I danced around in my room — hairbrush microphone in hand — belting out “I am woman, hear me roar” repeatedly, in my family home on West Main Street in Princeton. When the needle ran out of vinyl, I lifted the tonearm of my stereo turntable, gently set the stylus back down and played it again, and again, and again. It was 1971, when “I Am Woman” was released.
Helen Reddy died Tuesday.
“I Am Woman” became the anthem of my childhood and pre-coming of age. At 9 and 10 years old, I was practicing with the boys of the American Block-sponsored, sanctioned Little League baseball team in Princeton, Mercer County. I was practicing because the Little League Commission denied me access to fully participate because I was a girl. And I’ve been down there on the floor.
Meanwhile, I knew nothing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her quest to make my life better. All I knew was that I wanted to play baseball. And basketball, golf and tennis, and run with my friends, and climb trees. All the trees. If I have to, I can do anything.
In 1971, Reed v. Reed became the first U.S. Supreme Court case to declare sex discrimination a violation of the 14th Amendment. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lawyer for one of the appellants, Sally Reed.
In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment passed the Senate and was sent to the states for ratification.
I watched the Battle of the Sexes in 1973, as Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three sets. I am woman, hear me roar.
I continued to practice with the boys. I watched from the sidelines as my friends— all boys — donned the gray and black baseball uniforms for game day.
Then one day, I summoned the courage to visit a local lawyer. Treating me as if I were his most important client, he filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, which ultimately ruled in my favor, and I got to play. You can bend but never break me. Cause it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal.
I did not know it then, but my foray into Little League baseball would become a defining experience in my life. It provided a lens through which I would forever view and experience the world. My baseball experience revealed inequality and injustice. It also propelled me to action; it taught me to fight for what was right and just. And I know too much to go back an’ pretend, ‘cause, I’ve heard it all before. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.
Decades later, I am reminded of “I Am Woman” only because its pop icon of the 1970s — Helen Reddy — died. I learned of her death from a friend, on Facebook of course, during the now infamous debate on the evening of Sept. 29.
What was presumed to be an evening of civil discourse devolved almost immediately into incoherent bullying, untruths and call to action for white nationalists to watch the ballots.
Sue and I sat silently as we considered if we were observing the slipping away of our democracy, our way of life; the echoes of Justice Ruth Bader’s Ginsburg’s death lingering in our psyches.
I offer this as a reflection of how I became the person I am, obstacles shoved aside, and doors opened because of women before me. Suddenly, it all feels under assault, threatened, fragile, even ephemeral.
As a mother, and particularly as a mother of a daughter, I hear that feminist anthem calling me to action. What will we be asked to do? What action will we be called to take?
I am woman. In numbers too big to ignore. And I come back even stronger. Not a novice any longer. ‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul. Oh yes, I am wise, but its wisdom born of pain. Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I gained. If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong.