08/28/2012 12:00 EDT | Updated 10/28/2012 05:12 EDT

I'm a Feminist Because My Mother Was Abused


"Do you think I'm something?"

That line halted my channel flipping one afternoon.

In the old episode of All in The Family, each time Edith Bunker asked Archie that question her words were met with either silence or avoidance. Her daughter, Gloria, was so upset with her for not standing up to Archie that she told her mother, "Daddy is right. You are one hundred times nothing." In the end, Archie would only offer, "You are something else."

If only life would mimic such great sitcoms lines. Maybe it does.

As I was mentally preparing myself to attend an event sponsored by a women's support group for abused women that same night, my mother kept asking, "Where are you going tonight?" and after, "So, how was it?"

I didn't just want to describe the moving event in quick, superficial terms so I avoided replying until I found an article covering the event in the paper the following morning. I knew I had my out.

"This is where I was -- when you read it, you'll understand," I told her.

How do you tell your mother, "The real reason I was there was because of you?"

You see, my mother was Edith Bunker -- but she couldn't have even asked her husband, "Do you think I am something?" She wouldn't have dared.

Her life is why I am the feminist I am.

From the moment I saw her crying, holding her just-hit face, looking into my four-year-old eyes in helplessness, I knew she was something and I would dedicate my life to making her believe it.

At four years old that's a tall order for any child, but it is what it is. Nothwithstanding the amount of current psychobabble on the subject, that's what children often do -- rescue a parent in need.

Nevertheless, I could totally relate to sitcom Gloria's anger at her mother. How many times do you have to tell victims of domestic violence they do mean something?

I remember a few years ago I asked my mother if she had married again and her husband hit her, what would she do?

"Well, I'd hope it wouldn't happen again."

I don't think my work will be done anytime soon.

Soon after the Edith Bunker incident, I spoke at an event in which I touched on my mother's story. The host of the evening read the following in part of my bio: "He's also a card-carrying, poster-boy, proselytizing, you-name-it, Feminist with a capital F -- if feminism is defined as he says as 'a condition of men who become hypersensitive, too imaginative, and lacking in the traits that are supposed to be masculine.'"

I recall waiting in the wings listening to those words I had supplied and thinking I wish I had been more serious in my declaration instead of making it light to make the statement more palatable.

Even so, during my speech I boldly stated, "I recently found out a rapist/murderer, who I also knew as a kid, served his 20 years, remarried and is living happily ever after under a new name. His former wife? She raised their four children alone and a few years ago suffered a debilitating stroke. I can't help comparing that to my mother's lot in life. She's only had one man in her life. He married four more times and is living happily ever after. My mother? She's had chronic fatigue syndrome for 20 years. I don't wonder why, but who said life had anything to do with being fair?"

Imagine my surprise when I was later informed, by a woman no less, that one man in the audience didn't like my saying that I was a feminist and said that those he was with felt the same way. She hoped it would be food for thought for me.

Oh, it is. Sometimes the most well-meaning people just don't get it. Giving voice to those women and children who have been silenced by violence means just that. They have one. Unique, original, individual, but it's one thing they can call their own.

Every time I've given a speech since then, I make the declaration, "I am a Feminist!" myself and I make sure I add, "By the way, if I don't upset someone here tonight, I don't think I've done my job."

I will be more bold, not less for the rest of my life.

My mother will never understand, and probably deny her role in my journey towards Feminism, but nowadays you just might hear her admit, "I am something."

That, Archie Bunker, is something else.