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Another Word for Feminism?

Brenda suspected what her book club said about her: that she had traded feminism for workout tights. Of course this oversimplified her mid-life transition that started by substituting her shapeless hairstyle for one decidedly more coiffed and culminated with canceling her Ms. Magazine subscription because it sat around unread.  But it did sort of hit the point that her past 42 years had worn her down, maybe even made her dowdy. If feminism was supposed to empower and excite women, its effect missed her. Mostly her feisty peers just annoyed her. She had tired of all their convictions and empowerment.

Right now her insides felt molten from the effort of pedaling her spin bike up an incline that nearly stalled the pedals. The instructor’s AC/DC soundtrack filled the workout room with almost painful volumes, pounding into Brenda’s ears and adding to her pleasure. She felt her hamstrings searing inside their tight black shorts free from visible panty lines, thanks to a tip from one of those celebrity magazines she once scorned. She pushed herself harder, adding two more gears to the climb then lost her rhythm and took one off. God, how she loved all this gasping effort and raw power! Each pedal stroke, primal and thigh-toning, became her affirmation. Yes!, yes!, yes!.

Any guilt she had felt at the start of class for skipping out on Book Salon tonight sank away as her brow prickled with sweat. No doubt her peers were perched on stiff furniture around a cheese plate right now lamenting the plight of another female antagonist. That plight would then kick start a discussion of unequal female representation in Congress. Before long, the conversation would arrive at the predictable center point of all their gatherings: the loathsome existence of men. Brenda’s group never talked about their actual blueprints for a planet after ridding it of the male species, but it seemed to be their primary wish. Through all their years of meetings after graduating together from a women’s college, Brenda drove home from Salon wondering if she didn’t have what it took to be a real feminist. She always felt like a fake. And no matter how she tried, she couldn’t cultivate a repugnance of men.

The irony of her evening spin class did not miss her. Her backside, now clad in tight shorts, bobbed up and down on a stationary bike surrounded by men mostly 50 and over who no doubt stared at it shamelessly. They were objectifying her. They probably also held her body to a different standard than theirs, the middle aged softness of which society seemed to tolerate more. Loose skin hung from their underarms, a ring of extra bulk pressed against their waist bands. In the last three months of taking spin class several times a week, Brenda’s body had tightened and firmed. It now matched the sleekness of her new hairdo. And the better it looked, the more she wanted to buy tighter outfits.  Objectification wasn’t such a bad thing, she thought now reaching for her water bottle. But she could hear her peers quoting Simone de Beauvoir, analyzing the deterioration of her inner compass. She could see them waving their fists in the air, spelling out injustices. Water dribbled off her chin. Frankly, de Beauvoir always struck her as uptight.

Well, injustices be damned, Brenda panted. She added another gear to her climb, shook the sweat from her hair. Maybe her convictions had gone askew. But by 42 years of age she knew what felt good, and her svelte thighs in these gripping shorts sure did.

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