' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Can feminism be hereditary?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can feminism be hereditary?

Granddaughter Chelsea
 "I need feminism because I would like
 to have real conversations with men."
Women of my generation, those of us who fought for the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive choice, often lament that the younger generation of women assume the fight is over, ignoring pervasive gender discrimination that continues today. I'm heartened though that things are changing. Women in the military are seeking the right to serve in combat. Women in college are speaking out against cultural practices that continue to limit women's ability to participate fully in society. Most thrilling to me personally is that my granddaughters, Chelsea and Rachael--the daughters of my lost daughter Rebecca and students at Brigham Young University in Utah--are on the forefront.

Chelsea, who recently changed her Lithuanian last name from the masculine form to the feminine form, is participating in the "Who Needs Feminism" campaign launched by Duke University students. The purpose of the campaign is to "challenge existing stereotypes surrounding feminists and assert the importance of feminism today. We feel that until the denigration surrounding feminism and women's issues is alleviated, it will be hard to achieve total gender equality, both statistically and socially."*  The campaign features picture of young women with signs that say "I need feminism because ...."

Chelsea, 21, works for The WomenStats project at BYU which, according to its website, is "the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women in the world." Chelsea also recently organized a symposium for Women's History Month at BYU.

Meanwhile Rachael, 24, is majoring in physics at BYU (who said women couldn't do math?) and is one of only a handful of women cadets in the Air Force ROTC program. She recently completed summer boot camp and has been selected to be a pilot . Her Facebook page features a poster from Chelsea about Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin, who discovered that the sun and stars and thus the universe itself are composed of hydrogen, not heavy metals as was thought.  "While her name should be as well known as that of Galileo, Newton, or Einstein, the patriarchal structure of institutional academia preventing her from achieving such status."   

Although I had always fumed growing up when I was told girls couldn't do this or that, I rarely found support when I expressed my annoyance or downright outrage. Girls couldn't  climb trees because they were--girls! I climbed trees anyway, but sometime suspected that maybe the problem was me, rather than society's.  My maternal grandmother had been a first- wave feminist and raised her daughters to value education, which she had been denied because her public high school did not admit girls. My mother had been committed to women's rights--or what passed for women's rights in the Twenties--and completed graduate work at the University of Chicago. By the Fifties, though, when I was growing up, she was ambivalent over its value--after five kids, two bad marriages, she was forced to go to work in her forties. Feminism, she thought, had not helped her. She never tried to contradict the image of the happy Fifties housewife trumpeted by the popular culture. Though I was a closet feminist ever since I was told girls couldn't use the slide in kindergarten because I had on a skirt and someone could look up my legs, my own Ah Ha! moment with women's rights came shortly after my daughter Rebecca was surrendered for adoption. Everything about that experience informed me that men even controlled the right to motherhood, and most everything else in society. She was born in 1966. By the mid-Seventies, I was actively involved in the feminist movement.

I don't know where Rachael and Chelsea got their commitment to equality and opportunity for women--they're smart girls and likely figured it out for themselves--but their mother suggests on her blog, Earth Stains, that genetics played a part.

"[I HAVE CONCLUDED THAT FEMINISM IS GENETIC]  There was a disruption in The Force when someone who would later become a feminist gave away her first born daughter [me] to Mormons (not her choice). But 45 years later, her granddaughters from the relinquishment are feminist movers and shakers at Brigham Young University, a place where the birth mother was unlikely to ever have feminist influence. But because of a ludicrous, unethical adoption placement, she indirectly does have influence at BYU, and with academic Mormons. Weird, huh?"**

Not weird, wonderful!!!

*Who Needs Feminism?
The WomenStats Project
Women in combat--it's time 
**Earth Stains

FROM FMF: Normal in one family may be seen as abnormal in another
Two brothers, one adopted, find each other at the swimming pool
Meeting my "Adopted" granddaughter
News Flash: Knowing Your Medical History Can Save Your Life--


  1. Ironic? I dont think so!

    I know you must be very proud of them!!

  2. What a great story--you must be very proud of your granddaughters--and their Mom too! The connection is there, you can't beat it out of the genes.

    My daughter doesn't want to admit how much she is like me, but I see it whenever we are together. Same mannerisms.

  3. My daughter does more and more things like me - even if she is unaware of it. She is big on animals and working towards opening a reserve, and suddenly she has taken an interest in helping those that are not able to help themselves.....

    Yep - genetics - gotta love it!

  4. Yes, absolutely!

    Its not my daughter's whole picture and at age 12, I know she is still growing and evolving...but many of her greatest strengths I suspect can be attributed to her overseas Mama and to the early circumstances that created an environment of needing to survive. (She was in a very impoverished Orphanage...one of the worst).

    I know nurture is part of it too but when I look at her, I see echoes of her other family and birth country and its awe inspiring to behold!

    Its a vital link and connection for them. Always.

    One to treasure.


  5. Jane you have lovely and brave granddaughters, much to be proud of for you and their mom.

    I see in my family that loving animals is hereditary, all kinds but especially cats.My youngest son's girlfriend commented on how much he loves all creatures, even avoids killing bugs. We always had animals, and back beyond my grandparent's generation were all small farmers in Europe. My Irish cousins still live on the farm one grandpa came from, and yes, there were farm dogs and cats, as well as the cows.

    When we visited my oldest son and his wife, a lot of fun time was spent observing the wildlife outside in his rural yard, and playing with the puppy and cats in the house. Like us, they have birdfeeders and sassy squirrels and are partial to the woodpecker and bright red cardinals in winter.

    I was proud to hear that my son sponsors a handicapped kitty at Tabby's Place, a great shelter for cats of all kinds. It really is interesting the kinds of things that are hereditary through generations.

  6. What a wonderful post! I have no daughters, but hope that my sons have inherited my feminism...

    Speaking of which, 'tis the wrong season to remember this, but a subversively feminist nursery rhyme that always delighted me comes to mind:

    "Hot cross buns, hot cross buns
    One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.
    If you have no daughters, give them to your sons!
    One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns."

    Having grown up in an all-daughter generation with parents who felt unfairly cheated out of male offspring, I loved the idea of a treat to which girls got first dibs... even notionally, as I'd never even tasted a hot cross bun until adulthood. And I'm Jewish.

    Thanks, Jane, for a much-needed lift, and happy hols--whatever they may be!--to all here at FMF.

  7. We know that genes play a greater role in forming character traits than was previously thought, so yes, I suppose I do sort of think feminism can be hereditary.

    I think it's great too that your daughter and her husband raised your granddaughters in a way that encouraged their independence of mind and spirit.



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