Recently I received an email from a friend in which she called me a “feminist writer.” I was taken aback. I had never thought of myself as a feminist writer. In fact, I’ve been avoiding the term “feminist” for the majority of my life.
I was raised in a very liberal family. It wasn’t until I got older and was in school that I was aware of things like racism and homophobia. In the world in which my sister and I were raised, these were not issues. Our parents’ gay friends loved someone of the same gender, some of their friends were a different ethnicity, and questions or explanations were never part of the conversation; that’s just how things were, end of story. We were taught from a young age that we could do anything we wanted, that everyone is equal and the world, to use an overused term, was our oyster.
However, “feminism” was not a word you heard around our house growing up. When I asked my mother this over the weekend, she couldn’t respond completely. “I guess we never thought we needed to sit you and your sister down and tell you that you were equal to boys. You were the only girl on your little league team – never thought it had to be addressed,” she finally said after I had annoyed her to a point of no return. I had never thought about it that way.
I can’t remember exactly the first place or time that the concept of feminism came into my life. All I do remember is that the following photo was strongly associated with it.
I didn’t want any part of it, if that’s what a feminist looked like. And for a long time, that’s what I assumed a feminist was: a woman in the 1970’s fighting for equality. In my mind, I had all the equality I needed, and that woman, whose name I didn’t know for far too long, could remain in the past burning bras and fighting for something that was no longer an issue.
Then in high school, I came across this photo of Kathleen Hanna.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it or what it meant, but I did know that I wanted to listen to Bikini Kill and lots of it. At the time, I didn’t realize the effect it had on me. I sang along, became hooked on Sleater-Kinney, but refused to truly embrace the “Riot Grrrl” genre. I hated the term; it was too hard, too coarse, and while I knew deep down it stood for something that was important to me, I rejected it. The concept of “third-wave feminism” was great for women in cargo shorts who wanted to pay their own share of the dinner and thought chivalry was the Antichrist. I was not one of those women.
In college my friend Lyndsay, someone who regards herself as fiercely feminist, suggested we do a radio show at the college radio station that featured just women songwriters and musicians. We named the show “Anglų,” a word we found in her feminist dictionary that meant “a person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism.” Lyndsay could be all the fucking feminist she wanted; I was going to start each show with Le Tigre’s “They Want Us To Make A Symphony Out Of The Sound Of Women Swallowing Their Own Tongues,” and continue to be completely clueless. Clueless, mind you, in my “My Body, My Choice, My Abortion” T-shirt that a bunch of us in the Students for Choice group made, while attending rallies and toting around my soapbox for moments when I needed to point out that if men could get abortions, there’d be a clinic on every corner. No, I wasn’t a feminist at all.
I have never not been an advocate for gender equality. I have never taken for granted the right I have over my reproductive organs. I have never seen myself as less than a man because I’m a woman, nor would I ever be friends with someone who did. Yes, I was “woman hear me roar“ and all that shit, but I was not a fucking feminist. My rationale was I didn’t look, act or think like a feminist; I just didn’t.
However, I am a feminist. I am also an idiot.
In the past few years, I have become even more liberal than I was raised – if that’s possible. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve not only become more self-aware, but have actually started to give a fuck about the world outside my bubble. I grieve injustices from afar in countries I can’t pronounce correctly, I cry until I’m sick at the inhumane ways in which women are treated in parts of the world and have been moved to intense anger that abortion is still an issue in 2013 right here in the United States. I have stood up to people who can’t conceive of the idea that women are on par with men, and I know that should I have a daughter I will raise her with the word feminist practically tattooed on her brain.
To quote the woman in the too-big glasses I first identified with feminism all those years ago: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” And guess what? I am pissed off. (Thank you, Ms. Steinem.)
I’m pissed off that although we’ve come a distance in gender equality, we haven’t come far enough. I’m pissed off that when I wrote about my abortion, people had the nerve to tell me I had “no right” to make a choice about MY body. And I’m definitely pissed off that I’ve been a feminist my whole life and steered away from the term because of a some archaic pre-conceived notion that lingered somewhere between a man-hating woman in cargo shorts (I really hate cargo shorts, if you haven’t noticed) and someone who embodied all the necessary traits to be far stronger than I am.
But I am strong. Yes, I cry more than I’d like over things I can’t control in the world, but that doesn’t diminish my strength as a person, a woman and definitely not as a feminist. Why? Because I give a fuck, and in giving a fuck, I’m prone to being an emotional basket-case. Feminists give a fuck.
I was afraid to call myself a feminist, but low and behold! I’m a feminist after all.
I am a feminist not just because I believe in gender equality, but because I believe in the foundation of feminism as a whole. I believe in fighting the fight until we’ve achieved our goal, I believe in standing my ground, never wavering in my convictions, and making sure that no woman I meet ever thinks for one second she shouldn’t be a feminist. Self-respect comes in not just the desire, but also the NEED to be equal in all realms; if that isn’t reason enough, then stick your head back in the sand and get out of the way.
I am a feminist, hear me roar — and watch out for my bite, too.
Photo (first): Etsy