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Day 361 - I AM WOMAN...

Helen Reddy died yesterday. For a lot of you, you are wondering who the hell that is...for the rest of us...she was a champion of woman’s rights and really gave us our anthem in 1971. An Australian born singer, she moved to the US and furthered her singing career and gave us many hits in the early 1970s. She was vocal on women’s rights and gave second wave feminism its voice in her song “I am Woman."


Now, I was two in 1971 but my mom had her album and played it often enough that by the time I was four, I knew all the words and commanded performances that must have been fricking hilarious! Let me set the stage...


I was four...


I would go find my mom’s long negligee, put it on with a pair of her high heels and then jump up on the genuine naugahyde hassock in the living room and sing all the songs on the album...”Delta Dawn” being my favorite, followed by “I am Woman."


I was completely oblivious to the abject irony of a four year old child, scantily clad in woman’s lingerie singing about woman’s rights...but there I was in all my glory belting out the lyrics with heartfelt sentiments and precocious intent.


I knew that the song meant something. I knew that it was an important song...even then. I could see the way any man visiting our home during one of my shows became uncomfortable...I heard the commentary. I am sure that most of the commentary was likely more about my choice in clothing and shoes than Helen’s song but the contrast of the two was likely a double whammy that really just pushed several high ranking military officials over the edge.


But I never remember anyone stopping me. Or telling me no. Or that it was inappropriate. I just remember them letting me have my fun and push my agenda.


I think there was a part of me that knew that even at four, of the acute differences between the sexes. How I saw the women in my life in the kitchen, at home and never working. They went to teas and coffees and did things that officer’s wives did. I saw how unhappy all this made my mom. How she longed for something else but was unable to break out of her role long enough to do anything different...


I saw the men, glass in hand after a long day in the field playing war games and commanding troops sitting around and discussing interesting subjects and offering opinions and sentiment to their labors.


It was easy for me to see who I wanted to be like. I wanted center stage. I did not want to be in the kitchen. I wanted to be in the living room, fancily attired, holding court with the men. They had the interesting life. The women seemed stuck and left to a fate that was not enviable.


At four, I was pretty limited at what I could participate in...so I found a way in that allowed for longer and easier access...performance. Now I am sure the military officers would have preferred something other than Helen Reddy...and I had songs by the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary and the Monkeys so I was versatile. But I always loved Helen the best. I knew that there was truth in all that I was singing and that there was something important in those lyrics:


I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an' pretend

'Cause I've heard it all before

And I've been down there on the floor

No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise

But it's wisdom born of pain

Yes, I've paid the price

But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong

(Strong)

I am invincible

(Invincible)

I am woman

You can bend but never break me

'Cause it only serves to make me

More determined to achieve my final goal

And I come back even stronger

Not a novice any longer

'Cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul

Oh yes, I am wise

But it's wisdom born of pain

Yes, I've paid the price

But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong

(Strong)

I am invincible…

I am woman watch me grow

See me standing toe to toe

As I spread my lovin' arms across the land

But I'm still an embryo

With a long, long way to go

Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes, I am wise

But it's wisdom born of pain

Yes, I've paid the price

But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can face anything

I am strong

(Strong)

I am invincible

(Invincible)

I am woman

I am woman

I am invincible

I am strong

I am woman

I am invincible

I am strong

I am woman


Thank you Helen. Sincerely from all of us. For taking a stand and making it known that we are women and while different, we have a place and that place is wherever we want to be. In the home, in the office, in the board room, in the field. We can play war games today. We can sit in the living room with stiff drinks and go toe-to-toe with anyone about anything.


Helen’s song didn’t in and of itself give us any of this but it did put it out there in popular culture and give small, tiny girls like me something else to believe in. I heard those word as I sang them over and over again and I believed them. I saw that I was strong. I was someday going to be a woman and that was just fine by me. I could redefine myself into something more akin to what Helen sang about rather than what I saw in the my female role models in 1974.


My own mother did a lot to help further my feminist leanings by leaving Panama and getting her master’s degree while my dad got his. She showed me that women were able to have a family and get advanced degrees. It wasn’t easy and I know that I made it so much harder on her, crying every time she went to a night class. But she went and in so doing, showed me that while it was never going to be easy to be a woman and do all the things that men did, I could if I was willing to put forth the effort.


I think about how different my life would have been without Helen and my mom. How I would have ended up someplace else. Perhaps without education and an ego that helped me believe that I could do whatever I wanted and that I never once thought that I couldn’t solely because of my gender. Think about that for a minute...I never doubted myself because of my gender. Now go ask a woman the generation before mine how often she doubted herself because of her femaleness...I am sure you will get a completely different answer...


I am a feminist which I define as follows: a belief that women are equal to and deserving of similar treatment to men. This does not mean that I hate men or resent them. Quite to the contrary, I have my father to thank for supporting my mom’s efforts to define some new role for herself that I promise you didn’t fit into 1970s military life. He also paid for and encouraged my own academic efforts and never once told me that I couldn’t because I was a girl. In fact, he treated me, maybe a little too often, like a boy with 20 mile hikes on early Saturday mornings that toughed me up and made me realize that I was stronger than I knew. I hated him for it at the time but today I am so grateful he made me do a lot of shit that I didn’t want to do at the time.


I am saddened by the loss of Ms. Reddy. She was more to me than another singer. She was a role model and voice in my own upbringing that gave me hope and helped shape me into who I am today. I am forever in her debt. Those words that I sang which were far beyond my understanding helped guide and shape me into the woman I am today: strong, invincible...I am woman, in large and small parts because of women like Helen. Thank you. Thank you for giving me a voice at such a young age...I knew where I wanted to go and just like she said, “You can bend but never break me, cause it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal...”


RIGHT ON SISTER!


RIGHT FUCKING ON!


So today, I am going to throw on an evening gown in her honor, owning my own womanness and belt out “I am Woman” while standing in my living room. Show starts promptly at 7:30...you will know the right house because my children will be running out the front door with embarrassment. But both my kids will know that their mother has accomplished all she has because of and in spite of being female. They will know that my success as an attorney, as a single mother, as a woman - all comes in some small way from Helen’s song and its affect on me in 1974.

I will continue the fight, Helen. Mantle passed. I’ve got you!




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