Finding Feminism: A Personal Reflection

 

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.

 


 

We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely ...
We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself. Pictured Geraldine Doyle (1924-2010), at age 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

-Gloria Steinem

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.

 


 

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11 thoughts on “Finding Feminism: A Personal Reflection”

  1. Unfortunately, tribalism is human nature. We evolved in groups that generally topped off at 100 people, and anyone outside of that group was competition (at best). So we’re naturally predisposed to fear and attack the ‘other’ – the man with an unfamiliar skin tone, the woman who challenges our world view, the one who talks or acts differently from what we’re used to.

    I can also understand why someone would want to declare this a “post-racist/sexist/nationalist” society. When someone accomplishes something, the last thing he wants to hear is “You only succeeded because you’re a white male.” When he talks about his problems, he doesn’t want to have “You have no idea what real adversity is because you’re a white male” dismissively thrown in his face. So he blinds himself to his privilege and anyone who underlines it.

    Anti-Feminism is a perfectly natural and understandable human impulse. Someone builds up a world-view in order to cope with life, and anyone who seeks to change it is a threat to be dealt with. This doesn’t make it “right” or even “okay” – but dismissing these people as raging bigots (without attempting to understand WHY they act the way they do) is just as harmful as what the “raging bigots” themselves are doing.

    We ALL have a long road ahead before we can look past the hate and words and skin and see the human underneath… and even longer before we accept the human for what s/he is.

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    1. Yes.
      What really confuses me about some of the anti-feminist stuff that I’ve been seeing is the woman who are involved, many of whom seem to have an understanding of the definition of feminism that doesn’t really seem to fit with what I see it meaning when I start to look around.
      There are certainly those who don’t believe in equality for one reason or another, but I wish (in so many things) that we could get past some of the complications that language provides. It’s hard to see people who, essentially, agree on things NOT be able to recognize that they agree because they are bogged down in different understandings of the words they are using.

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  2. Thank you for your thoughtful post on this complicated issue. There is so much to say on the subject, it’s hard to know where to begin. One of the issues of women who say they are not feminists is that they are young enough that they don’t know what the world was like before feminists fought hard in order for women today to have rights they take for granted (like the ability to get higher education, and the ability to CHOOSE to be a stay-at-home mom rather than having no choice to be one.) Another issue is that there has been a concerted effort by the media to distort what feminism means. To many, a feminist is a raging bitch who hates all men and wants to see them eliminated–or at least pushed out of the way. Others portray feminists as women who are simply unattractive and can’t “get a man.” We have to realize these are stereotypes created by the media as a backlash against gains by the feminist movement. Most of my women friends consider themselves feminists and none of them fit these stereotypes.

    There is so much more to say about this subject. I’m glad you are writing on it!

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    1. Yes, you’ve hit exactly on some of my points (and on some of what I plan to write about later!). Part of why I didn’t understand feminism when I was younger was because of this not seeing the challenges there still were. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and I also come from a long line of highly educated women, my grandmother worked when my mother and her siblings were young, so education and the ability to work were things that I understood as having been options for a long time for women. I have always studied and loved history, but the history of women being oppressed seemed pretty ancient to my younger self. I could appreciate and understand what had been achieved, but I didn’t understand the reasons why I saw backlash against my mom for making the choice to stay home (for instance), and it soured the term for me for a long time.

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      1. I’m sorry your mom had to deal with backlash. Another complicating issue regarding feminism is that there are a lot of different “strands” of feminism. Sometimes I think there are as many different types of feminisms as there are different feminists. That’s true of most social movements, though. People may have the same general aims, but differ greatly in many of the particulars.

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  3. I had a similar experience with #YesAllWomen… “Geez, why don’t I have a harassment story? Am I not in the group of all women? Am I sexist if I say I’m a woman and I don’t have a harassment story?” But yeah, that’s not the point…

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    1. It took me some real thought to realize that the fact I had that reaction WAS just as big a piece of the problem… but couldn’t quite figure out how to put that in a tweet… brevity is not my strong-suit.

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