Radical Womanhood

Carolyn McCulley, Author

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from
 radical womanhood: feminine faith in a feminist world by Carolyn McCulley (Moody Publishers).

Chapter One: Dented Feminity

The first time you hear a boy say it, it can sting.

"You throw like a girl!"

"He screamed just like a girl!"

"Ewwww … that's gross. It's pink. That's girl stuff."

The content of these insults usually lacks any serious substance, but the implication is clear: girls are different. As in, worse. Inferior. If a boy is lacking skill, strength, or speed, he is no better than a … girl.

From deep within the feminine heart, a primordial protest erupts: That's not fair!

I don't know when this concept dawned on me, but it must have been during grade school. I have memories of competing in field day races and wanting to make sure the all-girl teams did well against the all-boy teams. At one point, the boys were given a few freedoms at recess that the girls didn't get—perhaps to play some contact sport. So we girls bunched up around the teacher on recess duty and sarcastically played childish kindergarten games to make our point.

By high school, the gender divide became more threatening—and, bizarrely, more alluring. Every girl wanted the attention traditionally paid to cheerleaders or prom queens, but there was always the risk of locker-room gossip. Girls in high school were no longer accused of having cooties or just being "gross." By this stage, masculine insults contained a threatening, disrespectful edge, often laced with sexual slander. Yet, some guys were just plain cute. We wanted their compliments and time. We just didn't know if we could trust them .And sometimes we couldn't.

This roughly summarizes my understanding of "sexual politics" until college—nothing traumatic or really even mildly dramatic. My family was intact and stable. My father was loving and active in my life, as was my mother. I was involved in lots of school activities. My parents came to every concert, marching band performance, school play, and parent-teacher conference. I floated on the fringes of the popular crowd—not part of the inner-sanctum of cheerleaders and football players, but close enough to be invited to the occasional party.

None of that really explains why I ended up in that first women's studies class at college. It's likely I thought it would be an easier elective than political science or economics. But the reason I took the next women's studies class was much more purposeful: through feminism, I had been handed a worldview that addressed the covert sexism I had suspected all these years. Things were beginning to click. The problem was . . . men! "Patriarchy" and its oppression of women were the true culprits. (Um, make that womyn.) As a journalism major, I needed some topic to specialize in, a cause to champion. I found mine in feminism. I made it my life's mission then to splash the cause of feminism across magazines and airwaves wherever I worked.


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