“There is no woman in the world who needs you to cut her down”

This is a reblogged post from Esther Emery’s site.  It showed up in my news feed yesterday and I’ve reposted it with her permission.

Check out her website, she’s got a lot of great posts, including another one of my favorites, “The Really Scary Thing About Gay Marriage.”

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Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.

But I know something. I know this. You are called.

You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.

Rise up.

The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.

Too loud.
Too greedy.
Too masculine.
Too angry.
Too emotional.

Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.

Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.

That place is yours.

There is enough space for all of you. I swear there is, I promise. Even or all your noise, opinions, intelligence, even for the pure size of your frame. Even fir your passion and force of will and love of justice.

This fight, to claim your right to be, is on the inside. But when you are a woman who leads, the world will try to tell you otherwise.

Oh, sweet girl…I could wish for you an easier path than this.

You will not often be the pretty one. Pretty is one part what you actually look like and two parts not being a threat. Learn to wear your beauty like a lion, or a tall tree. Learn to wear boots, and jackets. Learn to wear whatever you want.

You will not always know what you are doing. You will lead in the dark, with your eyes closed. Sometimes your mistakes will cause harm, and that will make you question your calling. Don’t. Don’t question the calling. Question your skill. Get better. Work harder. Learn to do your work well.

You will have trouble with friends. Sometimes this will be your fault. You will practice power instead of leadership. This is a trick of the darkness. You will have to learn to trust without controlling.

Sometimes it will not be your fault. A strong woman will be threatened by you. A weaker woman will betray you. Someone that you care about will tell you that you are being selfish. This will hurt like hell, and there is not a darn thing that I can do about it.

Baby, I am so sorry.

But it will help you to understand this, and this is maybe the most important thing of all. There is no woman in the world – I don’t care how brave, how beautiful, how wildly fortunate, or how questionable her values – There is no woman in the world who needs you to cut her down.

Please, lean in to other women. We have heard that we women aren’t very nice to each other, that it is our nature to cut and compete. If so, it is only from living in too-small boxes, and competing for too-small parcels of air. It doesn’t have to be that way. Make it not that way.

It will happen, too, that a man is at your side to help you. Look for that. He might be there when you are just about to lose control of the wheel and you are also trying to hold a crying baby. Listen to me, now, this is important.

It is okay to ask the man to hold the baby. 

Listen to this, too. You may find that someday you need to leave your babies in someone else’s arms. Probably this will hurt you. But beyond the hurting there is a darkness, too, that tells you this is wrong. It tells you that you should feel ashamed. Resist it. Don’t let that darkness drown out your call. Like the Buddha, turn your hand to the earth. They are all your children.

And you will see your own children soon. Again and again, you will be called back home, like Ulysses, in your time. There will be time for Sabbath, when the call is quiet and the task is rest. You can rest from the world. But you can’t rest from yourself.

Be true to yourself.

And, women, there may be a hard thing about food. If you are a woman who leads (or any other woman…or some men), you may find it hard to feed yourself. If that happens to you, please, look for the friend. She is the friend who shares her French fries with you when you won’t order food of your own. He is the assistant, or the husband, who rolls his eyes and says, “She never eats when she’s working.” She is the midwife who brings you peanut butter toast after you have given birth. She is your sister, your mother. She will save you. Please, let her feed you.

Sweet girl, I will not tell you that this road is easy.

But one day you will slip into your skin like it fits you, and you’ll look around and you won’t know what you were fighting all those years. I can’t wait to see it. I’m going to be so proud.

via Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

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What I Learned From My First Bad Haircut

Bad Haircut

I’ve never been very attached to my hair.  Or so I thought.

For most of my childhood it was long and I liked it just fine.  By the time I hit middle school I decided I wanted something different.  I kept getting it cut shorter and shorter until one day I walked out of the hair salon with a pixie cut.  I loved it.  Having really short hair was fun.  And easy.  I didn’t have to do anything with it.  I kept it that way into high school, but then I got kind of tired of being mistaken for a boy so I decided to grow it long again.  By my senior year it was part way down my back and it had grown back curly.  I now had beautiful, long, thick, curly hair.  I loved it.  I could do all kinds of different things with it or just throw it into a bun if I didn’t feel like messing with it.  But then I got bored so I went to get it cut on a whim.  I cut over a foot off, much to the horror of my hair stylist.  She kept asking me if I was absolutely sure I wanted to cut my hair that short.  I started playing with different lengths and styles and honestly really liked each one I tried.

Like I said, I’ve never been very attached to my hair.  I liked all the styles I’ve tried.  I have naturally curly hair that grows quickly so even if something is less than perfect the curls tend to hide it till it’s long enough to do something different with.

