Name: Amy Meltzer
Occupation: Kindergarten teacher, children’s book author, blogger
Location: Northampton, MA
How do you define feminism?
To me, feminism means that one’s choices aren’t limited or dictated by one’s gender. I think there’s also an element of women being self-defined, rather than being defined through or by or in relation to men.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
Like many children of the 70’s, I was raised on Free to Be, You and Me. I happened to be a kid who hated dolls (I kept a suitcase full of Barbie limbs for “bionic woman operations” – remember, I was a child of the 70’s) and liked to climb trees and dig in the dirt, but I also was eager to shave my legs and get my hair permed (big mistake) when early adolescence hit. So, I think I was raised to kind of be myself, without much regard for any particular ideology.
Beginning in seventh grade, I attended an all-girls school, and I don’t think I realized the unspoken feminist ideals and values that were cultivated there. It wasn’t until I got to college that I began reading feminist works pretty voraciously and had a name for it all. (Of course, at Wesleyan, at least in the 80’s, we called ourselves “womanists”, not feminists.)
It’s still not a word that’s a regular part of my discourse. Not because I don’t identify as having feminist ideals, but because it’s just such an essential part of the way I view the world that I don’t think to name it. In the same way that I don’t typically identify as a “breather.”
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
I don’t think my definition has changed. It’s really always been primarily about choices and opportunity to me. It’s just just that some of the choices I have made would have surprised the younger and more radical version of me. And, I’ve become a lot less vocal. I save my opinions primarily for people who are interested in hearing them.
If you had told me in 1988 that I would be an early childhood educator….that I’d have taken six years off from “real work” to be home with my kids….that I’d have written a book with the word Princess in the title (and not used disparagingly or ironically)…well, I might have been disappointed in myself. But the choices I have made have given me enormous happiness. What could be wrong with that?
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Well, I went through a period of time when I was a fairly observant Jew. Which meant that I attended a synagogue where women’s roles were limited, and I attended a school where married women covered their hair and most women dressed “modestly” – covering their arms and legs, etc. Even at that time, I knew I was a feminist, but one who was interested in seeing what this world had to teach and to offer. I suppose never really imagined spending the rest of my life on that exact path – I especially couldn’t imagine raising daughters in that world – but I felt that there were parts of my Jewish identity that I needed to figure out in that context. I would say that during those years I kept my mouth shut in a way that would have been impossible for me in college.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
I’m hopeful. At least when I watch my own daughters navigate the world. They see the world as so full of possibility and my little one especially is just so increidbly fierce. But then I think it’s easy to be optimistic living in progressive Northamtpon. When I turn on the tv (I’ve been staying at a lot of hotels recently) I get pretty depressed. Both from our own pop culture and the atrocious crimes against women taking place all over the world.
Amy Meltzer is a kindergarten teacher and the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door (Kar-Ben) and The Shabbat Princess (Kar-Ben). She writes the Jewish parenting blog Homeshuling and is a contributing writer to Hilltown Families. A native of Baltimore, she lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters.