I am an unabashed feminist. Many women and girls, for reasons I have never been able to understand, are afraid to identify themselves in this way. I suppose that they have what I would call a misunderstanding of the word. If you are feminist, it does not mean that you think women are better than men, or that men are worthless, or that the world would be better off if women were in charge. It means that you think that everyone, male or female, deserves an equal shot. That the choices we make should in fact be choices and not dictated by our gender.
When you hold a belief so centrally and firmly, it’s bound to reveal itself in your writing. Feminism does make its way into Secrets of Truth & Beauty. Most centrally, I believe that weight bias is a feminist issue. However, sometimes an issue can overtake the writing, as it did in the following deleted scene. While I agree with Dara’s sentiment that feminism does not mean replacing one set of rules for another, in the end, this exchange came off a bit forced. I believed in it philosophically, but creatively, it never quite worked for me. So I cut it out. Only to resurrect it after the break. Enjoy!
(P.S. The town of Hollis was originally called October Grove)
A woman walked by carrying a canvas tote and muttering to herself. I was ready to let her pass, but Owen called out, “Mrs. Winslow!”
The woman looked up. First she saw me, and she frowned, but when she turned and saw Owen, a smile broke out across her face. She bustled over to us. “Owen Moon! I thought for sure I would never see you again. I thought you’d just shoot out of this town and never look back.”
“I like October Grove, Mrs. Winslow,” Owen said.
Mrs. Winslow cocked her head to the side as if she had to work to understand what Owen had said. Her gray hair swung over her shoulder. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Dara Cohen. Rachel’s sister.”
Mrs. Winslow nodded. “So you’re selling cheese for the summer. That’s an interesting way for a boy genius to spend his summer. Selling cheese.”
“And feeding and milking goats,” Owen added.
Mrs. Winslow pursed her lips. I could tell she was unimpressed with our lives.
“And,” Owen said with great emphasis, “I was helping Dara with the Miss October Grove pageant, but then she dropped out…” Why he felt the need to tell everyone about the pageant was beyond me, especially now that I had dropped out.
Mrs. Winslow sniffed in. “I am sure I don’t need to tell you how I feel about pageants.” My cheeks grew warm. Though she said there was no need to tell us how she felt, she went on just the same. “Sexist. Objectifying. Debased. I really don’t understand how any intelligent young woman would decide to participate.” She looked me up and down trying to decide, I gathered, if I had come to my senses, or if I were still a vapid pageant girl. She went on, “You know it’s fitting that they hold the pageant at the country fair. The judging of the women is no different than the judging of the animals.”
I looked over at Owen. He was grinning, but looking at the ground. So that’s why he had mentioned Miss October Grove – to get her going.
“There was a time,” she continued, “when young women protested these sorts of events. I was at the protest of the 1968 Miss America Pageant.”
“Did you burn your bra, Mrs. Winslow?” Owen asked.
“They didn’t let us! They wouldn’t give us a fire permit.”
“So?” I said.
She turned to face me, her face pink with the excitement of remembering those days on the Atlantic City boardwalk. “Excuse me?”
It was as if Melissa had teleported from Belgium into my body. “So they didn’t give you a permit. So what? You go there and disturb the whole thing, but when the man tells you to settle down and not set anything on fire, you sit back and listen?”
Owen’s smiled had disappeared and now he looked at me with wide eyes.
I stood up straight with my right hand on my hip. “People do pageants for all sorts of reasons. Some girls want the scholarships. Some like to perform. Yeah, some girls just need someone to tell them they’re pretty. But what do you care? What’s it to you?”
“Young lady, I’ve been a feminist for my whole life. It’s thanks to women like me that you have the opportunities that you have.”
She was right, but she was not all right. “You’ve just traded one set of rules and restrictions for another. That’s not feminism. Feminism is each woman making her own choices, doing what’s right for her.” Yet again, I was quoting Mr. Fitz. Katie North had proclaimed herself anti-feminist and he had just about fallen over himself to declare his own feminism.
Mrs. Winslow made a harrumphing sound. “Third wave,” she muttered.
“And if I want to do this pageant, that’s my choice. It might not be the choice you would make, but you have to respect my right to do it.”
“I most certainly do not,” she said, her face twisted up like she smelled something rotten.
“Then you’ll always be angry, and you’ll never be free.”
Mrs. Winslow was red by this point, with her lips pursed together so hard I thought her cheeks might burst. She turned to Owen. “This girl has a lot to learn,” she said. She pivoted, and left our stand.
Before she was out of earshot, Owen started laughing. “No one has ever spoken to Mrs. Winslow like that.”
“She’s a bigot,” I said.
I thought about Mrs. Winslow and about Mama Cass. All Cass Elliott had wanted to do was perform, and she had to fight every single step of the way because of how she looked. She was the real feminist, as far as I was concerned.
I looked Owen. “I’ll do it,” I said. “I’ll do the pageant, but I’m singing Mama Cass.”