This last time I got my hair cut though I said to myself, this is the style for me.  It’s short and fun.  I can straighten it or leave it curly and it looks great either way.  I can roll out of bed and make it through the day without anyone knowing I didn’t wash or style it that day.  I love my haircut.  I apparently became attached to my hair.  I went in to get it trimmed today and for the first time in my life walked out wanting to cry.  In fact I did cry.  I sat in my car, looked in the mirror, and burst into tears.  It looked awful.

I immediately felt guilty for being upset and even a little disgusted with myself.  I felt vain and shallow for caring so much what I looked like.  I felt ashamed that I hadn’t spoken up when I was getting it cut.  Why hadn’t I said anything and why did I feel so awful about not tipping the man?

The thing is, I did say something to him.  I asked him to even out the front.  Instead he picked up his scissors and made the back even more uneven.  He didn’t listen to me.  He told me that he knew what I wanted and asked me to trust that he knew best.  It was a very disempowering experience.  I felt like this man had stolen my voice.  He had assumed that he knew me and my body (or my hair) better than I did.  This is something that happens to woman everyday, that happens to me everyday.  It is a trivial example of the ways in which a woman’s agency is taken from her.  I should not have to fight to be heard when I am speaking about me, my body, my feelings, my emotions, or my experiences.  And I should not have to justify myself for feeling the need to speak up.  I should not have to speak up more than once or shout to be heard.

And I should not feel guilty about saying no.  Or stop.

The second thing I learned is that my appearance matters to me.  I am a professional woman and I like to look like it.  It makes me feel confident.  Powerful.  It reminds me of the post I recently shared about the power of wearing a read dress.  For me, part of my power comes from having a great haircut.  I should not have to feel guilty for wanting to look good.  For wanting to look good for no reason other than myself.  I should not have to qualify that I am in fact not a diva or a bitch for wanting my hair to look the way I ask.  So, I sucked it up and walked into another salon.  They thankfully took pity on me and only charged me a few dollars to fix it.  And I feel so much better.

It makes me a little sad that I am only just really learning that it is okay to ask for what I actually want and to ask again if the first time it isn’t right.  Maybe I should have gotten a bad haircut earlier in life…

The Power of Red

By Toni,

“There is something about a woman in red that commands attention.

I learned this the first time when I was in my mid-20s and was working for a Really Big Oil Company. My department had a Christmas party lunch so I decided to wear a red business suit. I had never worn it as a suit before; I bought it so that I could wear the skirt and jacket separately. But since it was a holiday party, I thought I would be festive….”

Read the rest of the post.

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Toni is a wonderful writer and a dear friend of mine.  Check out her blog Woodhaven Ramblings, and a guest post she did here last year, Choosing Not To Be A Feminist.

100 Unladylike Posts: A Look into the Past

Well, I did it.  I reached 100 posts.

When I started this blog I had no idea what to expect.  I was a year out of college and missing the intellectual discussions and stimulation that it provided me with.  I wanted a space to just be me, and to process without driving all my Facebook friends crazy.

I look back at my life a year ago (nearly) and I remember thinking at the time, is this it, is this really who I want to be?  I was five months into a job that was slowly sucking the life out of me, literally.  I developed chronic pain issues and though they continue to this day I believe that job was a part of the trigger.  I left work overwhelmed and crying nearly every day.  I lived in a small town where I saw people who had wounded me deeply everyday.  I felt suffocated and like there was no space for me to heal, or to grow.  I felt unable to flourish and change into the person I knew I was becoming but that so few around me could see.  I didn’t belong there and I didn’t fit in, though I sure tried.

A month after I started this blog I left most of that life behind.  I quite my job, left that town, and moved to the city (that’s something only a small town kid would really say, isn’t it?).  I knew I needed something different.  I needed to be some place where no one knew me, where I could be free to flourish and learn about the person I was becoming.  That was, and still is, one of the best life decisions I have made to date.

Through this blog I was able to find my voice.  I started being vocal about opinions I had and things I believed that would not have been understood or welcomed by many in the place I left.  I fell into easy community with a group of feminist, sociologically minded bloggers; people who had just as many questions as I did and were okay with not having the answers.  People whose writing challenged me and whose comments intrigued me.  While this blog didn’t necessarily serve as the catalyst for my “awakening” it became a great outlet for me to reveal it.  In writing I started becoming more confident in myself, my opinions, and my beliefs.  I was able to bounce from one extreme to the other.  It was there that I found the other extreme was just as broken.  I broke out of being a living stereotype of either side and can now be comfortable with being a little bit of both.  I by no means have it all figured out but I am having a lot more fun learning.

