One of my earliest memories is walking around our neighborhood with my mom, as she dragged me door to door, canvassing for her women’s group (Women’s Equity Action League). My mom was a bigtime ERA supporter, and she was hell-bent on making sure she spread the message as far as her feet would carry her.
My mom used to wear this cool necklace with a big, chunky women symbol. She also had a button that said “Uppity Women Unite.” I think my dad hated that button. Not because he didn’t believe in women’s equality — he did and does. I think he found it a little aggressive. (Ha. Pretty sure that was the idea, Dad.)
It was important to my parents that I not turn out to be some sissy girl whose sole goal in life was to find a husband. They both wanted me to be tough and strong and to believe that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be. “Never depend on a man, Brianna,” my mother would admonish me. Life has taught me that this is good advice. It’s not that men are undependable. I know many who are. But to be dependent on anyone for your livelihood is a sure recipe for disaster.
My dad used to wrestle with me. He had learned judo in the Air Force, and he used to teach me his moves. I have a picture of me around age 5, with hair as short as a boy’s. I’m with my dad. My teeth are gritted ferociously, and I’m posturing like a fighter. When I show it to people, they think it’s my little brother. Nope.
We lived next door to the Bell family on North Oak Lane in State College, PA. They had three kids. Michael was a year or two older than me, David was about my age, and Jackie was a couple years younger. I used to play with David and Jackie a lot.
I don’t remember how it happened, but one day Michael Bell started teasing me. I told him to stop, but he didn’t listen. He didn’t realize that I had a bad temper. Not a short temper, but an explosive one. It took a lot to get me there, but once I arrived, it wasn’t pretty. (I haven’t changed that much since I was five.)
Things escalated, and Michael hit me. I don’t know if it was a closed fist and I can’t remember where he hit me. I only know that the second he did, I exploded into blind rage. If you’ve never experienced “blind rage,” trust me, it’s an apt descriptor. It was as though the world around me was completely blotted out, and my perception narrowed until all I could see was this boy, and I literally wanted to kill him.
I’m not sure when my parents came outside. All I can remember is that they were actually cheering me on as I pummeled this boy. In their eyes, I was the underdog. He was bigger than me. He was a boy. I was an unlikely victor.
But victorious I was. The yard became a boxing ring, and I won my first fight that day.
I’m not proud of that moment. In fact, as a parent, I’m horrified that my parents were encouraging such physical violence — ack! But I do understand where they were coming from. They didn’t want me to take shit from any boy. Not then, not now, not ever.
As embarrassed as I am to admit it, that fight changed everything. From that day on, I knew that being a girl didn’t mean that I needed to be afraid of boys — not even if they were bigger, stronger, or more powerful. I knew that I could take on any boy, and I could win. I still feel that way. I’ve walked through this life proudly and fearlessly, knowing that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be.
So here we are, just about 45 years after my boxing debut, and we are five days away from our first opportunity to vote for a female president. And it really might happen.
If it does, I don’t think my parents will be surprised at all. They knew all along that this was exactly how things were supposed to be.