I've been a feminist writer for decades. Much younger women authors claim that feminism has become so much a part of the vernacular that it's now a brand or so white bread as to be a meaningless term. That hasn't been my experience. I came to feminism during the time of Friedan, Abzug, Steinem, Morgan, and many other voices of the era. To me, as long as men feel entitled to women's time and attention, feminism isn't meaningless. Many men still do -- as I found at a recent book signing when several men treated me like "The Information Lady."
When I arrived at my signing, I spotted a long table with a stack of my books, pens at the ready, and a small framed poster of the book's jacket with my photo attached. It should have been obvious that I was an author doing a signing, but a surreal reality descended.
A man dressed in a suit rushed to my table and said as he had very little time, would I please take him to the travel book section. Pointing to the stack of books, and the poster, I said: "I don't work here. I'm signing my latest book. May I tell you about it?" He didn't acknowledge I was speaking. He insisted I knew where the travel books were. I pointed to the large and well-staffed counter some feet behind me, which said INFORMATION in large letters. He left in a huff. I was displeased with myself. Where was the frothing feminist from my younger days? But I knew it would have been pointless to verbally mop the floor with him. It would have been like requiring Donald Trump to sit through a Women's Studies class.
The next man rushed up and asked where the restrooms were. I didn't know. "You don't know? You work here." It was pointless to tell him my mission; he was on his own. I gave him a pass. I've been on the hunt for a restroom and know that awful feeling.
Another man said, "Look at this thing, lady. My e-reader is broken. Who should I speak to about it?" I gave my spiel. He interrupted and continued to talk over me. I repeatedly tried to tell him why I was in the bookstore. He was agitated. Couldn't I see that it was about his e-reader? Why wouldn't I listen? I raised my voice slightly. "I don't work here. I am signing books. I'm an author." I should have known better. "Then why are you sitting in the middle of the store? I thought you were The Information Lady."
An older man approached. He was gentle and polite. Was I the lady who could take his pre-order for the new Harry Potter book? No. I was signing my latest book. He picked up a copy and asked: "How could Betty Friedan and Princess Grace Kelly be on the same cover?" I explained that both of them had changed my life. His gentleness gave way to suspicion. "Oh no, is this one of those books about..." I finished his sentence. Why prolong the agony? "Yes, this is a book about feminism and why it's for everyone. Why not buy one of these for your grandchildren?" He vanished like one of the Harry Potter characters.
Clearly I was The Information Lady, but only for men (who weren't buying my book). Women who passed by understood I was an author, even if they weren't interested.
One woman had read a review of my book. She bought a copy and asked for a special inscription. We chatted about what feminism meant to her. When I saw that my next customer was a young man, bursting with something he needed to say, I braced myself -- but I was wrong. He knew about the book, and had tucked cash into his shirt pocket. He said that he and his wife were feminists, and he was a self-defined homemaker. I admired that he called himself a homemaker and not a stay-at-home husband. He said there was so much work to do at home while also taking care of young children. I told him that my father had spent some time at home, too.
Betty Friedan dedicated The Feminine Mystique "to all the new women, and all the new men." She thought highly of men, and knew that feminism needed men, too. I was glad to meet a man who would have suited Betty's definition of a "new man" -- one who could see me as an author and not just "The Information Lady."