The words we use to describe ourselves, and those words that we reject, say a lot about who we are and what we believe is important. For a lot of years, I wasn’t comfortable calling myself a feminist. Why? Because I didn’t really understand what it meant, and the only representation I saw in my daily life of a ‘feminist’ was not something I identified with. This was in the time before Beyoncé made it cool to be a feminist, and before major feminist issues, such as campus rape, were splashed across the headlines of every publication. In my college women’s studies classes, I found myself surrounded by strong, independent women who proclaimed themselves feminist but at the same time these women were espousing the virtues of gender equality, they were putting down a lot of the ideas and lifestyle choices that were important to me. I have always been fairly sure of my desire to be a wife and mother, and to focus my life on teaching and nurturing my kids. I didn’t desire this life because someone told me I had to, nor did I think it was a waste of my talents. But so many of the ‘feminists’ I knew proclaimed that to devote my life to my future children was a waste of my potential; that not only was I letting myself down, but that I was setting a poor example and would be a disappointment to my daughters. Furthermore, I couldn’t possibly be happy and fulfilled if I became nothing more than a stay at home mom.
Thus, I rejected feminism, or at least what I thought feminism was. But that rejection came from a place of misunderstanding and ignorance. In my naïve view of the world, being a woman didn’t mean I was marginalized, or treated any differently. As a very young woman, I wasn’t aware of the pressures that women have to deal with, or the micro (and major) aggressions that many women face on a daily basis. Besides, I was feminine, and I had a great boyfriend that I loved and who treated me well, so I didn’t need feminism. I didn’t make the connection between my poor body image and the way women are portrayed in the media. I didn’t think twice about the fact that I couldn’t walk alone across campus after dark for fear of being raped; that was just normal college girl stuff. I certainly didn’t see how the fact that I had a choice about whether or not I wanted to be a stay at home mom, rather than being forced into it, indicated the strides that had already been made on the path to equality.
I didn’t make any of these connections until I left my cozy little sheltered life in Canada, and embarked on a trip to India to do field work with women and girls trapped in prostitution. Initially I didn’t really see myself having much in common with these women. But somehow, seeing the dramatic inequality elsewhere in the world made me think of situations in my own life where sexism and gender inequality were very much still at play. Then one day I saw a post on Facebook with a picture of a person holding a sign reading “I need feminism because society teaches us don’t get raped, rather than don’t rape”. Suddenly I had an epiphany, and I was PISSED. I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it that way; up until that point I had never considered how we treat sexual assault prevention and survivors. It sounds obvious, but in that moment, I had a major shift in perspective. If I had been ignoring this obvious approach to sexual assault, what else was I in the dark about?
And so I set about educating myself, and coming to terms with what it meant to be a feminist. As it turns out, I was pretty misguided about what I thought feminism was, and so too were the pseudo-feminists in my women’s studies classes. At its very core, feminism is about equality; it’s about empowering the marginalized, and assuring political, economic, and social equality for everyone, women, men, and those that fall outside that binary. It’s about lifting people up and giving them opportunities, rather than trying to convince them that they should be one thing or another, based on their gender. For me, it was about realizing that I can be a lipstick loving, cupcake baking, future stay at home mom, while still being an independent, confident, and accomplished person. I can crush the patriarchy with my high heels and a baby on my hip.
Today, I fearlessly proclaim my feminist views to anyone and everyone. My actions haven’t shifted significantly from how I was before my epiphany, but my thoughts sure have. While I like to think being an outspoken feminist has helped other people, even if it hasn’t, I can see the ways it has improved my own life very clearly. It has given me purpose and drive about what I want to do with my life and how I’d like to see the world change; it’s given me confidence in myself and my body, and all the wonderful things it can do; and it’s reaffirmed that when I have kids, it is my choice and my right to stay home and raise them to become the next generation of feminist activists.
A lot of people are still uncomfortable with the term ‘feminist’. I have many friends that shy away from it, as I once did, and who don’t see a reason for it in their own lives. It’s easy to get frustrated by that, and I sometimes find myself exasperated in trying to convince them to accept that they are feminists. But I need to remember my own journey, and how someone telling me what to think and believe didn’t convince me, and is actually pretty anti-feminist. I need to let them have their ‘aha!’ moment where they see how the patriarchy is working against them in their lives, and that they do in fact need feminism. I have no doubt that in terms of feminist principles, most of us are on the same page, it’s just realizing that and owning the term. I can’t wait for the day that we don’t even have to call ourselves feminists, because it’s a given that we all are. Until then, however, I’ll keep doing my best to live my feminist values, and show others that being a feminist really just means being a decent human being.
PS- A note to the pseudo-feminists who made me feel bad for wanting to stay home with my kids: there is no one right way to be a parent. Some moms choose to go to work and hire childcare, and that is the right thing for them. I am so happy that they have the opportunity to do that, and I am incredibly annoyed when they are labelled bad mothers for choosing to also have a career. On the other hand, some moms decide they want to stay home with the kids and for them, that’s the right choice. To label them traitors to the feminist movement (which I have been called), or imply that they are setting a poor example for their own daughters, is despicable. My mom stayed home with me, and believe me, she’s one bad ass bitch who set an incredible example for me and my siblings, and I couldn’t be more proud of her for that. Moral of the rant: Don’t tell other women how to live their lives. Period.