I think I was in high school before I even first said the word feminist out loud.
It wasn’t a word said a lot at home, at least not to my recollection. I don’t know if my mother identified with the women of the so-called Second Wave – the ideas of bra burning and the push for birth control and free love and all that jazz. She travelled to San Francisco in the late 60s to “go find the hippies,” as she used to tell me, but wasn’t really one herself. That being said, I was always encouraged to consider myself equal to boys, to think of others’ experiences and avoid making assumptions about people, to think critically and stand up for myself. These are the tenants of my own personal feminism. I heard my mom when she told me it wasn’t right, but that I had to be careful in dark places around strange men. I heard her when she told me how proud she was to have worked hard and bought a brand new Firebird and drove it off the lot. I heard her tell me that she chose to stay home with me and run a daycare, but still wondered what it would have been to go back to work. I heard both my parents when they told me that I was smart and strong and that if I worked hard many doors would open for me. So while my folks may not have raised me with the word feminist in mind, they sure as hell raised me to be a feminist.
I had a button collection as a kid. Truth be told, I had a lot of little collections. But the button collection was great. Buttons from Canada’s Wonderland, Teddy Bear Picnics, happy face buttons, joke buttons about not being able to take a joke or lose a game (still can’t), and one lovely button that looked something like this…
I didn’t even know what it meant at first. I also have zero idea as to where I got it. But it was there. Like a little glimmer of who I might end up being. I keep looking for that button in all my childhood things.
So there I was, a feminist. There were so many kinds to choose from! It was pretty intimidating in the late 90s to be into Riott Grrrl bands and read Third Wave feminist lit and be faced with all these choices! In the end – it was too much for anxious old me. I just went with the general label Feminist to be sure I didn’t make too many mistakes in my self-identification.
Even though I had a supportive upbringing by people who believed in me, once the youthful idealist me I decided that I was, indeed, some sort of feminist, that doesn’t mean that it really went over all that well with my family and extended family. “Feminazi” was tossed around a whole bunch. I didn’t date a lot in my teens, so people often asked if I hated men. In fact, my grandmother once asked me – with her terrified French Canadian Catholic accent and pure WTF face – if I was a lesbian. “You do like boys, don’t you? Or no? You do like boys?”
She had obviously been worried about it for months.
I really grew into my feminism in my 20s. I realized that I have a hard time fitting one of those “kinds” of feminisms that fascinated me. I have since become pretty comfortable with my fuzzy definition of feminism. It suits me, even if I can’t fully define it at any one time. I am a physically-abled, white, cisgendered woman, who was able to go to university (and college), travel a bit, married a dude and had two (really crazy but lovely) kids. I recognize my privilege. I see it every day. I question why it exists and how it works in my favour. I encourage others to do the same. I know there are countless intersections at play. I know that I, as a woman, face oppression. I also know that other women and marginalized folks face considerably more, so I do my best to question, to acknowledge, and to strive for change.
I also think that my feminism speaks for itself. I’m not just talking about the tees and buttons and slogan-ed stuff I own (there’s lots). Instead, it’s my work, my choices, my questions that express those values. I spent years working for a very small pro-choice non-profit for next to no pay for 50+ hour work weeks. I volunteer for organizations who do good work. I make donations, when I can, and I do so very carefully – I research where my money is going, and I challenge other folks to do the same. Yes, I shave my legs (sometimes), wear makeup (even less often), wear bras and dresses, and I married a dude (because I am into dudes!) but I married a dude who is politically left leaning, a critical thinker, and (gasp!) a feminist himself. We are raising our girls to be strong and true believers of the equality of all people, and to question things being told to them. This often backfires, but I always say that their headstrong, independent, determined natures will serve them very well as adults, and I believe it to be true.
I also call myself a feminist. I use the word. I think words have power, and I love and fear the power that this word wields. The internet explodes when Beyonce stands in front of it, Twitter users troll and harrass those who use it, people call your place of work to tell you you’ll burn in hell when you use it (true story). I use the word anyway.
The reality is I really think that the world needs more feminists. There is still work to be done. Women still earn less, work more, have fewer seats in government. Women have poor access to affordable health care, education, and childcare options. Women are more likely to be harassed online, raped on campuses, and aboriginal women are murdered and go missing at an astonishing rate, and the official response from the leader of our country is that the issue “isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest.”
I’m all for the sisterhood. I think women’s voices should be leading the pack. They should be heard. But really, the sisterhood is all well and good but we need to invite all folks who identify with the general, overall encompassing ideology that men and women and all those who identify anywhere in-between or outside those genders deserve equal rights, deserve equity of pay and experience, and deserve to be treated as human beings. We’re not dollfaces, not sweethearts, not feminazis, not honeys, not fairies, not ladies, but human beings.
I’m far from perfect, but I can say with certainty that I am an honest-to-goodness feminist.