I remember it plainly, the moment I evolved into a full fledged feminist. The day was warm, school was out for the summer. My emerging teenage intellect had decided it was time to expand my knowledge of movie history and I went through a phase of renting movies that I thought to be wildly grown up, scandalous and thought provoking. I was renting such films as A Clockwork Orange and the Graduate, watching with furrowed brow while examining the deeper meaning in all of it. This movie watching phase eventually expanded into genres with which I normally did not tread, and it was here that I watched Carousel, a popular jaunt by Roger's and Hammerstein.
It started out innocent enough. Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Then it started to veer off into some strange territory. During one scene in which the two romantic leads are having what seems to be a "heated discussion" regarding his tendency to gamble or run around with ne'r-do-wells or what not, he grabs her and lightly hits her on the arm. She retorts wildly that she is pregnant and he should not do that and suddenly the mood of the scene shifts. He drops to his knees and coos at her to sit down, fawning over her, asking if she is feeling alright, yadda, yadda, yadda. Even this scene if I am remembering it correctly had an air about it that the apologies somehow made up for his previous actions.
But this was not the moment in which my epiphany occurred.
Towards the end of the film, the male lead has died and gets granted one day to visit Earth. During this time he comes across his 12 year old daughter on the beach. Not realizing he is the spirit of her dead father coming back to make amends, she shuns him when he tries to give her a gift. She pulls away from him when he takes her arm and in the scuffle he lightly hits her. She runs off home to her mother.
Even this was not my epiphanic moment.
Once the girl returns home she is recounting the event to her mother. The dialogue is as follows:
Louise Bigelow: I didn't make it up, Mother. Honest, there was a strange man here, and he hit me hard. I heard the sound of it, Mother, but it didn't hurt. It didn't hurt at all. It was just as if he kissed my hand.
Julie Jordan: Go into the house, Louise.
Louise Bigelow: What's happened, Mother? Don't you believe me?
Julie Jordan: I believe you.
Louise Bigelow: Then why don't you tell me why you're actin' so funny?
Julie Jordan: It's nothin', darlin'.
Louise Bigelow: But is it possible, Mother, for someone to hit you hard like that - real loud and hard, and it not hurt you at all?
Julie Jordan: It is possible dear, for someone to hit you, hit you hard, and it not hurt at all. [they embrace]
And their it was.
The light went off.
I had always known on some level that women in the past have had it worse then women today, but it never occurred to me that the moral statement of a very popular musical would be that it's okay to hit your wife as long as you are sorry for it later. The ramifications were staggering. My mind had been stretched further than it had been. This moment was the beginning of a path which would eventually lead me to seek out the meaning behind the phrase "rule of thumb", to examine the possible motives held by Emily Wilding Davidson when she flung herself onto an active race track, to pursue theatre with the hopes of injecting each character with a dose of reality, avoiding stereotype and caricature. It led me to allowing myself to realize on some level that no matter what I do, say or accomplish I would always be seen by somebody, somewhere as "just a girl".
Eventually, I decided that I was okay to live in such a world. I could handle it. However, Now that I have a daughter and a son I realize that I must do more. I cannot let them grow up in a world where labels are constantly thrown at them, saying here is how a girl or boy behaves. This is what's expected of you. Anything different is wrong or wierd.
The epiphanic moment that I experience that summer afternoon years ago has stretched accross my lifetime and I carry with my the outrage that I felt in that moment. Now I realize it is not enough just to feel that outrage. I must act on it. We must all challenge the notions handed down to us by faulty thinking. Examine why things are the way they are and what we can continue to do to change them.