I became a feminist when I was 8. At a holiday party, my father’s boss gathered the children around him, pulled some bills out of his wallet, and handed my 5-year-old brother a $10 bill. Then, he held out a bill for me: a five!
“Why did he get more?” I said. My parents laughed nervously.
“He’s a boy,” the boss replied.
“But I’m older!” That argument went nowhere.
My father told me to say thank you for the gift, which I did. But I sulked, and out of eyesight, my father gave me another $5.
That was in the late 1960s, and when I came to understand what “feminist” meant, I knew I was one. I believe that my mother, a retired teacher, is one, too, though I have never heard her say it. Hers was a feminism rooted in economics: She had watched friends who were “housewives” struggle after divorce to stay afloat. Mine was largely a feminism of ambition: I wanted the professional rewards that the boys in my classes assumed they’d get one day.
The generational divide was in my mind as we planned the conversation on feminism (page 22) between Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11. In 2012, Slaughter sparked a national debate with an Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” She explores the topic further in a new book.
Princeton has offered many Reunions panels on this topic over the years, sessions that drew graduates of all ages and felt charged and personal. Now I have a teenage daughter who has watched me juggle work and family, not always cheerfully or well. She wants and expects better for herself, though she’s not yet sure what “better” means. I’m hoping that she — and the young women and men at Princeton today — will figure that out.