A Portrait of Modern American Feminism

A Guest Post by Karin Kuczynski-Holmgren

Cobweb by pmarkham on Flickr Creative CommonsIt’s a small cottage on the water in Bridgeport, Conn., a peaceful setting despite the overgrown parking lot and chainlink fence that surrounds it.

Just beyond the rows of parked Hondas and Priuses, the harbor twinkles with reflected factory lights. This vegetarian restaurant is called Bloodroot, run by a collective of women, and I haven’t been here since high school, with a Ms magazine and a paperback collection of essays by Dworkin, Faludi, Steinem, Pagila, Roiphe in my backpack.

In 15 years, the décor hasn’t changed. The cobwebs in the rafters  look familiar.  Gathered around the table, this could be a staging ground for revolution, political intrigue, or at the very least, serious conversation. Shelves in the bookstore reveal a specialty niche: feminist, new age, multiculturalism, gender studies.

No filler music. The windows are open to let in the autumn sounds and breezes.

Small groups of people sit together under the beamed ceiling, grasping hands across the table, sipping water or wine. A  gray-braided sprite greets us at the door and takes our order. Menus are handwritten on the walls; you need to walk the floor to decide what to order.

“No waitresses,” the owner says. “Just listen for your order to be called. ”

And bus your own table. Women may cook here, but there’s no serving. We order– escarole soup, green salad, and a local pinot grigio– then pay, cash preferred. We spot our friend, Annie – leaving soon for California – and join her, wishing for her career in acupuncture.

Portraits of women look out from the walls in black and whites or sepia tones. They gaze straight and determined into the camera, carved jawlines and a weariness around their eyes. You see that photographs taken when work lasted sun-up to sundown. At Bloodroot, customers are strengthened by its sense of community, built on the backs of these women, and fortified by a whole, vegetarian meal.

Work Done, and Not Done

The kitchen workers talk over quinoa, butternut squash, and farm-to-table salad on mismatched plates. They were all over 50 years old. How much has changed in the socio-political space for women since this place opened? Did this tiny restaurant influence their lives, the lives of their loves ones, the local political climate? Surely, they could measure the changes – in milestone laws, events and even in the crowd of customers on a Wednesday night. How did their opinions change with time?

Here sits the old guard, original revolutionaries and their stew. What are they thinking? Are they uplifted by Connecticut’s civil union passage? Did they cheer when women governors were elected? Now women surpass men in sheer numbers at undergraduate colleges. Girl Power succeeded against Raising Cain, right?

The women seemed subdued.

My thoughts turn to my friends at the table. Out of the group, only 4 of us were under 35. The rest, older. I didn’t see any young people in this restaurant. Did they know about this place? Did it not interest them, with the odd location and old school feel? They have no Facebook page or Twitter account;  just a barebones, 90’s-style website. They aren’t working to attract a younger crowd. And frankly neither is Feminism The Concept.

Old School Feminism has given me and my generation choices. Many choices. Overwhelming choices – from education to career, to have children or not, to choose and union with any partner. To rise up, sometimes only to a glass ceiling, but slowly, slowly, it’s changing.

But what is Feminism The Concept today? Madonna, Nancy Pelosi, Anita Hill. Are these the modern feminists and role models? Who are the modern feminists?

Old school feminists complain that modern women and young girls have forgotten the hard work and efforts of the prior generation to lift us up from the Mad Men working world. We don’t pay due homage when we wear belly-baring shirts and Jimmy Choos. They expected not only gratefulness, but someone to take the torch and carry on.

Is there anyone to do this?

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