Every so often, I hear myself say, "That's something that changed my life."
It's usually something small – it's not like the death of a parent or like the day I met my husband or like carrying my newborn baby out of the hospital. Those, it goes without saying, are true-life-changers.
But there are degrees.
The most recent time I said it was a few days ago, watching a friend leaving my house roll her suitcase along the sidewalk. "So easy," I said. "When I got my suitcase with wheels, it changed my life."
It did, in a way. I remember the first trip I took with my new wheeled-suitcase. I was alone, traipsing through airports as if I owned them. No more shifting from hand-to-hand or stopping every so often to try and get a more comfortable grip. Instead, it was like walking along with my eager and obedient puppy on a leash.
It most definitely reduces a lot of the stress of travel and I think, for that reason, I will continue to think of it as a life-changer – a fairly minor one.
Over the years, I've made the life-changing claim about several books but I think, in the interests of accuracy, there's only one book that really fits the definition. And yes, you can take this literally: this book changed my life.
The first time I tried to read Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, I had no idea what I was reading. Mary Daly, a Catholic theologian, philosopher and radical feminist, was coming from somewhere that I couldn't recognize and furthermore, she had invented a new language in her strange unrecognizable new place. I put the book away.
It was a year or two later when I picked it up again. I might have been the same person or maybe not. Maybe some little barrier that I didn't even know was there had been knocked over and I was now ready to absorb Mary Daly's exotic language and ideas. I knew I was ready when I read the table of contents. I felt everything shake up inside my head and when everything settled into place, it was as if the world finally made sense. She had connected dots that I had never seen connected – or had never considered connecting – and it just made so much sense.
Some of what I read in that table of contents:
Indian Suttee: The Ultimate Consummation of Marriage; Chinese Footbinding: On Footnoting the Three-Inch Lotus Hook; African Genital Mutilation: The Unspeakable Atrocities; European Witchburning: Purifying the Body of Christ; American Gynecology: Gynocide by the Holy Ghosts of Medicine and Therapy.
Oh my. She was not at all popular. She was fearless in expressing her often outlandish opinions and she never backed down. I can't imagine that she was very pleasant company although many people who knew her speak of her wit and her wry sense of humour. She was the least compromising enemy of patriarchy that the Catholic Church has yet produced and she never flagged in the fight. She was so much more than that though.
I eventually acquired and read all her books – many of them just as difficult as Gyn/Ecology, none of them quite as life-changing. I didn't expect them to be. They're now on my shelf along with Germaine Greer, Susan Brownmiller, Gloria Steinem, Dale Spender, Robin Morgan, Andrea Dworkin – and so many others. They've all helped make me into who I am and I feel grateful to every one of them.
The second-wave feminists helped shape the world we live in today and we know that the struggle continues. It also continues to change. Branching out, setting new goals, recognizing and joining the struggles of others are the new objectives. As with any great struggle, there are times that are disheartening but that only adds to the challenge.