If there’s one thing this horrific election has taught me, one invaluable lesson that’s been bestowed upon me, it’s this: I am a feminist.
I’ve resisted the title for some time. Not because I’m against feminism in any way. On the contrary, I didn’t think that I—a straight, white American male—deserved the moniker. I felt giving myself the title of feminist—with all its history—was giving myself too much credit. After all, what have I ever done to deserve it?
I am a proud liberal progressive who happily cast my ballot for Hillary Rodham Clinton on November 8. I didn’t agree with her on every issue (like every other candidate I’ve ever supported), but I never fell for Bernie Sanders’s messianic act and his Bernie Or Bust holier-than-thou acolytes, who should—in no particular order—put down their phones, stop with the selfies, and grow the fuck up. I’ve listened to vagina-hating nonsense from men… and women too. I have long known my fellow Americans aren’t the most enlightened group of people on this planet, but I never thought they were this idiotic.
The 2016 American Presidential election has been a game-changer in so many ways (almost all of them bad). The election of Donald Trump, the billionaire Archie Bunker, has pried open my eyes to the shocking and appalling political realities before us. I can sit on the fence no longer. I’ve long voted for liberal Democratic candidates who support women’s issues, but it’s time to stand up and be counted.
My evolution didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a gradual process, one that dates back to the first woman I ever fell in love with: my mother.
My mother—the American-born daughter of Sicilian immigrants—would never, ever refer to herself as a feminist. At 84, she is of a different generation. The Silent Generation to be exact. She believes in the principles of feminism: equal treatment under the law, equal pay, etc. But she is too Catholic, too traditional, too set in her ways. Though she’s fought the same battles as any woman her age, titles mean nothing to her.
Instead, my mother fought those battles her own way. When she married my father, first generation Italian-American Catholic women took their husband’s name. Suddenly, Tina Fiore became Tina F. Tirella. The ‘F’ isn’t her middle name (that would be Gertrude). It was the replacement for Fiore, her maiden name, which she always loved. The name means “flower” in Italian whereas Tirella is a small leather strap that attaches a cart to a horse (or, as my mother reminds my father time and again, the strap attached to “a horse’s ass!”). My mother changed her name on her terms, in her own way. She sought no permission from my father or her church or the government. She couldn’t give a rat’s ass what any of the above thought regarding her decision.
When I was 15, my mother decided she wanted a job. She had been a stay-at-home mom all my life and as she informed my father one night over dinner, she was “sick of staring at these four walls!” My father, a first generation American-born son of Sicilian immigrants, slammed his fist on the table and proclaimed, “No wife of mine is gonna work!” Case closed. A week later, my mother was behind the counter at Macy’s in downtown Flushing, giving a customer her change. So much for my father’s protests. Like I said, my mother couldn’t give a rat’s ass what he or any man had to say on the issue. Or her church-going friends, either. Case closed.
You may wonder how this rather conservative upbringing informed my progressive political views. It was obvious to me, from early on, that men and women were equal. At least they were in my house. I saw plenty of examples to the contrary—I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Queens that was largely Italian, Irish and Jewish. The patriarchy was alive and well. But to give some credit to my father, despite his macho tough guy protests, when my mother made up her mind, he respected it.
The strong example my mother set unsurprisingly bled over to my personal life. I have always been attracted to and dated strong women; women with presence, vibrant opinions; women who were never shy about expressing themselves. Little surprise I married a strong and beautiful first generation Greek-American woman. Although she was raised in a traditional household, she’s exactly the kind of woman who would never take shit from any man. Truth be told, I could never be with a woman who would take my shit. (As Groucho Marx used to quip, I could never belong to a club that would actually have me as a member.)
When she told me she wanted to keep her name, I said, that’s cool. (Why would I care?) Friends and family asked, “She’s not taking your name?” For years now my wife—a vice president at one of the biggest nonprofits in America—has earned more money than me. Lots more. I’ve been asked by a number of men, “Really? That doesn’t bother you?” Again, I was perplexed. (I mean how small do their… um, brains have to be?). My wife also did all the paperwork—and I do mean all—to refinance our house. When the bank called me at work to confirm we were moving forward with the process, I snapped at the person on the phone, “Why are you calling me? I didn’t start this process, my wife did. She knows all this information. Why are you bothering me at work with this?” Why? Because of the two names on the mortgage, mine was the only male name. (Now ain’t that some bullshit right there…)
Another factor in my feminist evolution: The birth of my daughter in 2012.
Four years earlier when my son was born, the world, with all its callousness and indifference to human suffering, seemed more dangerous than ever before to me. Then in 2012, when I had a daughter, I realized the world was even more hostile to her. That was the year of the Republican Party’s ‘War on Women.’
It was an eye-opener. I suddenly realized that many people on the planet would look at my daughter as a second-class citizen; that she could be pushed around or should think of herself as subservient to men; that, by virtue of her gender, she was inferior; in some countries she would be traded like cattle, covered against her will in head-to-foot clothing, not allowed to drive, or used as a plaything for the desires of men. In my own country, she would be treated unequally under the law; at any moment, some moronic senator from some shit-kicking Red State could introduce a bill forcing her to have a medical procedure just because he could. I began to see the world as I imagined she would some day.
How I wanted to tell her—and my son—on the morning of November 9, 2016 that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the President of the United States so they could grow up knowing women have always been president and there was no glass ceiling to America’s highest office. Knowing that the American people would never pick an unqualified idiot over an overqualified woman with an impeccable resume. (For the record, my daughter still runs around the house shouting, “Hil-la-ry! Hil-la-ry!”).
Alas, it was not to be. Thanks to the inanity of 60 million Americans, Donald J. Trump is the next President of the United States. A buffoon billionaire who will turn the White House into a kleptocracy, spewing racial venom and sexist bile in his acts, words, and tweets. The racist right-wingers and KKK terrorists will be empowered, further eradicating any sense of normalcy as we hurtle forward to a post-factual society where National Security Advisors tweet fake news stories about Hillary Clinton and gun-wielding rednecks bring assault rifles into pizza parlors to “self-investigate” make-believe scandals.
This is not the America I wanted to live in. Nor is it the America I wanted to raise my children in. But it is the America I, unfortunately, live in. For precisely that reason, it is time to stand up and say: Yes, I am a feminist. I am a feminist because I believe women should have full and equal protection under the law. I don’t know why this is a radical or controversial idea in the 21st century. Yes, I was with her. But more importantly, I’m with the other half of the human race. Besides being the majority of the 7 billion people on this planet, they include my mother, my wife, and my daughter.
So yeah, I’m with them.
Photo of Joseph Tirella by Tim Soter
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