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March 27, 2008
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Finding Feminism

Imagine my surprise: I'm with a bunch of women and I'm having fun. Were these women at my local parish the sisterhood I´┐Żd been looking for my entire life?

Meredith_Gould_article


Regina and I are at a Women's Club meeting. At church. My Catholic church. It's the kick-off meeting for the year and I'm in the familiar throes of an epiphany about my embodiment as a woman´┐Żmake that a Catholic Christian woman. I love these sacred "aha" moments. I love it when what I think smacks right up against what I'm feeling. And I love that this sacred aha moment is happening during a Women's Club meeting.

Imagine my surprise: I'm with a bunch of women and I'm having fun. I'm inspired by the guest speaker. I'm happy to sing a few songs. Indeed, I'm getting quite the kick out of how our impromptu choir of sixty is drowning out the baker's dozen of real choir members who are trying to practice in the next room. The food is good and plentiful; we're not being stuck with little tea sandwiches or casseroles bound together with cream-of-anything soup.

Regina and I first met at an ad agency. Our hair was big, our nails were sharp, and our mood was generally foul´┐Żalong with our language.
Regina and I first met at an ad agency. Our hair was big, our nails were sharp, and our mood was generally foul´┐Żalong with our language. It was the 1980s and like most women in that so-called glamour industry, we compensated for our pitiful salaries by treating other women with dislike, distrust, and disdain. I was particularly repulsed by women who had opted out of what I considered real work for what I viewed as domestic slavery. Church women weren't even worth railing against.

Being a decade older than Regina and having come of discriminated-against age during the 1970s, I was angrier and therefore nastier than she. I had discovered that feminism was great in theory but the practice was somewhat suspect. Sisterhood wasn't as powerful as I had hoped. In fact, it was downright depleting at times. Plus, I couldn't help but notice that consciousness raising hadn't exactly led to career development, let alone advancement, and I was pissed. My college sorority sisters had provided more support and had certainly been more fun than any of the "wymyn" with whom I'd planned the great feminist revolution. This was not only pathetic but terribly horribly wrong, so wrong that I wouldn't acknowledge my deep disappointment for another three decades.

Being a bitch was the ruling survival strategy for the few women who were making it in the dog-eat-dog world of advertising. And it didn't seem to matter whether the woman was a "creative" or a "suit." Both roles needed defending and since being offensive seemed to work, I decided being rude and crude was a great all-purpose way of being and doing.

All this weirdness was compounded working at an ad agency whose owner had a cheesy "Try God" plaque prominently displayed in his office. Almost every desk sported a Bible. (NIV translation!) My immediate boss kept a crucifix on his conference table, but Jesus was not actually affixed to the cross. (Glue failure? Mystery? You choose!)

I was particularly repulsed by women who had opted out of what I considered real work for what I viewed as domestic slavery.
My boss, who would eventually get to choose between rehab and unemployment, would absent-mindedly shove Jesus around during team meetings. I found this very disconcerting, but probably not as disconcerting as the near-constant stream of comments about cleavage that Regina would endure from two of the biggest Bible-thumpers there. That I ever became a Christian is an authentic miracle and evidence of God's amazing grace. (The evangelical fervor of a colleague also comes into play, but that's another story for another time.)

Now, the Women's Club's officers are determined to recruit volunteers for any number of activities. They're doing this with such lightness of being that one moment I'm inviting Regina to slap me if I volunteer for anything; the next, I'm feeling way too enthusiastic about a proposed fundraiser. I actually haul out my calendar to see if I can squeeze in another volunteer activity and am bummed to realize that I absolutely cannot. (Note to self: Do you ever read anything you write? Reread Deliberate Acts of Kindness. Pay attention to sections about burnout.)

Instead of being annoyed, I'm amused´┐Żbut not in a patronizing oh-you-silly-women-with-sweater-sets type of way. And then I realize that I'm not feeling amused, but delighted. I'm happy to be with these women. I'm so happy and, dare I note, feeling so content, that I stop cringing at the oxymoronic use of the word "fellowship" to describe what is clearly "sisterhood." And clearly powerful.

At one point during the evening's festivities, under the cover of laughter and applause, I look over at my friend of nearly 20 years and say, "It has come to this." And because we've been friends for nearly twenty years, she knows exactly what I mean. I can tell because she's clearly having a great time. She nods in agreement and mumbles, "Yeah, well, I refuse to get a glue gun."

Right.

She's not going to get a glue gun but she is going to sign up for whatever sub-ministry of this ministry will allow her to bake cookies. Regina loves baking cookies. So do I, although I've been on a crafts frenzy since entering perimenopause and wouldn't mind having a glue gun of my own. But toting a glue gun is not an entrance requirement for this Women's Club.

If I join the Women´┐Żs Club I will not be called upon to craft Christmas angels or Easter lambs out of Sculpey for the sake of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
If I join the Women's Club I will not be called upon to craft Christmas angels or Easter lambs out of Sculpey for the sake of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Instead, I'll be called upon to live out my Catholic faith and convictions in real, practical ways; taking seriously the call I hear at the close of Mass, that we should always be a blessing to one another.

These women are into serving the church, the world, and one another. Here I am, post-feminist era me, discovering that they manage to do all this with generosity, talent, compassion, and no shortage of good humor. Here I am, Lord, discovering that I like, trust, and admire these women in my parish. They are indeed "full of grace." Could the Women's Club at my church be the Women's Group I always wanted? It has, indeed, come to this. Thanks be to God. 

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January 28, 2005

MEREDITH GOULD is the author of five books including, The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days and Every Day (Doubleday). Her latest book, Come to the Table: A Catholic Passover Seder for Holy Week (Plowshares Publishing) will be available in mid-February (www.plowsharespublishing.com).

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01.28.05   Godspy says:
Imagine my surprise: I'm with a bunch of women and I'm having fun. Were these women at my local parish the sisterhood I´┐Żd been looking for my entire life?

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