With 162 followers, 8,806 views, and 200 comments this blog has become something bigger than I could have possibly imagined when I started.  With that being said, and this being my 100th post I thought I’d journey through the archives a bit.  Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Top five viewed posts:

  1. The Kickass Woman’s Manifesto
  2. How to Aid a Rapist
  3. Celebrating Womanhood: How I discovered I was a Feminist
  4. Remember to Give Yourself Some TLC…From a Hot Guy
  5. Breast Cancer Is Not A Pink Ribbon

Top five most commented on posts (skipping the duplicates):

  1. Rude Men and Rape Culture
  2. The Flip Side of the Impossible Beauty Standard
  3. The Darker Side of Pink: Part 2
  4. Need Help Little Lady?
  5. Bees in My Bonnet: The Mythological Female Body and Homophobic Language

My Favorite Posts:

  1. You Are Now A Woman
  2. Where Have All My Single Ladies Gone?
  3. Mandating Good Parenting?
  4. Girls Night!
  5. Beauty and Makeup: Mary Kay Hosts a Party for Survivors of Domestic Violence
  6. A Letter to My Nephew
  7. Replacing Hate With Love: A Father Writes a Letter to His Hypothetically Gay Son

Guest Posts:

  1. Guest Post: Choosing Not To Be A Feminist
  2. Guest Post: Cancer and Strong Women, My Heritage

Six under appreciated posts:

  1. Unbreakable
  2. Sexual Assault Awareness Month
  3. The Shock Value in Advertising
  4. “Ask Amy” on Loving Your Body
  5. To Protect the Men…
  6. “Same Love:” A Rapper Tackles Gay Marriage

Reauthorization of VAWA Fails

It’s official.  For the first time since the passing of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 it has not been reauthorized.

As a survivor I am upset.  As a woman I am furious.  This is unacceptable.  I do not care where you are from, who you sleep with, or what your legal status is.  This should have passed.  Without question.  Domestic violence and sexual assault can affect anyone.  It does not matter what color your skin is, who you are attracted to, or what country you are from.  Violence happens in all kind of relationships.  This should have been a no-brainer.

The Darker Side of Pink: Part 2

Pink Ribbons, Inc.For me breast cancer is like the crack in my windshield I never bothered to get fixed.  I don’t always notice it, sometimes I even forget about it and try to scratch it off as if it were a piece of dirt.  Not dangerous now, but someday it could be.  It is a part of my story and my life.  It is not something that I need to be made aware of, or reminded that it exists.  It is a part of my nightmares.

This October I chose to focus on learning more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the big players in the awareness movement.  I watched the film Pink Ribbons, Inc., I asked my mother if she wanted to share her story, and I read countless stories of others.  I reflected on the life of my grandmother and the way she chose to live after she was diagnosed.  What I came away with is that the mainstream breast cancer movement is a sham.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach, exploited, belittled, and dismissed; like my story, and the stories of the people I love do not matter.  We live in the shadow of the almighty dollar.

After reflecting on the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. and the mainstream breast cancer awareness culture in general I have six major concerns.

1.  Awareness does not equal action.  This is something I had issues with even before I watched the film.  Awareness is not the same kind of issue now as it has been in the past.  You’d kind of have to live under a rock to have never heard of breast cancer.  So, why do we keep calling them awareness campaigns?  We know what it is and we know that it kills people.  What we don’t know is what causes it.

2.  Pinkwashing.  Pinkwashing is when a company promotes, creates, or uses something that is linked to breast cancer at the same time as “fighting for the cause.”  For example, when Komen partnered with KFC and the “Buckets for the Cure” campaign was launched.  Another great example of this is the now infamous Komen endorsed perfume, “Promise Me” that was proven to have chemicals that interfered with hormones.  There is no integrity.  Not only is the disease being exploited but the public’s trust is as well.  Why wouldn’t we trust someone who says the are working to fight breast cancer?  And that is the whole point.  Companies have learned that they can get people to pay a little bit more money for something if they believe it is going towards a good cause.  These companies are profiting from the people’s pain and desire to help.

A really great website to check out if you are wondering what is in your cosmetics is called Skin Deep.

3.  Thinking that a complex problem will be solved by throwing money at it.  Throwing money at a complicated problem is such a “privileged” thing to do.  I know I will be stepping on toes here but hear me out.  Think about poverty.  This is a complex problem that will not be solved by money alone.  Yet people do not want to get involved, or work towards actually solving the problem when they can just write a check.  It feels good to write that check.  It makes you feel like you are doing something good, working towards a cause, and donating what you can.  I would argue though that it is an empty satisfaction.  Money (alone) does not solve problems, and it often ends up creating more.

