I was a secret feminist.
I discovered feminism when I was about 33 years old. It was more than forty years ago, and I became a secret feminist. I couldn’t admit it, and didn’t want anyone to use that word describing me. That was a bad word here in North Georgia, and I didn’t want to lose every friend I had.
I was writing personal columns as Women’s Editor for The Times of Gainesville. I had read articles about women somewhere up north burning their bras to protest lack of equal rights, but women here didn’t even talk about it. One day, searching for something to write my column about I tackled the Equal Rights Amendment. I can’t remember my words, but I ended it by saying that I didn’t like the ERA because I liked men. I got effusive compliments from men that I never saw before or since.
But then a female professor from Brenau asked to talk to me. She came into my office, sat down and quietly explained the ERA to me. Her words opened my mind to a new existence.
I learned that the ERA simply said elected officials could not pass laws controlling equal opportunity. Men could still be men, and women could still be women. But the ERA would let a woman be a commercial truck driver if she wished, or an astronaut, and it would let men be nurses or do secretarial work.
I had never been rejected in a job application, but I had never applied for a job usually held by men. I had never compared my salary to the salary of a man in the same position because we could get fired for talking about our salary. I never knew anyone else’s salary. (A couple of years later I accidentally learned that the man holding the job identical to mine received considerably more salary. I asked the boss about it, and my salary immediately was made equal. It was the best raise I’d ever gotten.)
With my new learning, I had to write a column supporting the ERA, and I tried to be apologetic in doing it. I thought that the Brenau professor and I were the only two North Georgia women backing the ERA, and she probably didn’t like men anyway.
Atlanta women fighting for the ERA found me and asked me to go before the Georgia legislature asking for the ERA’s passage. I stood in the House well with every seat taken because the Senators were there too, and the balcony was packed. I tried to show that the ERA would help all people, not just women, and I made the Atlanta papers. I wrote a column here at home apologizing again. I wrote that I felt so bad after making that speech that I just wanted to hide in the bushes and have a bowl of buttermilk and cornbread to restore my self-esteem. After all, what did a mountain woman know that the astute body of legislators didn’t already know?
That was before I talked to an area Legislator who introduced a bill calling for castration of all black males. That was before I began to understand the fear, selfishness, egotism, and natural conceit of all established power when an outsider seeks change.
I am a feminist today because laws blocking opportunity for any person on the road to success should never exist. — Alma Bowen, 2016
Alma Bowen is a career journalist, now retired from her most recent position as Editor of The Times of Gainesville, Georgia. A lifetime resident of North East Georgia she is a rich source of wisdom and local history.