Growing Up Female

by an anonymous CWLU member (Mid 1970's) — My mother got divorced when I was still in the crib. That was a heavy thing, back then in the 50's, especially because we lived in a Catholic neighborhood. I grew up with just her and me.

 (Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Womankind in 1972).

My mother got divorced when I was still in the crib. That was a heavy thing, back then in the 50's, especially because we lived in a Catholic neighborhood. I grew up with just her and me. She at least had a good job so even though there were times when I was young that we didn't have any extra money for nice clothes, or food like bacon or fresh vegetables, we never went hungry. Because she and I lived alone, I learned a lot about how women are treated. There was never any man around, not even an older brother. We were real self-sufficient and my mother knew how to do all the things that fathers do around the house and I learned how to take care of myself. Because she worked full time there was always a problem about my getting taken care of after school. When I was real young I went to a friend's house but by second grade I came home and watched TV until dinner. Growing up this way I saw women being strong and taking care of themselves. I also remember how people, especially landlords, discriminated against us just because she didn't have a husband to live with us. Lost of people won't rent to a divorced woman. And teachers always hassled me because my father didn't sign my report cards. 

High school was when I really started to get ideas about women's liberation. There was no women's movement then so I didn't know that what I wanted was women's liberation. I just knew that guys really treated us bad. Both me and my best friend have really large breasts and one day we were just walking down the hall together and these guys screamed out, "Hey, look at them tits coming down the hall." Also, there was always pressure to have a boyfriend. Everyone was always worrying about it. It was the main topic of conversation in the bathrooms and the caf. I was 'lucky' because I had a boyfriend for most of high school. I say it like that because sometimes I think I would have been better off without him. He was real big (6'4") and when he got mad that was it. WHACK One time we were having a fight in the care and I got out and started walking away. He came after me, so I ran. Finally he got me and knocked me down hard enough to knock me out. 

The final straw with him was when I got pregnant. I was 16 and we had been screwing for over a year with no birth control. It didn't even dawn on me I was pregnant, I just thought I was sick. When I went to the doctor, he asked if I thought I might be pregnant (to which I said, 'NO') My mother had enough money ($600) in the bank and had a Mafia abortion. My boyfriend was no support to me at all. And I didn't dare tell my friends at school. All my support came from the women in The Courts (the housing complex I lived in). One woman, Lou, had gotten pregnant when she was 16 and had married the guy. She told me 'Don't ever give me the bullshit I shoulda had the kid. That's what I did and look at the mess I've got.' And wow, did she have a mess. She had never finished high school, her husband was in and out of jail for drugs and a lot of other things. Also, he was running around, and when he got mad he used to beat her. This all made me think about why I was different from Lou. I was having an abortion and being able to have my life go on. What was different? Sure, one thing was time. She had gotten pregnant in 1960, me in 1968. But the bigger thing was my mother. I was real lucky that my mother had $600. (By the way, a month after I had the abortion my boyfriend cut out.)

Another big thing for me in high school was cutting out on my mother. She and I had fought all the time and I had wanted to leave for a long time. One day Lou told me that she and her husband were busting up and would I watch the kids while she worked the bars, night shift. I jumped at the chance. Living with her was when I really learned about raising kids alone. She worked her ass off every night just to make ends meet. The school was always on her back because the kids didn't look right (no ironed clothes), the landlord was hassling her about why she wasn’t living with her husband. And her job. To work she wore a low cut blouse, dancing briefs, black nylons and high heels. That's all. She was the piece of meat to sell the drinks. One positive thing I learned was women sticking together. The women in the Courts always fronted for each other. If Lou's husband came around wondering what was up (if she was going with anyone) no one talked. Even though no one ever talked women's liberation there was a lot of unity among the women.

During high school there were some SDS organizers around. They used to plan anti-war meetings and some of my friends went. One day when I was a senior (1969-70) I went to a meeting and one of the women had on a women's liberation button. I didn't know that was what it was, but I figured that a women's symbol with a fist inside it must mean something good. The Chicago Women's Liberation Union had just been founded weeks before. This woman was one of the founders and it was through her that I met women from all over the city who were into women's liberation. That winter the Union had a high school women's conference. I had dropped out of school in January and had a lot of time so I went. Most of the conference we sat around and rapped, but we also went to a demonstration that the Union was having at the American Medical Association offices. There, were a whole lot of women them. Some were chanting and I went over to them and we started rapping. It turned out they were from this group if filmmakers and distributors called NEWSREEL. They said they had some really good films that I should come and see. I checked it out and I really liked the films. I asked them if they would show them to my friends out in my neighborhood. They said yes, and the films went over real big. The films had, really heavy revolutionary politics and were about women's liberation, drugs, imperialism, the army, racism and just about everything.

I joined NEWSREEL and went around to a lot of schools and neighborhoods with our films. We got into a lot of heavy raps with people about what was going on in this country. This was the first organized political work I did. The women's union was just beginning when I was in NEWSREEL and I went to some of the meetings and stuff. While I was in NEWSREEL I started to understand why women were oppressed, that women's oppression is linked to the economic base of this country and that our liberation is linked to changing the basic nature of America. Since 1971 I've worked with the Women's Union trying to spread the ideas of women's liberation to other women and trying to build a women's organization that will fight for and end to all the ways we are oppressed.