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This piece is a sort of coming-of-age story, in that it is about a young woman discovering the idea of feminism. This happens in every young woman's life, as she grows into herself.
I was sitting in my kitchen when the knock came on the door. My head jerked up in shock. No one ever knocked on my door. Either they already had a key, or they didn’t visit. There was no in between. In the entire five years I had been living in this apartment, the door had gone un-knocked-upon.
After a moment, I stood up, walking slowly to the door. I paused, then swung the door open. There was no one there. I closed it, then opened it again. Nothing. I slammed the door and leaned my back against it, breathing deeply. This had to be some sort of practical joke. I turned and slowly opened the door again. There really was no one there. I looked left and right, up and down the hall; nothing.
Glancing down, I saw the corner of an intricately decorated ivory colored envelope tucked under my door mat. Looking around once more, I bent and picked it up. It was addressed to me. M. Carter, 46887 Dasia Green Apt. 610, New York, NY. There was no return address. I slipped back inside, kicking the door shut, my fingers scrambling to pry the envelope open. I pulled out a single sheet of paper of the same thickness and ivory colour of the envelope. It was an invitation. In curly black letters, it announced a gathering, an assembly of sorts, that was to take place that night. I briefly considered not going, but I didn’t have anything else planned, and honestly . . . it seemed exciting. Especially considering the strangeness and mysteriousness of the circumstances in which the invitation was delivered.
Four hours later, I flagged down a taxi cab outside my apartment building. Checking the address on the invitation, I asked the driver to take me to The Silver Chestnut Inn.
“You sure ya wanna go there, Miss, all by y’self?” he asked.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I answered, keeping my voice neutral.
“Only I’d never let any daughter of mine go there alone. Never know what might happen, if ya get my meanin’,” he looked at me in the rearview mirror. “Just tryin’ ta look out for ya,” he added, smiling at me.
I forced a smile in response. The red of the brake lights next to us shone on his silvery-grey hair. “I’m sure, thank you. I’ll be fine.” He nodded into the mirror, starting to pull out into the evening traffic. I looked out the window, hoping that the cab ride would be over soon; I wasn’t sure how much longer my patience would last.
“Ya jus’ never can predict when somethin’ might happen, Miss,” he said. “Some people jus’ can’t help themselves when they’s a pretty lady ‘round ‘em.”
I took a long, slow deep breath before responding, my eyes closing in concentration. ‘Don’t lose your temper,’ I reminded myself. “Of course,” I answered, with thinly veiled sarcasm. “Us women just can’t fend for ourselves, can we.” Sarcasm dripped off my voice like honey drips off a spoon.
“Use ta be women weren’t ta go out by theyselves if’n they wanted ta come back the same’s when they left,” he continued. I thunked my head lightly against the window, reminding myself to breathe. “Anyways, here ya are, Miss. That’ll be seven dolla’ fifty,” he said as he pulled up to the sidewalk outside a large white building. The sign above the door had a silver chestnut painted on it, and the words ‘Silver Chestnut Inn’ engraved next to the painting. Almost every window glowed yellow, shadows passing by every few seconds. The loud music could be heard even over the New York traffic. “Take care a’ youself,” the taxi driver said as I got out, handing him the money.
“Yeah, you too,” I muttered, closing the door a bit harder than is generally considered polite. A sigh of relief escaped my lips as I turned and looked up at the inn, shivering slightly in the cool air. It seemed much larger now that I was out on the sidewalk. I quickly pushed my way to the door, before I could get trampled by the heavy foot-traffic. I opened the door and was immediately engulfed by the noise and warmth. I made my way towards the bar, weaving through the crowd. I leaned forward, catching the eye of the bartender. He paused his conversation, holding up a hand.
“How can I help you?” he asked, drying off a glass with a rag.
I thought for a moment. “Can I get a glass of chardonnay, please?”
He nodded, throwing the towel onto his shoulder and walking away. I looked around as I waited for him to return, taking in the sights and sounds. I heard the sound of glass hitting wood next to me and looked over. The bartender was back, my drink sitting in front of him. “That’ll be nine dollars. Anything else I can get for you?” he asked, bracing himself against the bar.
I nodded, handing him the money and pulling the invitation from my bag. “I was wondering if you could help me find this assembly thing? It doesn’t say what it’s for or anything much other than the date and address. Do you know about it?”
His expression darkened slightly, or perhaps that was just the lights dimming. “Can I see, please?” I handed the invite over, and he looked closely at it. “You’re not the first person to ask about this, and I wish I could say you would be the last,” he muttered, handing it back. “Down those stairs there,” he responded, pointing to a staircase at the end of the bar. “I’d steer clear of them, if I were you,” he added, frowning. “Gonna get themselves into a load of trouble sooner or later.”
