Freedom from the past ILLUSTRATION: Alisa Yang

Freedom from the past

Although tough at times, it’s been well worth living as a patriot for gender justice

By Ellen Snortland 07/07/2011

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Little did I know when I was a teen that my amazing conversion from culturally imposed cluelessness about gender discrimination to life-affirming feminist principles would be the driving force of my life. I read Robin Morgan’s “Sisterhood is Powerful” when I was 15 and was able to put a name to the manacles I’d experienced since I was a tiny girl: sexism. I have been liberating myself, daily, ever since.
All of a sudden, the “No, little girls shouldn’t wear pants,” “No you can’t play baseball, because you’re a girl!” and “It’s OK you got a D; girls aren’t good at math anyway,” admonitions were within a context I could finally grapple with and understand. It wasn’t just me! And there was nothing wrong with me, either; it was a global problem, this gender prejudice, working its poison locally. And men were poisoned by it too … we were all bamboozled!
From the beginning of my feminist awakening I’ve dedicated my life to having girls and boys, women and men, live their lives based on their own individual passions, not anachronistic, rigid notions of so-called femininity and masculinity. My mission, therefore, has been not only personal but social, with my own life being the social laboratory within which I study my own and others’ progress toward independence and freedom from the past. 
Then, with my apparently inborn enthusiasm, I went into missionary mode and expected everyone else to be all excited about my discovery of misogyny. Surely, when people knew about it, they’d give it up and join the gender liberation movement with my same level of exuberance. NOT. 
Silly me; sexist ideas of propriety are probably the most entrenched notions in existence, including the ideas behind despising same-sex ANYTHING. Indeed, homophobia is misogyny in high-heel pumps.
The movement to loosen gender from its concrete moorings has shaken us all loose with varying degrees of impact. After all, not one of us on the planet is isolated from the other gender, or immune from what it even means to be gendered.
Talk about a career blunder. An acclaimed, prestigious and lucrative feminist career? Ha! That’s a financial buzz-kill if ever there was one. I’ve refused to be a “closeted” feminist, and I’ve lost jobs because of it. I’ve been studiously ignored by editors who, if I were a male or anti-feminist, would have gladly published me based on my skill. Indeed, if I were a “lady against other ladies,” I’d be a rich woman today. “Feminist” is not a great calling card, and it doesn’t lead to Platinum credit cards either.
I dare you to walk into a room sometime and say, “Hi everybody! I’M A FEMINIST!” Watch the room clear. Observe people plugging their noses and slowly sidling away like you just passed ideological gas of some sort. Notice the two people, a man and a woman, who — in pretext of grabbing a few more pigs-in-a-blanket off the hors d’oeurvre tray — whisper “I’m a feminist too,” while slipping you their email address. It’s what the early Christians must have felt like in pre-Christian Rome, when they had to trace the sign of the fish in the sand with their big toe then quickly erase it upon approach of the soldiers.
And contrary to the blackballing mainstream media betrayal of feminists and feminism, I wasn’t even remotely close to being a “man hater,” the tiresome epithet the media foisted upon us. I was a daddy lover, as many of the greatest feminists are, and any criticism I had of men (and women) came to me honestly, via my father setting such a good example of benevolent masculinity. His masculinity was not predicated on putting or keeping women down. Indeed, he had three daughters, and while, yes, his generation was somewhat backward in what he might envision for me, he often told me, “You have more guts than a packing plant!” being the farm and ranch kid that he was. 
I have had the great fortune to be married to men who “get it,” most especially my third husband, Ken Gruberman, who I’m proud to say stands shoulder to shoulder with me in everything I do. A six-time Grammy winner in his own right, we use his blurb in promotional materials for my show: “I liked Ellen’s play so much, I married her!”
Do I regret the fight I continue to fight? NO! I’m able to look at myself in the mirror and say, “Now I’m not only going to fight sexism, but ageism too!” Every day I wake up with energy and enthusiasm because of the principles this country was founded on: democracy, equality, freedom of (and from) religion, a free press. Every July, I reflect on my life and see that it was well worth living as a patriot for gender justice. 

Ms. Snortland teaches writing in Altadena. Visit her web site:

PS: My show, “Now That She’s Gone,” will be playing at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena for five performances, then we’re off to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the Fringe Theater Festival in August. Visit for specifics about the July dates and times in Altadena. 


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You got a "D" in math?

Also, I always thought that homophobia wore combat boots.


posted by DanD on 7/10/11 @ 12:14 p.m.
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