Image of gavel and book to represent Kavanaugh hearings and Marjorie Brimley's grief over missing Shawn
Missing Shawn

The Feminist in Our House

Last week on Thursday, I took 55 kids down to Capitol Hill where we met with members of Congress and observed everything that was going on outside of the Kavanaugh hearings. It was an incredible day – my students were thrilled to learn more about the process and to be downtown at such an important and history-making moment.

I came back exhilarated. An hour later, I was crying in the bathroom.

Thank God we have private staff bathrooms where I can compose myself, because I’m not totally sure how I would have explained my emotions to my students. Did the hearings bring up all sorts of feelings for me? Yes. But they did for many women. What was different for me is that the hearings also brought on a whole new wave of grief.

Shawn and I met just before September 11th, and we spent the days and weeks following the attack huddled in our tiny apartments trying to understand the new reality we were facing. We were babies, really, but Shawn was so engaged with what was going on in the world that I felt like I needed to be too. He challenged me, pushed back when he thought I was wrong, and read more than anyone I knew.

He was brilliant, and that was alluring, but I was drawn even more to his sense of justice. He was outraged at the horror in the world and he worked actively to change what was wrong. But you know what I missed the most last week? It wasn’t the policy reports or the memos he wrote at the White House. I missed how he would have reacted to ME.

I know what would have happened. We would have come home from work and talked a bit about the events of the day, and then put the kids to bed and sat on the couch. I would have told him about my trip downtown, and he would have shown me some great pieces of the news I missed. I would have ranted about the injustices women face and he would have been just as outraged as I was. He would have understood that my anger wasn’t just about the specifics of this one hearing, but about wider societal factors. His Twitter feed would have contained dozens of tweets about the politics of the day and plenty of articles about why women are frustrated at this moment. We would watch the news together and he would have pulled me close when I was angry.

I would have felt like there was someone on my TEAM.

It wasn’t just because he would have listened to me rant, although he would have done that. It’s also because I knew he would have been just as outraged as I was.

But it’s easy to agree with your wife. What Shawn did was put feminism into practice in many parts of his life, including at work. He worked for a woman for most of his career, and he promoted the best talent – which often meant he promoted women. The last conference he spoke at was one about getting more women involved in the National Security world. He listened to women at parties and at work, never needing to dominate the limelight. He wasn’t perfect – I’m not saying that – and it’s hard to really understand what it’s like to be a woman if you are a man.

But he was a feminist. I knew that, he knew that, and most important, our children knew that.

The day after the hearings, I was brushing Claire’s hair in the morning as the news blared in the background. I tried to explain what was going on to her, and I think she understood the basics. She definitely understood that her mom was upset.

But you know what she didn’t see? She didn’t get to see her dad get upset. She – and her brothers – didn’t get to see his example. She didn’t get to listen to her parents’ collective outrage because she only has one parent.

Of course, she sees the example of her grandfather making lunches and helping her with her homework, and that’s important for her to have in her life. But what she didn’t get to witness was a relationship between her parents that (although imperfect) was one where it wasn’t just the mom who was getting fired up about injustice in this world.

I miss Shawn’s Twitter feed and I miss his ability to perfectly enunciate the problems he had with US politics. But what I missed most of all last week was his ability to show our children – in his words and his actions – what a feminist can look like today.


  • Melissa

    Thank you for this post. One of the (many) things I miss about not having my husband with me are the times, usually in the evening, when I would read opinion pieces to him that I’d gleaned from the news during the day. I’ve found myself thinking “Oh, I need to show that to Rick!” and had to stop and remember I can’t do that anymore. He was my sounding board and biggest booster. He would have been just as appalled at what women are facing as I am.

    • Marjorie

      Sometimes – even almost 9 months later – I think “of I have to show that to Shawn!” I’m not sure if it will ever fade. It’s part of who I am now, I think.

  • Henry

    Wow! It says some pretty awesome things about you that you were driven to tears because you missed Shawn’s collaborative, articulate sense of justice. Somehow I suspect that if you had to explain your emotions to your students, you would again teach them something profound – as in First Day Back. As to your kids, even if they can’t see Shawn’s example any more, they can at least hear about his passion for justice. You and Shawn’s friends will have a wealth of stories to tell them and help keep Shawn’s memory alive. They will learn from you that it was a shared passion, and you can share it with them. Just be sure to include a lot of first person plural.

    • Marjorie

      You are right. Actually, last night Claire said she wanted to read some of my blog posts. I always read her pieces of the blog when she’s in it, but usually she doesn’t read the whole thing. She read this whole post, and then we talked about it. She didn’t know what the word “feminist” was, so we talked about that, and we talked about the importance of men identifying as feminists – and how her dad was like that. It was really powerful.

  • Miranda

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. My late husband was also a feminist, so sweet, so gentle, and so intelligent. As I was explaining the hearings and other current events to my children, I often asked, “did you ever hear Daddy say that? Would Daddy ever act like that?” Of course the answer is no. I so wish he were here to be a living example for the kids. Instead, I will keep telling stories and reminding them how respectful men can be to women.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – I think this is all we can do. We have to tell our kids about the men we knew and how they would react to the events of our time. Sometimes, I don’t know what Shawn would have said. But in this instance, I definitely do.