My husband is the early riser in the family, and on most weekend mornings I stumble downstairs, bleary-eyed, as the kitchen radio screams out the hits of the 1970s. This can be torture or it can be wonderful, depending on my mood and the song.
One morning, my positive energy surged I when I recognized the first notes of the feminist anthem, I Am Woman. Helen Reddy was belting it like a boss, and I was right there with my sista singing along…
Yes, I am wise! But it’s wisdom born of pain! Yes, I paid the price, but look how much I gained!
Dancing around, remembering how I learned this song as a little girl, and how much my strong, conservative mother loved it…
If I have to, I can do anything! I am strong! I am invincible! I am wooooomaaaan!!
Dancing more, humming the next lines because I did not know the lyrics…
I am woman watch me grow, see me standing toe to toe, as I spread my lovin’ arms across the laaaand!
And then — I did a double-take. No, that can’t be, can it? I couldn’t have heard that word, not in a feminist anthem! “Dean, did you hear that? In this song?” I quickly googled the lyrics and there it was:
But I’m still an embryo…
Whoa! Ms. Reddy said “embryo”! She just compared herself to an embryo!
But I’m still an embryo, with a long long way to go, until I make my brother understaaaand!
I googled again. The song topped the Billboard charts in December 1972. Mere weeks before Roe v. Wade became the horrific, bloody law of the land on January 22, 1973.
“I’m a non-human parasite with no rights, a dangerous, dreaded burden sucking the life out of women and society, a piece of garbage to be killed at will and thrown into the trash with the rest of the medical waste. Nothing is as worthless as I am.”
But honestly, that latter interpretation does not seem to fit with the spirit of the song, nor does it make any sense in that line, does it?
Therefore, I’m siding with the embryo-as-our-young-hero scenario, just as Helen Reddy presented it back in the more civilized, less blood-thirsty days of feminism. Back when we women could sing and remind others of our own worth and dignity without crushing the worth and dignity of other weak and fragile members of our human family. Feminists back then (I’m going to tell myself) still had love enough to speak the name of embryo without contempt and as a logical metaphor for the underdog — whom we women naturally, instinctively nurture and protect, cheering him forward until he finds his own voice.
Oh, you embryos in 1972, you slipped by just in the nick of time! You were still the good guys then!
Ah, what feminism coulda, shoulda been! Sing it, Helen!