My journey toward feminism was a weird one….but at the same time, it wasn’t that weird. I avoided the term “feminist” like the plague. I offered up promises of not being a “crazy women’s libber” at any and all opportunities. I professed my love of boys, bras and beauty because I believed these loves and feminism to be mutually exclusive. Besides, aren’t feminists just hairy lesbians who just need to get laid? (These are words that actually left my mouth more than once). I used the words “slut”, “whore” and “skank” with abandon. I thought abortion was the devil’s work, I thought strippers were easy women with daddy issues, and part of me always asked what a girl was wearing if I heard she was sexually assaulted.
But then one semester I needed an extra gen-ed and because I wasn’t the most fabulous student, the only option left was “Women Studies”. I was horrified. But then I was relieved. I mean, it would just be a bunch girls sitting around and talking about their feelings, right? Easy A.
When I walked into class the first day, we arranged the desks in a huge circle and talked about our personal definitions of that dreaded “f-word” and most definitions were like mine- hairy, gross lesbians. We moved on and later in the class my professor casually mentioned her identity which was NOT straight, as I (and most of the class) had assumed by her demeanor, clothes and make up. This would be my first re-education in a 3 year series of them.
This class- the one I had so quickly written off as useless and easy- was alive where every other class I took was dead. It ebbed and flowed with emotion and debate and despite the friendly circle, we were not all friends. Students did not hesitate to create other students for their incorrect word usage or stereotypes and the professor facilitated the often aggressive conversation. She did not do it in an aggressive way herself, in fact, she met opposing viewpoints and ignorance with a calm smile and was the calming presence that most of the class relied on to prevent it from turning into a wrestling arena.
Since I wasn’t raised in a feminist household, I was raised in a feminist program. I willingly entered a space where the conversation was unfamiliar, the buzz words were unknown and I was the outsider. In short- I had no idea what I was talking about. And I was amongst lots of people who did, which meant I actually had to do work, a lot of it. I had to read the readings (which were endless) and I had to write papers (which were endless). I had to watch movies (that were long) and I had to go to campus events (which were longer). In one semester, I discovered more about campus than I had in my 2 years there….and in that same semester, somewhere along the way, the readings and papers stopped being endless and started being interesting and the movies and events stopped being long and started being not long enough.
It wasn’t that my opinion changed overnight- far from it; but these classes made me think in critical ways that I hadn’t before. They made me investigate cases from all possible viewpoints, something I was vastly unfamiliar with, and before I knew what was happening, the semester had ended and I was publicly identifying myself as a feminist, in spite of my shaved legs and lip gloss.
I ached for another opportunity to talk with these people, and spend time critically analyzing everything. I signed up for the classes I could and left college with a minor in women’s and gender studies and more importantly, I left with the intention of going on a personal crusade to spread the “f-word”.
You see, I wasn’t always a feminist, I was misinformed about feminist issues, I wrote it off easily- thank GOD I was never asked to publicly declare my thoughts about it for the whole world to see.
However, we are in a society where countless women ARE asked where they stand on feminist issues ever.single.day. Some of them have been working since they were children and have hardly been educated in an environment that promotes feminism. Young female stars are demanded to be feminist role models without even having a real understanding of what that word means, especially when it’s different for a lot of people, and when they say the “wrong” thing, we, as feminists, demean them. We publicly shame them for their ignorance.
I don’t know what the solution is. I know that feminism shouldn’t be an ugly word. I know that it should be part of a person’s education long before they have to stumble upon it because they have some extra space after their 8am.
I didn’t find feminism- feminism found me….but there are those that hide from it. Society needs to be held accountable for making it an ugly word and we need to use it as often as possible, because it’s truthfully a beautiful one.