Today, I am responding to the #femfest linkup on loveiswhatyoudo.com. The questions are as follows:
What is your experience with feminism? What’s a story or a memory or a person that you associate with that word? Why does it have negative or positive connotations for you? How do you define the term, either academically or personally? What writers have you read whose definitions you want to bring out? Or, if you don’t have a definition, what are some big questions you have?
To participate, just write a post answering these questions and link up here!
Students like to ask me when I knew I was a feminist, or what made me become a feminist. I would love to have a straightforward answer for them, but the truth is, I don’t. There isn’t one true moment that made me a feminist. I read stories all the time about the “click” moment that women have had that have made them a feminist, but I don’t have that moment.
The truth is, I’ve been a feminist my whole life. My mom is a feminist, and she raised me to be a feminist, as well. She told me when I was a very young child that she wished she had kept her name when she married my dad, so I kept my name when I married my husband. She caught me giggling about a celebrity who had come out, and asked me why it was funny, setting me firmly on a path toward tolerance and acceptance.
To be sure, I didn’t know the word “feminism” until I was much older, but it never really held the awful connotation for me that it does for some women. I don’t think I’ve ever said, “I’m not a feminist, but…” There was just a time when I didn’t know the word, and a time when I did. I’m not sure if knowing the word made me more of a feminist than I already was, but embracing and being embraced by the feminist community certainly changed my views. As I started to make more friends who defined themselves as feminists, I started to become more confident in my activism. One of the best friends I’ve ever had, Jillian, and I met at a Chicago feminist meetup several years ago. At the time, I was engaged to my husband, and with the wedding planning came a desire to have the right image all of the time. I wanted to be “cool” and have a “cool” wedding with the “right kind” of music and people and flowers and dresses. I didn’t want to be too much of a feminist at my own wedding because I was afraid of how people would see me. I didn’t want people to roll their eyes from their seats and say, “There she goes again. That Ashley is just a crazy feminist,” subsequently shutting down any political agenda I had.
I think a huge part of the problem was that I had a lot of people around me tearing me in a million different places. Some of my friends just wanted to talk about babies and weddings, and some wanted more. One of my friends who stood in our wedding, found out that I was keeping my last name and my bank account and that we didn’t necessarily want kids, and asked me why we were getting married at all if this was the case. I wasn’t firm enough in my feminism at the time to see the societal issues behind this. I just got offended, quietly and alone, and didn’t say much of anything to anyone. Or I came here to write about it on this little blog.
These sorts of things happened all the time. I did make it through the wedding, but in the years since, I’ve noticed a significant distance between some of the friends that I had during those months leading up to our wedding and a closer bond between friends like Jillian, who never once made me feel that my choices were inferior or inadequate just because they weren’t the norm. (In fact, she always embraces all of my choices, even when I change my mind from one minute to the next, and she never makes me feel awkward or awful about it. She never calls me out on it, like some of my other friends do, saying, “But I thought you were against that,” just trying to catch me in a lie to feel superior to me in some way.)
I’m not saying that I am no longer friends with people I’ve held dear to me my entire life. Rather, I’m saying that, like my friendships, my feminism is constantly evolving. I’m adding new pieces and taking some old ones away. And that’s how it should be. No one should be so indoctrinated with a belief set that the ideas never evolve and change as we grow. Like the poet Taylor Mali said, “Changing your mind is one of the best ways to find out whether or not you still have one.”