This blog and my monthly “Clueless Feminist Book Review” column are my official feminist coming out. I became a feminist early, for the world’s worst reason: Christmas presents. I hated pink, dresses, and baby dolls, but I kept getting them. My brother got presents that looked fun and comfortable, and, in my four-year-old mind, I knew that girls had gotten the short end of a short stick. Through elementary school my feminism remained strong; I wanted to be an altar boy and priest, and it was stupid that I couldn’t be. But in middle school, I lost my mojo. I developed the idea that feminists were strident, rude, and loud, and I didn’t think I’d fit within the movement. I grew up in a family that valued courtesy and manners, gentleness and giving. It’s fairly typical for girls to be brought up polite and yielding, but my parents raised my brother the same way. I believe in the quiet values my parents instilled in me, and I believe that manners make the world go round.
But I made a mistake. I assumed feminism had no place for a quiet girl like me, and I hesitated to add my voice to the movement. Certainly, feminism has a need for loud, confident, and bold voices. But there is also space for other styles and personalities. Indeed, feminism is about valuing, respecting, and strengthening voices.
I spent my late teens and twenties as a “feminuff” and “feminish.” I worked as a groundskeeper during my college summers, hiked and backpacked solo, and shopped in both the women’s and the men’s sections of Target and Sears. For three years, I worked in day care centers where I met parents and kids who taught me about the challenges faced by almost every conceivable kind of family. These experiences fed my feminist inclinations but weren’t enough to make me speak out.
Then, I moved from working at an all-girls elementary school to working at a co-ed school. There, I saw co-ed recess. At the girls’ school, the third to sixth grade girls had jumped rope, rolled through snow piles, jumped off swings, and played four square. At the co-ed school, however, they lurked at the edges of the playground in clusters, talking and watching rather than playing. You couldn’t blame the boys; they were either cheerfully oblivious or polite enough to pass muster. But when boys were around, something strange and troubling happened to the girls.
When I was twenty-nine, I was diagnosed with a cancer so rare it confused my doctors. There was no known cause. They caught it early, so treatment was fast, simple, and chemo-free. I did opt for the most conservative treatment option: a laparoscopic hysterectomy. Afterwards, my ability to have or not have children was out of my control. I hadn’t planned on children and didn’t expect the loss to phase me, but it did. For the first time, I understood how sad and difficult it is not to have control over your own fertility.
Now I am thirty-three, and I wish I’d “come out” as feminist sooner. I don’t have the luxury of silence anymore. I need to claim feminism and start speaking truths about the girls’ and women’s issues that concern me.
My goal in this blog is to give myself and other clueless or reluctant feminists a friendly introduction or reintroduction to feminism. I want to encourage other feminishes to become feminists. After all, there is something in feminism for nearly everyone, male or female, liberal or conservative, outspoken or quiet.
We live in a world where girls’ confidence plummets after age nine and where four and five year old boys aren’t comfortable crying because of the pressure to look tough. Feminism is about empowering girls and boys to be their whole selves. We live in a world where the majority of millennial parents, male and female, want to share equally in parenting and breadwinning responsibilities, but economic pressure often forces them into traditional, gendered roles. Feminism is about giving parents the ability to raise their children the way they think best. And we live in a world where sex slavery happens in this country, and child marriage and honor killings still happen internationally.
Feminists challenge all these problems.
I’d like to issue an invitation to other would-be and should-be feminists: join me in spending the semester learning about feminism and getting a sense of its hugeness and diversity. Read about its history and its hows and whys. Most importantly, find a place where you can contribute your own unique and vital voice and your own passion to the movement and help build a better world.