This post by Echidne really brought a smile to my face. She quotes a woman named Anna Maria van Schurman who had a revelation not unfamiliar to many of us who remember our adolescence and the time after fondly.
But they are apt to argue that pulling the needle and distaff is an ample enough school for women. I confess many have been thus persuaded, and those of today who are maliciously inclined agree with them in many cases.
But we who seek the voice of reason, not of received custom, do not accept this rule of Lesbos. By what law, I ask, have these things become our lot? Divine or human? They will never demonstrate that these limits by which we are forced into an order are ordained by fate or prescribed from heaven.
I had a similiar revelation when I was very young. I love reading stuff like this because it's so easy to relate to, really demonstrates the way that we truly connect to other people who have passed into history. (I feel that strong connection when I read things that evoke feelings commong to modern people like Donne's sympathetic love poetry, Jane Austen's quick read on people, and of course Shakespeare's eternal affection for people and their foibles that make his plays so beloved.)
Anyway, when I was a teenager I first began to realize that despite what I was brought up to believe, boys were not smarter than me. This is a complicated lesson, because girls nowadays are not brought up to believe that all boys are smarter. But I was brought up to believe that the guys in whatever class of people I ended up hanging out would be smarter than the girls of that class. Since I was a bright, nerdy teenager (Yeah, I know, hard to believe. To break another common stereotype, I will have you know that I have never worn glasses and my eyesight is so scary good by genetics that I probably won't have to until long after I would have been eligible for Social Security if Bush the All-Wonderful hadn't taken it away. Not that I said that. I know that it's a thought crime in the America of my retirement years.) , I ended up hanging out with the boys that were considered the smart, nerdy boys. So, I was allowed that I may be smarter than most men, but of course I could not be brighter than the men I hung around.
That a couple of guys in my nerdy social circle scored better on the SATs than I did just confirmed what was assumed--girls can be smart, but they can't be the smartest.
A year after I graduated and moved away from college, after a year of tolerating having my and all women's intelligence degraded by hearing things like women aren't 50% of musicians because women just can't write or play, I found myself sitting in my parent's front yard with a male friend who was scary good at intelligence tests like the SATs, a guy who always implied I was smart...for a girl.
Anyway, there was no sexual tension between us. But we were talking about the book Lolita, which we both had both read in the past 3 months. I love that book--it's brillant, funny, deep, the whole bit. I was praising it, and my friend laughed and said that there was no way I "got" Lolita. I didn't know what he meant and said so. He just shook his head and said that women can't get that book because we cannot ever understand that sort of overwhelming lust that so drives men.
As you can imagine, my mind went fifteen places at once at that statement. At the time I said, "Well, I know you don't believe me, but women suffer from lust as much as men do." He didn't believe me, but we didn't argue it. Because, I was thinking about something else.
Lolita is about lust, but it's about so, so much more. It's about America vs. Europe. It's about language, mostly. It's about how we humans can wish so much for reason and yet are destroyed by our flesh and our desire. It's about how we build up images of ourselves that flatter but can be destroyed by just a brush with having the mirror put up to us. But if you are a woman, it may be easier to see the theme lurking under these--Lolita's story itself, the message of which is that women persist on being and living even after they have been objectified, dehumanized and abused. And I realized suddenly that I understood so much more than my supposedly brilliant friend did.
Women come to feminism from different places. But the biggest impetus for me was this, realizing that the casual belief that I couldn't be smarter than the boys was all lies. When I read writings from history of women who came to this realization from all different places, the importance of feminism as a movement becomes clear. When I realized that I was being mistreated for the silly reason that people were mistaken about my sex, I was able to find writings, other women, a whole world to help me make sense of this experience. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have these revelations in a world where no one else was there to assure you that you knew of what you spoke.