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“I’m Not a Feminist But…..”

By Sean Strub

Janey O'Brien Strub and Sean Strub

Janey O'Brien Strub and Sean Strub

I was so touched by the note and poem I received from my friend Sean Strub – a feminist in good standing as well as a major AIDS activist – that I want to share it. He found the poem when he was going through his mother’s papers after she died recently. The short story he mentions, The Yellow Wallpaper, is a feminist classic, written in 1892; about a woman who is kept housebound by her husband and slowly goes mad.

Sean’s mother’s aversion to the word “feminist” is an example of the familiar ”I’m not a feminist, but……” syndrome – a woman who walks the walk but doesn’t feel comfortable with the talk. It is clear to me – and to her son – that Janey was a feminist in spirit, which is where it counts. — Suzanne Braun Levine

This poem was written in the 1970s, either by my Mom or my Aunt Kitty or possibly it was a collaboration.  I found it in a treasured papers folder of my mother’s, paper-clipped to a copy of The Yellow Wallpaper, a famous short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  The only other papers in the folder related to the children’s book (“The Polka Dot Dilly”) my Mom and Kitty wrote and illustrated together.

Whenever I suggested to my Mom that she was really a feminist, she would get annoyed.  Sometimes she said I had “accused her” of being a feminist, as though that was something terrible.  She supported equal rights, was offended by gender-based inequities, raised her daughters as she raised her sons and taught us all the importance of independence and self-reliance.  But would she identify as a “feminist”?  No way.

If I were you and you were me,
Then who’d be who when we were we?
If both of us are just us two,
Which us is me and which is you?

I know, I know, it’s easy to see
that you are you and I am me!
I know, I know, it’s silly to fuss,
but which is me when we are us?

If she joins he and he joins she,
Then are they they or she and he?
If you and he team up in two’s,
Then are you you or are you you’s?

I know, I know, it’s silly to stew,
But is you one or is you two?
I know, I know, it’s silly to fuss,
But which is me when we are us?

– Janey O’Brien Strub and Kathleen O’Brien Gallagher

The Yellow WallpaperThe Yellow Wallpaper, one of Gilman’s most popular works, originally published in 1892 before her marriage to George Houghton Gilman.

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  • Jean Lloyd-Jones said:

    Dear Sean, Please accept my condolences on losing your Mother. She was indeed a wonderful person. I’ve never read that book, and must get it.

    Have I told you what Maggie Tinsman and I are doing? We’ve organized a bipartisan women’s organization called 50-50 in 2020 (website: ) with the goal of electing women to fill 50% of the seats in the Iowa Legislature, Iowa’s congressional delegation, and oh, yes, a woman governor by the year 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in this country. We are presently in the recruitment phase–reapportionment having created 7 empty Senate seats and 14 empty House seats. In January we will offer our first biennial Blueprint for Winning Academy — already have good people lined up to conduct sessions on Image, Message, Fundraising, etc.

    You’ve always been the best feminist I know!

    Warm regards,

  • Joyce Weinstein said:

    What a remarkable poem. It’s beautiful art any way you look at it. Thanks so much for sharing.

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