My journey to accept feminism has been, perhaps rather predictably, deeply influenced by the women I’ve looked up to in my life.
My small-town upbringing showed more in the feminism department than many others, probably because I’d never cared enough to research feminism for myself. If I had researched it earlier, I would have realized that it was really about equality for all gender identities. Instead, I thought that to call yourself a feminist meant that you were also a misandrist, and I often ignorantly equated the term with women who verbally or physically attacked men.
Now that I call myself a feminist, I find these admissions shameful and upsetting. However, I think it’s important to be honest about it, because I know I’m not the only one who has walked a similar path.
From mid-2013 through to the summer of 2015, I worked as a receptionist and sales person in Edmonton, Alberta. I grew up a lot during my time in that job, although that’s hardly surprising since I was only eighteen when I started there. It just so happens that Mo (yes, that one) was my coworker at that job.
One day, feminism came up in the workplace. Myself, Mo, and our manager Barb were discussing the term. I honestly don’t remember the contents of the conversation, but I do remember saying my then go-to line when someone talked to me about feminism: “I’m not a feminist. I don’t like any sort of -ism. I want everybody to support each other. One gender isn’t better than the other…” and so on, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of response before.
I remember that Mo seemed pretty affronted, and I think that my declaration ended the conversation. It didn’t come up again in the workplace, but because I had always looked up to Mo and appreciated her opinions, I started to second-guess myself. Was I wrong about feminism?
I knew I had been wrong about feminism when I watched Emma Watson’s 2014 speech to the United Nations in support of the HeforShe campaign. I am very much a product of the Harry Potter generation, and I grew up worshiping Hermione. When Emma Watson left the franchise and set herself apart as an activist and talented actor, my admiration followed. Hearing the true definition of feminism from Ms. Watson led to a deep shift in my life. I remember crying when I watched her speech, both because of my awe at her strength, and because of the shame I felt for my own ignorance prior to that moment.
By the time I started university this past September, I was already identifying as a feminist. I didn’t know very much about the theory’s history, or its different branches, but I knew that I believed in equal rights and intersectionality. I hadn’t met anyone who had openly identified themselves as a feminist to me, aside from Mo, so Tumblr and Facebook were really my only outlets to explore feminism.
And then I started school, and the flood gates opened up. As I learned more and more about feminism, I realized that more and more of my friends were identifying themselves as feminists, and I was less and less inclined to keep myself in the feminist closet. In particular, two amazing professors helped me to embrace my feminism: Dr. Andrea Cuellar and Natasha Fairweather.
Dr. Cuellar covered women & gender studies for a significant portion of her semester-long class on Anthropological Archaeology. Her approach was one of ruthless honesty and critical thinking, regardless of the gender or theoretical standing of the authors we were studying. It’s no exaggeration to say that by the end of that semester, Dr. Cuellar had razed my ideas of gender in history to the ground, and then completely rebuilt them.
For example, my idyllic view of the glorious “Mother Goddess” who had supposedly presided over most of human history was destroyed. It was largely replaced with an understanding that humans have always been flawed and confused when it comes to the idea of gender identity. Even in cultures where sex/gender dichotomies (themselves questionable sometimes) seem not to have been important, there were usually other ways of dividing the population and subjugating the many in support of the few. Dr. Cuellar showed me that feminist theory is an excellent middle ground for archaeologists and anthropologists to take – and I could also see that it served as an excellent standpoint for me to take in the rest of life, too.
Likewise, Natasha Fairweather often used feminist theory as a more well-rounded alternative to the often polarizing extremes of Sociological thought. She was my professor for my first Sociology class, in the same semester as Dr. Cuellar’s Anthro/Arky class, and I could probably sing her praises for an entire article. It was Natasha who gave me a proper timeline of the waves of feminism, and introduced me to the various identifiers that feminists use (ie. Liberal, social, radical, etc.). It was also Natasha that showed me how one could actively integrate feminism into their life, both personally and professionally, without becoming a misandrist.
During this very formative semester, I posted something on Facebook about being a feminist. Shortly thereafter, Mo sent me a text that said she was happy to see that I was identifying myself as such. She told me about how shocked she’d been when I had actively denied being a feminist, back in Edmonton, because everything she’d known about me prior to that moment had indicated that I was a feminist. I felt intensely gratified that my friend had recognized this change in my thought.
My feminism is something I wear on my sleeve, now. I talk about it regularly. I do my best to educate my friends and family when they have questions, and I also shut up and listen in the more common event that they know a lot more than me. Hell, it’s even become a significant part of how I choose what TV shows to watch (Jessica Jones or The Ascent of Woman, anyone?). My feminism is central to my identity, right up there with my sexuality and spirituality. I am intensely grateful for the many amazing women who have guided me to this place, from friends, to coworkers, to professors. Because of them, I’ve learned that the patriarchy hurts all of us, regardless of our gender identity, and that we all need to actively work to eradicate it.
I’m proud to say that I’ve come a heck of a long way from the naïve girl who moved to Edmonton back in 2013, and I’m very excited to see where I go next. I want you to know that if you’re questioning your identity as a feminist, it gets better. Go ahead and come out of that other closet. We’re waiting to welcome you with open arms.