Feminism starts in the home

The women in Abigail Radnor's family taught her gobbiness, strength and to stand tall.

August 31, 2017 12:26

Last weekend, I was treated to a long weekend in Lisbon with my mother. This involved custard tarts, wine, (some) culture and my mother explaining, “it’s a mother-daughter trip — she’s married now” to several Lisboans who did not ask. The humble kvelling knows no bounds.

It was on this trip, while relaxing by the pool with a couple of frozen cocktails and a packet of Pringles (because we Radnors know how to party), that I asked my mum where she thought my feminism came from.

I am not quite sure why I was pondering this question. It could be because, in times like these with a misogynist-in-chief installed in the White House and everyday sexism all around, you think about these things more, in the way you think about your weapons ahead of a battle. Or, in a more fitting analogy to my life experience, the way you would think about plentiful snacks ahead of a long car journey.

It might have also come to mind since we had just got off a FaceTime call with my aunt and grandmother, the former shouting at the latter for being too loud, thus dispersing sunbathers within a five-metre radius of us. I started thinking about the strong, characterful, wise, witty women I had grown up around and their impact.

My mother’s knee-jerk reaction to this question was “Well, it’s not from me.” In the forefront of her mind, she was thinking about other forces of feminism in my life. No doubt my privileged education at a respected girls’ school was a huge influence. It amped up my drive to full power and also provided me with whip-smart friends who aren’t afraid of making their voices heard (we’ve been shushed in many an eating establishment, which we’ve duly ignored.)

But I pointed out that I grew up in a household with parents who worked as a team. I never had a sense of one parent being more dominating or capable than the other (except when it came to roller coasters, when my dad would wait with the handbags).

I owe a lot to my grandmothers, too, not just because they provided me with an endless supply of meatballs and chopped-and-fried fish throughout my early adult days — basically until I met my husband who then took over the role of feeding me. I learnt a lot around my Grandma Shirley’s shabbos table that undoubtedly informed my feminism. While the chat was less Betty Friedan and more Betty from shul and the women definitely spent more time in the kitchen than the men (an imbalance that would lead to starvation in my house), I witnessed — and still do — opinionated women having their say and being respected for it. Because not all balubustas are ball-breakers, the women of my family didn’t necessarily take over. They were just, well, equal to the men. And that’s all that feminism really is. No one needs to stop epilating any bits to get on board.

And so I joined in the conversation, which made my lovely, late Grandpa Harold repeatedly tell me I should become a barrister because I had “the gift of the gab”.

I also inherited that gab from my seemingly quiet, unassuming Grandma Edie, who is still a master of the impeccably timed one-liner with a razor-sharp wit.

But these women have not just taught me gobbiness. They taught me strength. I’ve watched these women weather ferocious emotional storms with dignity. They taught me how to stand tall.

So my mum was wrong. While my life may look different to hers and my grandmothers’, they’ve always set an example. And kept me fed. Nobody can fight the patriarchy on an empty stomach, after all.

Abigail Radnor is features editor of Guardian Weekend

August 31, 2017 12:26

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