Feminism…In My Skin

For my best friend and I, every Sunday is Girl’s Day.  She lives in Columbia.  I live in St. Louis.  But each Sunday we come together by phone to discuss whatever is on our minds.

After discussing our 60-hour work weeks and our wonderfully supportive boyfriends, our conversations most often turn to politics.  We discuss the Sunday news lineup and critique who had the best show, the most interesting guests and the most substantive subject matter.

One Sunday, she immediately called to ask if I had noticed the entirely female panel on Meet the Press.  Of course, I too was taken aback by the sight of an all female panel on NBC’s “If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.”  Condoleezza Rice brought texture to the historic impression of the Bush Administration and the all-female panel gave depth to the ever-changing times that the world is experiencing.  Flipping the station to ABC, I again noticed the prominent role of women on George Stephanopoulos’ This Morning.  The morning belonged to Cokie Roberts and Donna Brazile whose sharp comments were the highlights of the show.

Looking at my television screen, I remembered a question posed to me by a professor during my first year of college.  She asked our class whether feminism or racism was the more fundamental issue of our society.   Reflecting on my own challenges and successes, as a beneficiary of both the civil rights and the feminist movements, I know without a doubt that they are equally critical issues.

Last year, during the height of the Democratic primary season, I was told of a young African-American girl who, while watching a debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, commented that she wanted Obama to win.  When asked why, she said, “Everybody knows that a girl can’t be president, duh.”

While so many have heralded President Obama’s achievement, this little girl stands in the shadows of this momentous occasion—she’s still a girl.

I live at the intersection of these two movements for equality and self-determination and foresee the need for a re-energized feminist movement across America—a movement that will campaign for women, men, and children of every race to reach their full economic and political potential.

On several occasions, many of you have asked me how I continue doing my job as a state legislator.  You have told me of your perceptions of politics—ugly, manipulative, and demanding.  It seems to some of you that too many people are only interested in lifting themselves into the limelight, ignoring the lives of hardworking Missourians, with the pull and tug in metro areas especially difficult.

The truth is that it is difficult, and the results are hardly transparent.  Accomplishing one’s goals in the political spectrum takes hard work and a committed dedication usually over significant time spans.  But there are women of excellence in every facet of public and private life.   Each and every woman’s personal narrative includes characteristics of struggle and accomplishment—women of every age, race, religion, and profession.

And although gifts often come naturally, it takes discipline and drive to fine tune such talents.

When I was a little girl, my mother, like many professional mothers who enrolled their children in summer activities, sent me to take opera lessons.  I remember how difficult the lessons became, but my desire to succeed helped me to continue.  Women like Nikki Giovanni, a distinguished intellect, poet, activist, and author inspired me to pursue my goals.  A beautiful African-American woman, much of Giovanni’s writings have been influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, and she has encouraged people nationwide to stand up for their beliefs.   Barbara Jordan inspired me to succeed within politics.  She began her legislative career at the age of 29, as did I.  She continued her career as the first black woman to serve in the Texas Senate and went on to serve as a U.S. congresswoman from 1973 to 1979.  Jordan is esteemed nationally as an advocate for underserved poor and minority communities.  I believe it is these women and their life stories which still motivate me to succeed today. Their success gave me the confidence to pursue my goals and encouraged me to stay committed.

As an elected official, I am proud to be a part of the advancement of women’s leadership and the empowerment of professional women.  Whereas feminists in the 1970’s were concerned with legal and social equality for women, feminists of today deal with advancing women’s leadership, empowering women’s health, equal pay for equal work and campaigning to stop domestic violence against women, among a multitude of other issues.  Common topics include aging, body image, health, healthy relationships and the opportunity to pursue professional careers.  Modern feminists aim to inspire and empower women to focus on their own quality of life while changing the world as we know it.

Young girls today often look up to women in the media who have shown true ambition to succeed.  Women like Beyonce Knowles demonstrate determination, passion, and discipline.  She has proved that she not only has the natural talent as an artist, but she has made a career for herself by sharpening these talents and by presenting herself as a bold, independent, motivated woman who is determined to rise above the ordinary.  While Beyonce is known worldwide for her powerful voice and curvaceous figure, it is these things combined with her self-assuredness which make her such a great role model for females today.  As a young, black woman in the media, she has proved that it is possible to achieve your goals while still being comfortable in your skin.

Feminism no longer reflects the stereotypes of earlier decades — the notion that women must choose between mind and body, intelligence and beauty.  Not only do women like Beyonce Knowles personify the renewal of the term feminism, but so too do women in our local community—our teachers, doctors, artists, and intellectuals.  We embody the ideals of strength, capability, and drive.  We are the inspiration of young females in our community who hold the unknown potential of the future.

My mentor, former Lt. Governor Harriett Woods, advised me once in an email at the beginning of my career, “you can be a watchdog on some issues that are important to you and your district. You might even develop authority or expertise in some very specific topic. With me, it was [the] circuit breaker. Democrats had the majority in my day, but urban liberals were a minority within the majority and it was tough going. But I was always able to succeed on votes regarding seniors because no one really understood [the] circuit-breaker and they figured that I did.”  Harriett set the bar for drive and capability. Harriett tried her best to teach me everything she knew.  Her trademark impression for this young politico was strength, sense of self and working to defy all odds, including the still existing good ole’ boys network in the state legislature.

When her colleagues describe our state Senator Rita Heard Days, they always make comments regarding her commitment to bring important facts to every debate.  They talk about her persistence in raising critical issues of her constituency.  The loyal opposition never gets a break or free ride in the senate chamber.  Senator Heard Days always teaches her observers to have meaningful conversations with depth and substance.

With these fine examples and the opportunity to lead, I continue doing my job as your state legislator, because I support a renewal—because I want to uphold the importance of issues such as aging, body image, and women’s health.  I want to continue to empower women, young and old, to play an active and positive role in society and in their own lives.  Most of all, I want to lift others into the light.  I want to emphasize the lives of regular people, of hardworking Missourians, and I want to inspire others to do the same.

All people should feel empowered enough to follow their dreams and never allow anyone to tell them otherwise nor set limitations for themselves.




Maria Chappelle-Nadal

District 72