Winter, 1974, Boston: Just out of college, I'm at my first feminist consciousness raising group. We're asked to name our favorite writers. I say, "James Thurber and Hemingway." That I'm told, is the wrong answer. I'm kicked out, because the authors I've named are "too male and patriarchal."
November, 1976, New Haven, Conn.: A friend and I, grad school students at Yale, nab cheap tickets to an election benefit for Jimmy Carter. Lily Tomlin and Peter, Paul and Mary are performing.
Being visually impaired, I get lost going to the restroom and end up in Tomlin's dressing room.
She surveys me in my student dress (jeans, flannel shirt, hiking boots) and jokes, "where are you from ....the 'in crowd?'" I'm too starstruck to know what to say. I mumble, "no, I'm from Connecticut."
A male photographer barges in. Tomlin puts an arm around me, turns to the guy and says, "you go out! She can stay! Women are my friends!"
I'm in my (no smiling allowed) I'm a feminist and I'm gonna eradicate sexism phase. "'Blowin' in the Wind' is a sexist song," I tell Tomlin, "it has the word 'man' in it." "Go tell her," Tomlin says. Marching into the next room with the fervor of a Temperance Leaguer raiding a saloon, I inform Mary Travers that she'd better make her song fall in line with feminism. "If I changed the words [to make it less sexist]," Travers patiently says, "I'd ruin a musical moment."
I hope this story won't lead my obit.
Fall 1987, New York: I'm a social worker in a social service agency. My boss, who I'll call Godzilla, is a creature from the Nether regions. She wants us to work during lunch, doesn't approve of coffee breaks and eats babies for breakfast. Widows and orphans are on her hit list. Once again, I realize that, no matter how much of a feminist I am, I'll never like all women.
Thanksgiving, 2006: A friend and I celebrate by seeing "Borat-Cultural Leanings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhston." In one scene of this brilliant satire, some grim-looking feminists are interviewed. They have the sense of humor of a spreadsheet.
I've met feminists like this in real life (like myself at times).
Wouldn't it be great if there were wit as well as blood transfusions?
May 2007: Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.: A gal pal and I are watching Arena's revival of "The Heidi Chronicles," the late Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winning play. "Heidi" swept me off my feet, when the show opened off-Broadway in 1988 at Playwrights Horizons in New York. I wonder if I'll still fall under its spell.
Like everyone I know, I'm sad that Wasserstein died so young. I miss her energy, her wit, her plays and her essays.
"The Heidi Chronicles" engages me and (metaphorically) makes my life-as a woman who came of age in the 1960's-flash before my eyes. At a time when Hillary is running for president and the "mommy wars" rage, feminism still matters.
Yet, many of the characters (especially the women), with the exception of Heidi and a couple of her friends, seem like caricatures. During intermission, when my buddy (a sister boomer) says, "I don't feel very involved. Maybe I'm getting old," I agree.
Nearly 20 years ago, Wasserstein's comedy, a mix of poignancy and pointed satire, hit women (and many men) of my generation where we lived.
Art historian Heidi Holland and her friends, like most of us, went through exhilarating, sometimes rocky transformations from the 1960's to the 1980's.
Susan, the former Montana women's health collective stalwart becomes a Hollywood honcho. Peter, the pediatrician, who meets Heidi at a high school dance in 1965, "comes out" as gay in the 1970's and faces the devastation of AIDS in the 1980's. Scoop, editor of the radical Liberated Earth News in the 1960's, edits Boomer, a magazine chronicling the power elites in the 1980's.
Heidi agonizes over how or whether to have it all (love, family and work). She tries on strident feminism--marching in front of the Metropolitan Museum (chanting "Women in Art!") to protest the lack of recognition given to women artists. Then, after moving on to work within the establishment (winning a Fulbright, writing books) for "humanist" connections in art, Heidi opts to raise a baby as a single mom.
If the expression had been used in 1988, I'd have thought, this play literally rocks my world. The story of Heidi and her friends is infused with our music: Aretha, the Jefferson Airplane and the Beatles.
But, in D.C. in 2007, some of the play's characters seem dated and over-the-top. Fran, a lesbian, is dressed in combat garb. Slapping everyone on the back and barking out the F-word, Fran has the charm of a prison warden. As a queer gal, I wonder, were we really like that? Susan morphs from an idealistic, radical women's health collective devotee into a shallow Hollywood sellout. Did any of us really make that big of a leap? Scoop, the journalist and one-time lover of Heidi, knows that he's annoying at best and arrogant at worst.
Yet, Heidi, Peter, and their friendship reach the solar plexus. It's touching when Heidi says (of her baby Judy), "she'll never think she's worthless." You root for Judy and for future generations when Heidi calls her daughter "a heroine for the 21st century." Anyone gay or different in any way, knows in the gut, what he means, when Peter, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's, says "our friends are our families." At a time when homophobia still reigns in some quarters, you applaud Heidi when she tells him, "you won't lose this member of your family."
Come to think of it, all of the characters in "The Heidi Chronicles," no matter how stereotyped, still pack a punch.
It's uncomfortable to admit this. But, there's a bit of Fran, Susan and Scoop...as well as Peter and Heidi in all of us.
Who (male or female) hasn't raged, boasted, sold-out, loved, worked, raised a family, while under the influence....of feminism?
Nearly two decades since her birth, Heidi still rocks.
(The Heidi Chronicles ran at Arena Stage from April 6-May 13. The play is published in paperback by Dramatists Play Service Inc.)