“Why’s that?” I asked, beginning to wonder if I should have been more cautious. It would be just my luck for this to be an assembly of murderers and thieves. “What are they doing?”
“Conspiring,” he grunted as he turned and walked away, returning to his previous conversation. I stared after him, surprised by the abrupt end to the conversation. I picked up my wine, sipping slowly as I made my way to the stairs. When I reached the landing and turned to go down the final set of stairs, the noise from above, the music and laughter, faded as a new sound filled my senses, almost overwhelming me. There was no music, no drunken yells. There were conversations, some quieter, some louder. But what shocked me the most was the mind-blowing sense of passion, and the feeling that everyone was there together, as one.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I wove my way through the edge of the crowd, following the wall, until I reached a corner. There was an empty stool there, and I quickly claimed it. Once I was seated, I finally had a chance to take everything in. There were several more seats lining the walls, though most were empty. The walls were bare except for a large banner at the front of the room. It was the same ivory color as the envelope, with similar intricate decorations. ‘The National Organization for Women’ was printed on it in large scarlet letters. Beneath it was a raised platform; a stage.
I stared around, mind buzzing. As I took a moment to look around and catch my breath, it occurred to me that most of the people in this room were women. This did not surprise me, seeing as this was apparently a meeting for a women’s organization. My mind was racing. What sort of ‘women’s organization’ was this, and why had I been invited? Who had invited me, anyway? I started looking around, actually seeing people’s faces for the first time.
I jumped as I heard a thump and a loud exhale next to me. Turning my head, I saw a young woman on the stool next to me, her head against the wall, eyes shut. She must have felt me looking at her, because she slowly blinked and looked at me.
“You new here?” she asked, her voice warm and soft.
“Yeah, I am,” I responded. “I just got the invitation today.” She nodded, smiling faintly. “What is this about, anyway? The invitation didn’t say.”
She gave me an understanding smile. “You’ll learn in a minute,” she said, nodding toward the stage. I looked over, and saw a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties walking up the steps that led to the stage, a microphone in her hand. The room started to settle, people finding seats along the walls or standing in the middle.
“Megan!” I heard someone call from nearby. I turned my head to see who was calling me.
“Chloe?” I said, surprised to see my friend from the office. “What are you doing here?”
“I invited you, silly,” Chloe teased as we heard the microphone come to life. She sat down on the other side of me, smiling and waving to the woman next to me.
All three of us looked toward the stage as the speaker introduced herself, receiving much enthusiasm from the crowd. “For those of you who aren’t familiar with our organization, let me take a moment to explain. We began in 1966, and have been working tirelessly ever since to bring equal rights to women.” The crowd exploded into loud applause and cheering. “In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by congress, guaranteeing equal rights for all Americans, regardless of their sex. However,” she raised her voice over a new outbreak of applause, “we still have work to do! Only thirty-seven states out of fifty have ratified this amendment. There are still thirteen states to go before it becomes part of our constitution!”
So that cleared up what this meeting was about. As the speaker continued, my brain went haywire trying to figure out why Chloe would think to invite me. Sure, I’ve always supported women’s rights, but I’ve never been one to fight for a cause. It’s fine for other people, but it’s just not my style.
“Women have been socially demeaned and harassed by men for centuries,” I heard the speaker say. I nodded in agreement. I had, after all, heard many stories of such things. However, she continued, “We’ve all experienced it, to some degree. Men treat us like we need to be taken care of, like making decisions is not something we are capable of.”
I felt like an electric shock had gone through me. The bartender upstairs had just treated me like that, showing no respect for my ability to take care of myself. The taxi cab driver had done it too. Why did they think that I was too weak to take care of myself, or not smart enough to make good decisions? It had never occurred to me before that this treatment was demeaning and harassing, because I was so used to it.
I started listening to the speaker again when I heard her describing a common effect misogyny can have on relationships: abuse. “It all starts with the man feeling threatened by our successes. Men are often brought up to believe that they need to support us, so when we don’t need their support, they feel as though their place in society is being threatened. Their fear turns to anger, and they lose control.”
I sat there, dumbstruck. She had just described my last relationship. We had just graduated from college and were looking for jobs to start out careers. When I landed a position at a prestigious law firm, he was threatened by my high income and independence. We had an argument and he lost control, throwing me to the floor. He immediately came to his senses, shocked by what he had done. He tried to apologize, to tell me that it wouldn’t happen again, but I couldn’t believe him. If he hadn’t meant to this time, how could he know it wouldn’t happen again?
As the speaker continued, I began to think about all of the women out there who are victims of abuse, but feel like there is no way out, like they have to stay. I could see now why Chloe had invited me, and I was glad she did. I thought it wasn’t my style to stand up for a cause, but that was because I didn’t know what I could do to help. I realized that by getting involved in this organization, I could fight for my own safety and security as well as that of others. Now that I knew how to help, I felt as though I had found my place.