by Anna Clark
I was the only woman who worked on a ropes course during the summer I spent employed at a girls’ camp in Pennsylvania. Officially, my job was to strap kids into climbing harnesses and belay them as they ventured to the top of walls, fake boulders, and the a 60-foot “adventure pyramid.” Unofficially, my job was to encourage and coax the many girls who were scared to climb high.
During Parents’ Weekend, one eight-year-old, who made it to the peak of the adventure pyramid, was scared to slide off the top—a necessary move for me to belay her back down to the ground. While I could have had someone simply climb up after her, I spent half an hour encouraging the girl to let go. A crowd of parents and girls formed, their necks craned backwards to look up at the little girl stranded at the top. She trembled. She whined. And, finally, when she did slide off – to enormous cheering – she hit the ground with both feet and held her hands in the air in triumph.
“Nice coaching,” said one of the fathers.
For me, this was one of many moments when feminism “clicked.” My experience puts me in a long line of women and men who can point to a particular moment when they began to identify as a feminist. Nearly forty years ago Jane O’Reilly published "Click: The Housewife's Moment of Truth" in Ms. Magazine. In O’Reilly’s words women “recognize the click! of recognition, that parenthesis of truth around a little thing that completes the puzzle of reality in women’s minds—the moment that brings a gleam to our eyes and means the revolution has begun.”While O’Reilly was speaking to a generation of feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan turn to these moments of truth for today’s generation of feminists in a new anthology: Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists (Seal Press). In this collection of brief essays, twenty-eight voices under the age of forty share the stories of their “click” moments, or the baptismal changes that inspired these women, and one man, to understand their individual challenges as part of a pattern of social behavior and collective experience. In so many ways, the “click” is about empathy or a deep compassion and understanding of how others move through the world.
The essays in Click are varied and distinctly voiced, contributing stories that range from Kurt Cobain’s suicide to a young woman who fought to reconcile her experiences as a black woman at a mostly white university. Eighteen-year-old Nellie Becket celebrates that fact that feminists “come in all shapes, colors, and genders, and it’s about time that our diversity is recognized in the mainstream.” Meanwhile, Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne felt “fury” when she was told as a child that girls don’t hunt. “Being told that I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl was like none I’d ever experienced in my ten years on earth. I was a girl on a mission. I would go hunting. I would show those boys that girls could do anything they could do, even if a deer had to die to prove it.”
Included are Amy Richards of the Third Wave Foundation; Rebecca Traister of Salon; Jennifer Baumgardner, author of Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics; and Deborah Siegel, author of Sisterhood Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild – each of these talented women contribute the stories that spurred them to make feminism their life’s defining work. Meanwhile, others like Jordan Berg Powers, an organizer and political consultant who blogs at www.blackjew.net, add a new voice to the conversation. The editors ordered the essays alphabetically, which diffuses any hierarchy that might have emerged among the “professional” and “individual” feminists. Here, the equitable and unique value of each story is affirmed.The collection does, however, seem to be muddled in its aim; it wasn’t clear whether Click is intended for people who have already “clicked,” or people who aren’t yet comfortable identifying themselves as feminists. It is a pointed question: what side of the click are readers of this anthology expected to be on? Does the book, by offering stories that inspire recognition and empathy, want itself to be a click for some of its readers? It seems that the contributing essayists each had different answers to these questions, which diffuses the book’s overall focus and impact.
Collectively, the essays in Click present a disjointed narrative, but position feminism as an intersectional movement that is buoyed by the energy and heart of its young people, even as it honors its pioneering older leaders. A pleasant read, Click brims with affection for the experience of defining one’s self as part of a broad community. At the same time, it creates refreshing room for dissonance within the movement, including those who are unsure of how feminism fits alongside racial and ethnic identities.
There is space to disagree. There is space to change our minds. There is space to understand things anew, to grow, to push each other forward. Click presents a feminist movement that is indeed moving.
About the Author
Anna Clark's writing has appeared in The American Prospect, Utne Reader, AlterNet, Writers' Journal, Bitch Magazine, Religion Dispatches, Women's eNews, ColorLines, RH Reality Check, make/shift, and other publications. She edits the blog, Isak, and she contributes video book reviews to The Collagist, a literary magazine. Anna is a 2010 Fellow with the Peter Jennings Center for Journalists and the Constitution, and she lives in Detroit, Michigan.