A good friend of mine posted on Facebook today, describing a time from years before, when she realized that she was a feminist. And she asked her Facebook friends to recount their stories.
I started on mine, but as I typed, I realized that I’m too long-winded for my own good, and that I would hog the the thread with my multiple paragraphs. And even though I was telling a personal story, I didn’t want to find myself mansplaining, which would be pretty much the most counterproductive and insulting way to talk about feminism.
So I decided to post my story here instead.
So, to my friend Linda, this is the moment when I decided that I was a feminist.
For me, it wasn’t related to a direct observation of sexist behavior, or a moment of abuse or anything like that. In some ways, it was quite mundane.
My first realization that the word “feminist” described me came as sort of an epiphany.
It was a bumpersticker of all things.
I was 20 at the time, and walking through a parking garage. I was working as a security guard in a large, multi-block shopping district. Walking through parking garages was sadly a major part of my days.
I passed one of those cars that seems to be mostly held together by stickers. On this car, the stickers were mostly left-wing, pro-choice, and anti-religion. Pretty common in midtown KC. One in particular caught my eye for some reason. It said (paraphrasing, as it’s been 13 plus years) “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too.”
I stared at it for a moment. Huh. That’s obvious. So obvious, and yet, I never thought of it that way. I always knew basically what feminism was, and I was generically in favor of it, but I never really thought about what feminism meant. If you asked me, “should women and men have equal opportunity,” I’d say, “Yes, of course. Duh.”
But that would be it. I knew all the textbook stuff, fights for suffrage, some of the mainstream names, rough definitions of the “waves” of feminist movements. But it was all pretty abstract. I came from a position of privilege. I didn’t have to deal with the kind of inequities and aggressions that women see and confront daily. It just didn’t occur to me.
I probably stared at that sticker for 5 minutes. Lost in reverie, just thinking about it. “Women are people, too.” Yes, that made more sense than even the obvious aspect.
Historically, women had not always been treated as people by men. They were today, though. Right? Maybe? Hmmm… Well, maybe not, the more I thought about it.
Feminism, I suddenly realized, was about equality. But not just equal opportunity in the workplace or politics. What’s also important is the equal ability to exist in the same world as men without feeling oppressed. Sure, women can vote or run for office. But can they walk down a street alone without feeling danger? Can they answer the door without wondering if the delivery guy might be an invader? Can they interview for a job without receiving extra scrutiny, or being concerned about potential underpayment?
How often did I get whistled at, or heckled by leering strangers? How often was I personally concerned that the guy crossing the street was coming to harass me? Pretty much never.
Equality is more than just a set of laws. It’s more complicated than that. It’s social interactions, and societal constructs. It’s cultural. When I watch a tv show or a movie, odds are good that it’s primarily written and produced by men. It’s usually told from a male perspective. Even when women are featured, it’s still usually presented through male eyes. Same with advertising. Why is every big-name female musician physically attractive, when that should be irrelevant to their music? But you can’t say the same for the men. No offense, Steven Tyler.
And so on. All the little things, the differences in how the world treats women and men came to mind. Even with theoretical equality, actual, living breathing, real-world equality wasn’t even close. Not even in 21st century America. And it came to my mind how unfair that was.
All that flashed through my mind as I stared at a beat-up car covered in bumperstickers. Eventually the owner of the car came up, and asked me if she could help me. I started a bit, stammered, apologized, and tried to explain that I was reading her bumper. She gave me the side-eye as she got in the car and drove off.
Even that suddenly struck me as part of the problem. She very well may have felt threatened by my presence, a large, strange man hanging around her car.
Of course, she may have just thought I was lost. Heh.
Since then, my thoughts have evolved some. I’ve read a lot more on feminism, on cultural issues, on psychology. I think now, even more than before, that feminism is important. In fact, it’s essential to a decent world.
There’s quite a bit more to write about regarding feminism, and I have a few posts in the works. But this little origin story seems like a good start.