Celebrating Womanhood is an Event Hosted by Living, Learning, and Loving Life, Cabin Goddess, CrazyLadyx5, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dave, Tea With Dee, alchemyofscrawl, and Retro Housewife Goes Green. For one day, we want to drown out negativity and celebrate the beauty and pride of women.
I grew up surrounded by strong women – women who taught me that I could literally do anything I wanted and be anyone I wanted. They encouraged my dreams and my passions, no matter how ludicrous they may have seemed. However, it was not until recently that I have begun to realize I identify with feminism. It isn’t something that was explicitly spoken about in my home, school, or church while I was growing up. Though, looking back it has always been a part of my life.
I’ve recently read a couple of posts that have inspired me to look at my own journey to feminism. One was written by a fellow blogger, agirlwithquestions, titled Am I A Bad Feminist? Another by Rachel Held Evans, who describes herself as “a small-town writer asking big questions about faith, doubt, culture, gender and the Church.” Her post, Confessions of an Accidental Feminist, talks about how it was the church who taught her about patriarchy, and Jesus that inspires her views of gender equality. And the third was on the blog Nice Girls Like Sex Too, titled I am a Feminist. Are You? Turns out, I am.
These are the women in my life who taught me about feminism, whether they meant to or not.
The Life Giver
As a small child when I told my mother I wanted to be an author she never told me to pick something more attainable. When I told her I wanted to be a pastor, she nodded her head and encouraged me to get involved with my youth group and teach a lesson or two. Then I told her I wanted to be a missionary and she let me travel to Africa three times before I turned 20, the last time alone. When I went to college I changed my mind again. I became disillusioned with organized religion and she didn’t try to force me to go to church. She let me, and is continuing to let me, figure it out on my own. I told her I wanted to be a sociologist and fight sex trafficking. She smiled and told me about an organization she knew where I might be able to intern. Then I told her I wanted to do research and that for my research project I would be spending my senior year in bars, talking to men and women in the commercial sex industry. She smiled and said, “Call me when you get there.” This all makes me sound very flighty, but the point is that no matter what I decided I wanted to do my mother encouraged me to try it and to put my whole heart into it. She let me figure out who I wanted to be, on my own terms, in my own way, even if at times I’m sure she was scared to death.
When I told her I was thinking about quitting a full time job to move to a city where I knew one person she asked me what the plan was and helped me to process. Then a week later when I told her I had quit my job, found a new one, and started in two weeks, she helped me move out of my apartment and stored my stuff until I found a new place to live. Now I work in a place where there is the potential for danger every day, and I’m sure she worries but she is letting me be who I want to; which is exactly what she raised me to do.
I don’t know if my mother identifies as a feminist or not, we’ve never really talked about it, but it is from her that I learned women were not second class citizens. I learned from watching my parents that marriage is a partnership where no one is dominant or submissive. My mother earns more money than my father but it is not a source of contention in their household. They love and respect each other. They complement one another and bring out the best in each other. Granted, they are not perfect, but who is?
It is from my mother that I learned having breasts and a vagina should not limit my options, whether academically, professionally, or spiritually. She taught me to think for myself and to ask questions. And for that I am so grateful. It is from my mother that I get my strength.
The Stylish One
I met this woman my first day of college as a freshman. We’ll call her Professor M. She was teaching an introduction class on sociology and I was immediately intimidated by her. She is a runner and therefore is extremely built. I remember whispering to my neighbor, “Wow, she’s buff,” when I walked in and sat down in her class. She is the kind of woman who exudes confidence and self-assurance. At that time in my life I had neither.
It was her class that year that turned me onto sociology. She challenged my perceptions of the world and got me thinking outside of my own experiences. I refer to her as “The Stylish One” above. She was always immaculately dressed. I think the only times I saw her not so were on a “Serve Day,” where members of the college, student and faculty, go out and serve in the community. The other was for a movie night at her house my senior year with my fellow Sociology cohort members. This is important to me because it is from her that I learned being a woman, and a feminist really, comes in all shapes and sizes.
I used to think that, in order to fight patriarchy, the male gaze, and the oppression of women I had to not conform, or participate in things that perpetuated it. It used to really confuse me that this woman, who so actively supported equality and women’s rights, came to class in heels every day. She was always dressed to the nines and looked both beautiful and sexy. How could she so vocally speak out for women and yet at the same time be participating in, what I saw as, the traps and designs of patriarchy? It felt hypocritical to me and I struggled with it a lot.
I learned a lot from Professor M, both in her classes and by watching her live her life as a professor, a mother, and a woman. I learned that being a woman and a feminist looks different for every person. We all take different roads to get where we are. You can still be a feminist and look stylish, and just because you wear high heels doesn’t mean you can’t fight against the oppression of women. She helped me see that the feminist archetype was nothing more than a caricature.
It is through knowing Professor M that I became more confident in who I am as a woman. She empowered me and pushed me as a student beyond what I thought I was capable of. She was my advisor when I did my senior project on the commercial sex industry. I mentioned my idea to her and she told me to go for it and to let her know if I needed anything. Afterwards, she told me that the small, conservative Christian University I attended wasn’t ready for someone like me. It was one of the highest compliments I have ever received.
I love still being able to get together with Professor M over a cup of coffee and talk about our lives.
The Earth Lover
Professor L is another woman who I found highly intimidating when I first met her and to be perfectly honest I still find her somewhat daunting. My first class with her was a Sociology of Religion class. She knew so much and I was afraid that if I opened my mouth in her class I would look foolish. She had such a commanding and yet soft demeanor.
She was the first person I had met who was a firm believer in taking care of the Earth, or at least that was highly vocal about it. She eventually retired from being a professor to become a full time farmer and writer. She taught me that caring for creation is part of caring for humanity. Therefore, feminism is multi-faceted. She showed me that part of being a feminist is about caring for more than women’s issues. It is about men, the earth, families, class, race, and any number of other issues.
Professor L once told me that just because we know how a baby is made and born, doesn’t make it any less of a miracle. In other words, just because I cannot see the goodness around me doesn’t mean it isn’t there. As a sociologically minded person I tend to be a little negative – negative about society and the people in it. It is hard not to see my entire existence as a socially constructed reality. What she taught me was to cling tenaciously to the good, both in the world and in my fellow human beings. She gave me a holistic approach to the world, to feminism, and to being a woman.
My road to feminism has not included picketing, bra burning, man hating, or any number of other stereotypes. Rather it has been a gradual understanding that I have always been one. It has been intricately woven with my journey as a woman. I cannot separate the two, nor would I want to. Like I said when I started, I have no idea if any of these women would call themselves feminists. We never talked about it. But I definitely learned how to be a feminist from them and I thank them for that. I learned confidence, self-respect, and to speak out. Part of being a feminist for me is giving voice to the marginalized. As a person not naturally inclined to make my own voice heard, these women taught me to respect myself enough to try. Now work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I am part of these other women’s stories. I only hope that I can give back a portion of what I have been given. For me celebrating womanhood is the same as celebrating feminism.