thrilled I was when Vivian Gornick sent Persimmon Tree an essay for this issue. As long as I have been reading her, Gornick, as she said in her book The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001) has been, “on the barricades for radical feminism.” Even when writing about The Men in My Life (Boston Review Books, 2008) she told us, “before I knew it, it was 1970, and feminism was standing boldly on the horizon, urging me to take in its wisdom. The unlived lives of women began to seem not simply a drama of the psyche, but a crime of historic intent that could be solved only through a movement for social justice. This was an insight that, to every generation of feminists since the Enlightenment, had come like Revelation; and, like Revelation, it lit up a convert’s sky, coloring every feature of the human landscape.”
Gornick wrote “Feminism in these Times” to push back at what she sees as unfair – and inaccurate – criticism of the feminism she has supported most of her life. And now we offer you a challenge and an invitation: respond with an essay of your own – between 500-1,000 words – and submit it for the summer issue, by the deadline of May 15. Details on the Submissions Page. We look forward to reading your opinions.