Modern Feminism

By D. Herrnstadt '24

Raising a Strong Young Woman in the 21st century is the hardest, most rewarding job in the world. I’m a single mother, and every time I’m utterly exhausted and down on life, I just remember that I have an important role: I’m raising a special, wonderful child. Not only a child: a woman. That small fact is enough to get me through a million days.

That’s not to say there aren’t bad moments. Audrey is 13, (a scary age, I know!), and sometimes I’m afraid I’m doing everything wrong. I feel like I have to ask eight times before she straightens up her room, empties the dishwasher, or puts away the granite stingray figurine that she prays to twice a day and insists I call “Gorb the Creator.” I’m always like, “Audrey, can you get Gorb off the living room floor before someone trips and breaks their neck?” And she’s always like, “Perhaps your anger would subside if you shared your soul with the gatherers once in a while.”

After 13 years, though, I’ve developed a few tricks to raise Audrey as a Strong Young Woman, including encouraging her to shop for herself. From an early age, Audrey has favored these gray linen robes from Marshalls. In fact, she refuses to wear anything else! Whenever I suggest she try a cute sundress or a pair of jeans, she shrieks and won’t be consoled until I drink a chalice of the “blood of life” that she mixes in her bedroom. After that, I’m in such a suggestable, meditative state that I can’t tell the difference between robes and jeans! Sometimes, I can’t even tell the difference between dreams and reality! When this happens, I can’t help but allow Audrey to direct my every movement. It’s good for an SYW’s self-esteem to know her mother listens to her, even when I wake up the next day with hazy memories of making offerings to something called “The System'' on the summit of an unfamiliar mountain.

On one occasion, Audrey’s biology teacher actually accused her of violating the school dress code. Can you believe it? He even had the audacity to send a note home complaining that, while wearing her robes, Audrey had poked her classmates with syringes of mysterious elixir in order to induce “The Spiritual Revolution.” Her teacher sent her to the principal’s office, where CIA agents were waiting to handcuff her and drag her to D.C. for questioning. Despite my efforts to educate the officials about the importance of allowing young women to express themselves, they tried to excuse their inherent sexism by asserting that Audrey posed a “national security risk” and said they had been “observing her and her followers for a long time now.” I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any dress code; I’m just saying that, when authorities write these documents, they have to take into consideration any hidden biases. I mean, the world’s not going to change unless we change first!

I also try to push Audrey to form close female friendships, and I’m happy to say, I think it’s working! Just yesterday, I arrived home from work to find a crowd of palid, hooded women shuffling synchronously downstairs while Audrey gave a speech about “the necessity of loyalty to the System.” As I always say, “There’s no hood like a sisterhood!” And as Audrey always says, “We join at midnight to reveal the eternal unrevealed.”

Reading is essential for developing an SYW’s vibrant and creative mind; however, Audrey’s always been difficult to find books for (early signs of her independent spirit!). Since she was little, she’s shown virtually no interest in old favorites like A Wrinkle in Time or Anne of Green Gables. Her novel of choice is the lesser-known Book of Gorb. We found it when Audrey dragged me to this thrift store in a secluded church basement. I wasn’t so sure about buying secondhand, but Audrey was adamant, and I, of course, recognize that women and literature are an unstoppable duo, no matter where that literature comes from. When I tried to pay, the cloudy-eyed man at the cash register refused to take my cash, saying “The System uses new recruits as currency, not meaningless paper.” I love that he’s challenging our society’s counterproductive habit of valuing monetary value in place of actual people. So progressive!

Now, Audrey brings the Book of Gorb everywhere, and she sometimes even reads bits aloud to groups of wide-eyed peers while binding their wrists with rope. It’s so nice to see young people bonding over a shared love of books, and it’s especially inspiring when my SYW and her crew get so excited after a passage that they lay siege on the town council until “The Parish of Gorb’s Children” is named the official local religion.

I only wish Audrey was more excited about her readings for school. Getting her to do her homework is almost always difficult. She’s a great writer, though (just like her mom), and I love editing the pamphlets she composes for English class. Sometimes, I even help her pass them out to morning commuters on the subway! I’ve found that it’s difficult to garner support for young female authors, though; most subway passersby shove the pamphlets back into her hands and say things like “Sorry, I’m late for work,” or “You already took my son! I have nothing left to give you!” I swear, everyone would be so much more respectful if she had a Y chromosome.

Like every mother, I have a lot of trouble watching my SYW grow up. It’s like, one day, she’s taking her first steps, and the next, she and the gatherers are slowly infiltrating the United Nations. It’s heartbreaking. But, hey, that’s life, right? One day, she’ll head to college, or become leader of an up-and-coming shadow government, and I’ll have to rely on nothing but the occasional phone call from an unknown number to make sure she’s safe and happy. Audrey is a powerful female warrior, but I still worry that her aspirations of “pleasing the almighty and radicalizing the System” won’t pan out. I know she’ll make it, though. Worrying is just a mother’s job!

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