I can’t remember the first time I used that word to describe myself. What I remember before I used it was that when some people said it, they spit it out of their mouths like a searing venom. Who would want to be labeled a word that people used with such disgust?
Yet, here I am today, and I identify myself with this word. I say it proudly even when people have a visceral reaction to it. I use this word in my tagline to introduce myself to my readers. I am a Feminist.
Sometimes, I am really tired of talking about the F-word. I am irritated that the definition has to be repeated a million times and yet still people just don’t get it. I am driven to madness when I hear someone say something like “Oh, I’m definitely not a feminist. I love men!” or profess how they could not possibly be a feminist because they want to shave their legs, or some excuse that makes it perfectly clear the person saying it has NO IDEA what feminism is. And as Kristen Howerton put it, “The #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag sounds like a string of tweets from women who learned about “feminists” from their cranky misogynist grandpa.”
Feminist: a person who believes in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Yes, these words were spoken by activist and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and even featured in a Beyonce song. But we still don’t get it. I don’t understand why anyone would not be proud to identify as a feminist. My blog tag-line says “Bravo addict, wife, mother, Feminist, TERRIFIED OF BEES, and writing about it all.” Can you imagine how weird it would look if it said, “Bravo addict, wife, mother, anti-racist, TERRIFIED OF BEES, and writing about it all.” Yeah, folks. We all know it is wrong to support inequality because of a person’s race. But somehow we can proudly say we are “anti-feminist”. Which, if we look at the definition, means we are against the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Hmm.
When I was a junior in college I took a class called ‘Into to Feminist Theory’ as an elective. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I got an A in that class, but I really, really didn’t get it. It went *way* over my head at the time. I remember one conversation in particular about marriage and how it originated as an exchange of property (the woman) and how sexist it was to assume the woman would take the last name of her husband. What was I doing during this conversation? Probably creating a sketch of my perfect engagement ring and wondering what the big deal was.
I thought I was different than these women. They DID seem angry. They DID seem to be against a lot of the things that I thought were great. They DID look stereotypically feminist. Yeah, they were angry. And I was happy! I loved men! I wanted to get married! I wanted to change my name!
Here I am almost ten years after that class. I am still happy. I still love men. I am happily married and proudly took my husband’s last name. But I am angry too. There is a little river of anger coursing beneath my blood. It starts to stir sometimes. It’s stirring as I write this.
I am a feminist. I am a high-heel-wearing, push-up-bra-buying, make-up-loving, leg-shaving, Britney-Spears-listening, work-at-home-mom-ing, vain, girlie Feminist. This is the part where I have to explain how un-stereotypical of a feminist I am. Because somehow, after all these years, there appears to still be a stereotype of what a feminist is. Somehow, even I believed that before I knew better.
That river starts to stir when I think back to what life was like growing up as a woman. The little, side-remarks, the day-to-day experiences that I just accepted as “life” growing up. Things like in high school, where I was encouraged by my guidance counselor to take Home-Ec instead of AP Physics. Things like when I was told, point blank, by my AP Biology teacher “You care more about your hair and finding a boyfriend than you do about biology.” He said it with a level of such deep contempt that I can still remember it vividly to this day. Things like in college where I watched as two males I had never had a class with before gave me the sympathy cluck and “oh, your so cute sweetheart, but we’ll take it from here” eyes when we were put in a group project together and I tried to contribute.
The river stirs because this is the part where I tell you about my GPA, my “gifted and talented” label, my IQ, and my standardized test scores. This is where I mention the academic journals I have published in and conferences I have spoken at and awards I have received. I have to do this part to prove myself to the readers who say “well, maybe she just isn’t that smart and that’s why all of the above things happened to her.” This is the part where I have to bullet-point list my gifts and accomplishments out for you to read to justify my intelligence. Where I have to lay out the evidence to prove why the people I mentioned above were wrong. This is the part where you may just like me less, because girls should be seen and not heard.
This is the part where the river boils because I live day to day trying to both follow “the rules for women” and also try desperately to break away from them. Where I struggle daily with my need to be liked against my need to be honest. Where I struggle to remain “cheerful” in these situations so I don’t seem like the “moody, cranky Feminist.” Because nobody likes a moody, cranky feminist. And as a women, that seems to be the ultimate need – to be liked. The highest compliment for a women, besides for beauty, is being well-liked. “Well-liked” is the prison that reminds us that nobody wants to hear a woman “whine”. It is “well-liked” that reminds me to shut my mouth when I want to speak up. “Well-liked” reminds me that a woman who is successful but not well-liked is a failure. “Well-liked” reminds me it is not “attractive” to talk about things such as feminism.
The river stirs because I have held jobs where I discovered I was making less money than a male who I clearly had more experience than because “we need more men in this job.” It stirs because I have been told I am lucky to be hired for a job because many employers would discriminate against women of child-bearing age. Because rather than being a fact of life, that reproduction happens and women are the ones who must carry and birth and breastfeed, I have received the message loud and clear from our culture that childbearing and childrearing is massively undervalued. That “business is business” and if we women get ourselves into this situation, we must be prepared to bend over backwards to never let our careers or our children suffer. Oh family comes first! But not if it interferes with business. Then you are fired.
That river runs deeper when I have been asked if I could mute my appearance to be “less intimidating” to someone I would be meeting at work. It has been subtly suggested to me by various sources that maybe a little flirting could be beneficial to my career. I have been assumed to be the much younger wife of a colleague at professional events rather than an associate. I am reminded CONSTANTLY that my sexuality may be the ONLY power I have over men.
That river stirs and deepens from my experiences with church trying to teach me that my body was dangerous and was solely responsible for the sins of men. If I had a dollar for every time that I was touched against my will by “flirty” or “drunk” or “aggressive” men and for every time a man said something lewd about me or my body, for every time I was labeled a “bitch” for not accepting a free drink or invite to dance or request for my number – if I had a dollar for every one of those times that I experienced as a young woman, my daughter’s future college education may nearly be paid for.
I do not tell these stories because I am looking for sympathy or to indulge a “wah, wah, poor me” attitude. I tell these stories because I am aching to be HEARD. Because for me, one of the hardest parts about being a woman is my inability to make my voice heard. I am seen. I am seen every single day. I have absolutely no doubt that men see me. But I am rarely heard. I tell these stories, because these stories need to be heard. My voice, the one that tries to remain cheerful, but sometimes is really, really mad – that voice needs to be heard.
And today I am adding my name to a long line of people who have already talked about the subject. You would think there is nothing left to say- the point has been made a million and one times before me by people far more eloquent and with a much wider influence. Sometimes I avoid reading pieces on feminism. It stirs up too much in me, and frankly, sometimes I am just tired of it. I want to believe it has all gone away and these stories aren’t necessary anymore. I want to believe that everyone “gets it” now.
Yeah, I am angry. I am tired of defending myself. Of “proving” that discrimination still exists. I am tired of hearing comments that I could have easily made years ago. Comments that prove I don’t really “get it.”
But. I am also hopeful. I have so much faith in so many men and women. Men and women who may not even define themselves as Feminist, but who are starting to “get it.” Feminist: a person who believes in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. By this definition, every single person I love is a feminist. Feminist shouldn’t be a dirty word. It shouldn’t be a political issue. It shouldn’t be in any way divisive.
With hope that I have been HEARD,
With love for those who are not there yet, but are on the road to “getting it”
With love for those who waited patiently for me before I “got it”,
A Bravo addict, wife, mother, Feminist, TERRIFIED OF BEES, and writing about it all