Taking a real twist on the Daily Press “Memoir” challenge….
This is one of those posts that, having thought about, written and revised, I find myself scared to post.
Which probably means I really need to post it.
As I committed to posting it, more came to me, more that I felt I needed to say. More than belonged in one single post. The idea of posting not just one entry on this topic, but multiple, scares me even more.
I feel that’s all the more reason to do so.
I haven’t admitted this to many people, and certainly not on such a public forum, but… I once though “Feminist” was a leftover of a bygone age, an unnecessary term. A word used for people who shouted loudly about arcane topics that really didn’t matter, weren’t really issues.
Let me place my emphasis here, once.
As in, once upon a time… or once, long ago. I write a lot of fiction, so perhaps the most comfortable way for me to set this stage would be using the trappings of a fictional tale.
Once upon a time there was a little girl, born into a family that would grow to have five children, three boys and two girls. When she was very young this little girl loved to wear dresses and adored sparkly things. She hated the color pink.
When she was very young she learned to do her own laundry, and a myriad of household chores, including how to clean the kitchen. Tuesdays were her day, each of the siblings had a day they had to deal with the kitchen mess, from unloading the dishwasher in the morning to making sure it was loaded, running, and everything was cleaned up in the evening. Her dad taught her (repeatedly) how to properly load the dishwasher.
She didn’t hear “that’s a boys job,” or “that’s a girls job.” She could do all the work just as well as her brothers, and was certainly expected to. Weeding, yardwork, chopping wood when they went camping or for the fireplace, all shared in the rotations with dusting, sweeping, vacuuming and cleaning the hall.
She saw her brothers cry, knew they feared things, and that this was just the reality of the world. People feel a range of emotions, she learned, and sometimes are scared of things, or happy about things, or sad. And there is nothing wrong with that, only sometimes not okay ways to express those emotions. She learned that it was not okay to hit people, but if they were playing nicely it was perfectly acceptable to sword fight with her brothers fencing epees.
She never really liked math or science, but was constantly told that she could do it, encouraged to participate in science fairs, encouraged to do her best at all subjects. She got frustrated that everyone kept pushing science and math at her, when she’d rather be digging into history, or her fiction books.
Once upon a time this girl made a connection between the term “feminist” and those people who seemed to argue that her mom was stifling her true self by being a stay-at-home mom. That girl knew, though, that her mom wanted to “stay at home,” to volunteer her time in the schools, to teach classes for other parents. That she could have gone back to teaching (her career before kids), but chose to stay home, and was happy to have had the ability to do so.
So that girl began to associate “feminists” with a historical group that did great good, but that now was just a word owned by those who sought to impose their own expectations and restrictions on what women should and should not do.
It was a nice little bubble that I dwelt in, that little girl raised understanding that she could do anything, never giving a thought that being a girl was a limitation in some way. Never feeling restricted in the toys I played with, the clothes I wore (heck, one of my favorite skirts was “borrowed” by a friend of my brothers so that he could wear it, sure, he was probably going for shock value but, *shrug* if he wanted to wear a skirt, why not?) or what I could be when I grew up.
But the reality is different.
I’m no longer that little girl, but I am still the exception in many ways. When I began to see the #yesallwomen tag begin to take off around twitter I sat back and thought about what I could contribute to the conversation. And I could not think of anything.
The most disturbing part of that, I felt left out. LEFT OUT because I could not think of a time when I had been directly hurt because I am female. How disturbing is that? It made me feel that I was somehow less-woman because I could not think of a time when my rights had been violated, my personal space had been impinged on, or I had faced lewd comments due to my gender.
Harassment should not be a rite of passage.
I have experienced harassment, I realized after a while of thought. For example, that guy on the street yelling obscenities at people or making lewd comments. Some of them are certainly equal-opportunity harasser — but my reaction, the increased pace and decision to loop away from my destination in order to get to a more crowded part of the city, is because I have a fear of what they might do to me. I cannot just ignore it and continue on my path, what if they decide to follow? I learned, one way or another, that it is dangerous to be “walking while female,” in some places and at some times. I internalized the silent knowledge that I should use extra caution in many situations, that I must always have one ear open and an eye to how to get to safety.
A Feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.
The reality is that those who have not experienced the imposition of limitations, or harassment, are the exception. The reality is, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
Check out the #yesallwoman hashtag on Twitter, where woman have shared their experiences and you can see just how much victim-blaming, harassment, and inequality exists. Look at some of the responses against this campaign to see even more examples. What bothers me, a lot, is how many argue against the existence of these issues. It’s not like they’re even just being indifferent about it, or saying, “I never experienced it so it doesn’t matter to me.” They are loudly saying it is not an issue, saying that those who do call out the problems are just complaining.
Yes, there are some I feel are making issues where there aren’t any. But, clearly, they do think whatever they are railing against is an important issue, and while I might not jump on the bandwagon with them, I see no good reason to tear them down and tell them they are wrong to think it is an issue and to speak their truths about it.
I recently read a great blog post over at The Bloggess, which explored Feminism, and those who seem to be against feminism. The very excellent point is made:
“Don’t make a decision about a group based on the most radical beliefs of a group.”
This is a huge problem (not just on the matter of feminism, but on a great many things. I have attached a similar sentiment to the topic of religion). Remember, for every radical stance on something, there are many others with a much more moderate stance. For every annoying person getting in your face screaming about the issues that concern them, there are quieter voices doing what they can to make changes, working behind the scenes, or simply searching for just what they can actually do to help.
This is the first in what is going to be a (loose) series of entries as I explore this broad topic/word “Feminism.” It’s caught my attention and focus for a time, and that’s what this blog is about. Honestly, I’m more of a “boosting the signal” sort when it comes to things like this, I’ll share the words of others, but not put in very much of my own. Which is why, when I find myself really being drawn to a topic, I know I have to push myself to explore it further. In this series-of-sorts, I’ll look at what some of the aspects of Feminism mean to me, what it doesn’t mean to me, and explore things that I’ve seen that just… that hit me in such a way that I just can’t wrap my brain around understanding.
Stuff like that.