A couple of years ago, I stumbled on a couple feminist blogs. Though I’d never considered myself a feminist, and indeed believed that feminism was a bunch of women whining for equal rights when that had already been achieved, something funny happened: I related to what they were saying.
Suddenly, other women were describing my own experiences, only they were their experiences. Suddenly, incidents I’d passed off as uncomfortable and aberrant were not just unhappy blips in my day; they were part of a pattern of harassment. Suddenly, the shame and embarrassment and confusion I felt in certain situations as a woman was not my fault; it was a part of a greater culture.
Dad, you wrote about “isms,” or perceptions, ways of seeing the world. Be “cognizant,” you advised, “of the ideological framework of feminism.”
I am cognizant, enormously so, because feminism has brought so much sense to my life. Why must I wear shirts from age 5 but my brothers were free to run around in their boxers? Why was I massaged by a high school teacher in the middle of class despite my telling him firmly to stop? And why did I blame myself when he didn’t? Why do strange men feel the need to stop me and tell me that I would look prettier if I smiled? Why are the heroes of movies, shows and video games overwhelmingly men, while women play secondary characters (if they’re lucky) and love interest prizes? Why did I find myself apologizing every time I dared to stand up for myself or disagree?
Feminism gave me answers, helped me feel more confident, strong, proud to be who I am. And at the end of the day, if my speaking out can help a few more women and girls get that strength too, then I’ve done a good thing.
When I finally took a women and gender studies class in college, the first essay we read was a talk by Adrienne Rich, an outspoken feminist and poet. The piece was called “Claiming an Education,” and it brought me to tears. I’ve quoted my favorite part here, without comment, because how could I ever follow up on Adrienne Rich?
Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions: predigested books and ideas, weekend encounters guaranteed to change your life, taking “gut” courses instead of ones you know will challenge you, bluffing at school and life instead of doing solid work, marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short, simply to avoid conflict and confrontation. And this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”; not to be continuously available to others when we need time for ourselves and our work; to be able to demand of others–parents, friends, roommates, teachers, lovers, husbands, children–that they respect our sense of purpose and our integrity as persons. Women everywhere are finding the courage to do this, more and more, and we are finding that courage both in our study of women in the past who possessed it, and in each other as we look to other women for comradeship, community, and challenge. The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference.