Born in Flames

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I was born in flames, or at least that’s how it feels. I don’t remember the first time I saw or heard the word feminism. I don’t remember actively seeking out its meaning. I don’t remember the first time I told someone else in my life I identified as such. I don’t remember the day I became angry.

I grew up a bookworm, devouring everything from American Girl Doll books and Nancy Drew mysteries to those kids in the time-traveling treehouse. I loved learning and I loved figure skating, a sport I began practicing at three years old. It follows that my favorite books were about Ruby Bridges, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Tara Lipinski. Those women, among countless others, became my closest companions, my nearest and dearest confidants, my friends. Somehow, through learning of the struggle, hardship, victory and joy of these women, I came to know feminism.

My parents, well-meaning, middle-of-the-road suburban moderates, certainly never used the f-word. Well, they used another f-word on occasion but never “feminism.” But my dad would sit me down and tell me stories about my great grandma, Beatrice, for whom I was named. She was an outspoken and politically aggravated entrepreneur, a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, and, finally, a devoted wearer of hats. She was, in his stories, everything I wanted to be. She started her own women’s clothing business. She was beautiful and whip-smart, and she received love letters, some of which now live in my parents’ basement, from acquaintances and admirers all over the country. She served a short, but well-publicized and much-gossiped stint in county jail for political lobbying. I never met Beatrice, but, somehow, she became the champion of my life.

Beatrice’s memory challenges me and rouses me when I become too sleepy, too quiet, too complacent. Something within me stirs when I hear her name or when I think of her. My pace quickens ever so slightly. I tilt my head up a fraction of an inch higher and sit up just a little bit straighter. Perhaps it’s because I carry her name. Perhaps it’s because, over the years, I’ve convinced myself that in her name, I carry her spirit too.

So, in my case it’s a nature versus nurture debate, isn’t it? Did I learn to love the f-word (that other one too) from my historical heroes and literary cronies? Or does feminism run through my veins? Does it live in my blood, is it a part of what makes me human and keeps my alive? It doesn’t matter. There’s fire in my veins and fight in my eyes and love in my heart. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. I was born in flames.

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