Barbie the Astronaut - What My Mom Taught Me about Feminism
16 September 2015
Yesterday, I mentioned my mom. I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell an anecdote about my first positive exposure to feminism.
My mother was an intelligent, talented insurance adjuster. She worked for years as one, and by the time her depression caused her to quit her job, she had done all kinds of insurance. She could appraise auto damage, damage to homes, and more. I didn’t realize how amazing that was at the time. She was paid far less than the men who worked alongside her (some of which didn’t have the same level of training that she had). And unfortunately, she was also a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.
But that’s not the story I want to tell today. Today’s story involves Barbie and astronauts. Yes, you heard me correctly. As I recall, a commercial came on television advertising “Astronaut Barbie.” I remember saying something about how stupid that was. My mother was less than amused. She very quickly re-educated me on how Barbie could be an astronaut, and she was very upset with me for demeaning a woman’s intelligence.
Had I been older (a quick Google search tells me I was probably between 10 and 14 at the time this happened), I could have had a discussion about how ditzy Barbie had been depicted thus far in my young life. But I didn’t have the rhetorical skills for that. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I needed the lesson. Badly. Women could be astronauts, just as surely as they could be wives or mothers. Or insurance adjusters.
I don’t think my mother would have self-identified as a feminist, but she was SO a feminist. I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have told me the difference between first-wave and third-wave feminism, and I know intersectionality wasn’t a widespread term back then. Even so, that lesson from her echoes in my mind even now. It’s a legacy that I’m seeking to pass on to my daughter (and my son, for that matter).
I’m not sure I ever got to tell her how much I appreciate that lesson, so…
Thank you, mom. You started me on the path to feminism, and that legacy will live on.