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From the Introduction

Click. The flipping of a switch. The cartoon bulb flashing on overhead. The light suddenly illuminating the darkness. This romantic notion that ideas and identity are formed in one lightning-strike moment used to be the purview of old, white guys—Greek philosopher Plato, whose metaphor for enlightenment involved escaping creepy shadows in a cave, and inventors, like Alexander Graham Bell and Eli Whitney, who swore their earth-shattering insights happened suddenly and by accident once upon a time.

    Jane O’Reilly reclaimed the click for the ladies in her 1971 Ms. magazine cover story entitled “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth.” Appearing in the inaugural issue, it opened with a group of women lying on the floor in Aspen,“floating free and uneasy on the indoor/outdoor carpet, eyes closed, being led through the first phase of a Workshop in Approaching Unisexuality.”

    The women “recognize the click! of recognition, that parenthesis of truth around a little thing that completes the puzzle of reality in women’s minds—the moment that brings a gleam to our eyes and means the revolution has begun.” The backdrop of O’Reilly’s story is distinctly early ’70s, and the realizations that occur on that (no doubt, shag) carpet seem somewhat fixed in time, too. One by one, the women O’Reilly describes realize that they can no longer tolerate the sexism all around. She writes:

    In Houston, Texas, a friend of mine stood and watched her husband step over a pile of toys on the stairs, put there to be carried up. “Why can’t you get this stuff put away?” he mumbled. Click! “You have two hands,” she said, turning away.

    Last summer I got a letter, from a man who wrote: “I do not agree with your last article, and I am canceling my wife’s subscription.” The next day I got a letter from his wife saying, “I am not canceling my subscription.” Click!

    Last August, I was on a boat leaving an island in Maine. Two families were with me, and the mothers were discussing the troubles of cleaning up after a rental summer. “Bob cleaned up the bathroom for me, didn’t you honey?” she confided, gratefully patting her husband’s knee. “Well, what the hell, it’s vacation,” he said, fondly. The two women looked at each other, and the queerest change came over their faces. “I got up at six this morning to make the sandwiches for the trip home from this ‘vacation,’” the first one said. “So I wonder why I’ve thanked him at least six times for cleaning the bathroom?” Click! Click!

    We began our own conversation about click moments in a definitively modern context—a mass email sent to several of our feminist friends. J. Courtney Sullivan was in the process of writing her novel, Commencement, and needed an idea for the feminist “aha moment”of one of her characters. She emailed a group of women and asked, “What was the moment that made you a feminist? Was there one person, event, book, or idea that made it happen?” The responses came in fast and furious. Some were predictable (reading Katie Roiphe, joining the campus women’s center, having a sexual assault experience) and some were anything but (seeing Jennifer Baumgardner wearing fishnet stockings, or Alissa Quart falling in love with a war correspondent). Our click moments were distinctly different from those second wavers in O’Reilly’s essay.

    Responses to our email chain included:

    “We were reading the Great Gatsby in high school English, and I came across this line: ‘That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’ I felt enraged, but none of my classmates even seemed to notice.”

    “Was it The Feminine Mystique? Catharine MacKinnon? Attending Smith and realizing that I needed to do more with my life in order to honor the legacy of the women who came before me? Weeping for prostitutes in Amsterdam? My ‘Come to Jesus’ moment was kind of like a slow buildup over time that culminated with me waking up one morning a RAGING feminist—although I was definitely a minor one from the start.”

    “At a rainy Take Back The Night rally my first year of college .. . I looked around at the women on every side, and thought about how strange it was that I’d ended up here, given my conservative Republican upbringing. I realized that if I don’t identify as a feminist, no one really does.”

    “One movie: Girls Town. Amazing.”

    Courtney E. Martin, inspired by the range and surprising nature of many of the answers, suggested that we ask more young feminists that same question. We wanted to collage together a picture of contemporary young feminists—often invisible to mainstream media entirely and sometimes maligned by their own foremothers for supposedly misinterpreting the movement they’ve inherited. We wanted to discover what it is that still brings a diversity of young people to try on the feminist label despite the obvious risks. And we wanted to represent what we saw as the awesome breadth of feminist baptisms in the modern age. Back in the day, the most common path toward a feminist identity was getting dragged to a meeting by a friend or reading a feminist book.Today, a girl Googles Jessica Simpson in her living room in Dubuque and  stumbles on a feminist analysis of Simpson’s creepy dad on a blog—suddenly, she’s wondering if she might be a feminist, too.

From the Book, Reproduced by Tablet Magazine:

"Sisters in Arms", by Elisa Albert

A couple of thousand years after Haman was sent to his death for trying to persuade King Ahasuerus to execute all the Jews in his kingdom, a motley group of fifth- and sixth-graders at Temple Emanuel Community Day School of Beverly Hills (motto: “Living Judaism!”) pulled out all the stops on a Purim musical revue spectacular.

    We all wanted to be Esther, of course, the heroic, beautiful, self-sacrificing beloved of the King. The ingénue savior of the Jews, and so thin from all her fasting! She was going to get to wear a dirndl and sing a re-lyricized “My Favorite Things.” Second choice would have been to play a member of Esther’s harem, biblical pole-dancers with veils, MC Hammer pants, exposed midriffs, sequins. Ahasuerus, surrounded by his minions and ogling a parade of bachelorettes, was given to breaking the fourth wall, winking at the audience, and exclaiming, a la Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king!”

    I was cast as Vashti and was, at best, ambivalent about it. She was the shrew. The cast-off first wife, a mere footnote to the story of Esther’s bravery and the salvation of the Jewish people. My costume was a modest polyester gown and my big number was “I’m Gonna Wash That King Right Out of My Hair.” I was last seen on stage protesting the beauty pageant, pacing back and forth downstage, alone, with a large sign that read WOMEN UNITE!

>>Read the full essay here

Click is a collection of essays on the catalytic moments when twenty-eight women and one man in their teens, twenties, and thirties were disoriented by sexism and found their way to feminism. From protest marches to marching bands, Anita Hill to Patricia Hill Collins, late night stand-up to purity pledges, ADHD to engineering school, Barbie dolls to Sleater-Kinney—these essays depict a definitively modern version of feminism, reshaped and reinvigorated by the daughters of the ’80s and ’90s. Their stories and backgrounds are diverse, but they share a passion for feminism that proves the movement is as strong as ever.
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