I see this with the breast cancer awareness movement.  Thousands of people will run/walk/jump/shop/anything for the cure.  But where is that money going?  How much of it is actually going towards research like they say?  What about prevention and causes?  What about research for women who are not white, middle class, and American?  Breast cancer does not just affect white women and yet this is the group that nearly all of the research focuses on.  There needs to be better coordination between organizations that are conducting studies.  Move beyond the “convenient” sample.

Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have the major risk factors, so why are they developing it?  The awareness movement has led women to believe that mammograms keep cancer away; that if you can just detect it early enough then you can get rid of it.  If you eat right and excercise you can prevent cancer.  This is so misleading.  Being a woman puts you at risk for developing breast cancer.  Period.  It’s scary, but it’s true.

The fact that people are willing to do all these things to “fight breast cancer” show how motivated people are.  It is coming from a good place and has created an amazing network.  I would just challenge people to be more critical of where they are spending their money and what that money is actually going towards.

4.  Women’s stories are being minimized under the pressure to be optimistic and perky.  The optimistic, warm, fuzzy, pink approach to breast cancer puts enormous pressure on patients to be positive.  As if women need more influences in their lives silencing their anger.  This approach is alienating.  Breast cancer is not a soft disease.  It is not pretty.  It is not feminine.  It is not normal.  And it is not pink.  It is ugly.  It is shocking and jarring to hear that you have cancer.  Women who have been diagnosed need to feel safe to feel angry, cheated, and spiteful.  They should not have to ask for permission.  They should not have to apologize or feel like a grinch if have negative feelings.  They should not have to feel okay about having cancer.  If they want to get to that point they should be able to do it in their own time, in their own way, even if that includes screaming, ranting, and a lot of tears.  When you see a pink ribbon instead of a woman who is afraid and hurting something needs to change.

5.  Militarization of language.  The way cancer is talked about can also be alienating to patients.  The mainstream breast cancer organizations focus on celebrating survivors.  Breast cancer is something to be fought, conquered, and survived.  What about the women who develop stage four cancer and die?  Did these women lose the battle?  Did they not fight hard enough?  Did these women fail?  These are things that are implied through the use of militarized language.  The message that if you fight hard enough you can beat it is so damaging.  There is no balance and it leaves people vulnerable, both patients and the people who care about them.  Breast cancer is not an army to be mobilized against.  It is a disease.  It is a put down to the women who have not and are not “surviving.”  You cannot have this message without seeing people who die as having failed.  This is so not the case, and even as I’m sitting here typing this I’m tearing up.  This message does not allow women who do not recover to die with dignity in a perfectly healed state.  That is so wrong and unfair.

We need to be teaching women to balance hope with the understanding, and the reality, that it may not work.  You may not respond to chemo.  Even if you get your breasts removed it may come back.  This does not mean that you have failed or that you are losing the battle.  Not every story is happy, shiny, pretty and pink.

6.  Reducing women to a body part.  Women are more than their breasts.  Enough said.

What do you think when you see a pink ribbon?

 

Read Part 1 Here

Check out these great websites:

FORCE

Think Before you Pink

Breast Cancer Fund

Breast Cancer Action

A Reminder to Give Yourself Some TLC…From a Hot Guy

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I have been hanging onto this video for way too long.

I find this video highly refreshing compared to the usual barrage of sexist campaigns such as “save the ta-tas,” or the silly Facebook memes.  I’ve seen a couple in the past that were meant to be provacative, and dare I say, titilating.  The “I like it on the _____” comes to mind.  How are you bringing awareness to something when no one knows what you’re talking about or thinks you are way oversharing?

Back to the video.  Who wouldn’t want a gorgeous man reminding them to do a self-breast exam?  First of all the method is great.  It’s simple and easy to remember.  TLC – touch, look, check.  Got it.  Second of all, if you want to argue that it is going the opposite direction and objectifying men, it is totally obvious these guys are having fun in the video.  They are not being used, demeaned, or demoralized.  There are in on it.  I beleive whole-heartedly that men can be, and are objectified.  It is not just something that happens to women.  But, I would argue that it is not happening in this video.  So enjoy the visual, get a check up, and maybe take a cold shower.  😉

This campaign is done by Rethink Breast Cancer.

“Launched in 2001, Rethink is the first-ever, Canadian breast cancer charity to bring bold, relevant awareness to the under-40 crowd; foster a new generation of young and influential breast cancer supporters; infuse sass and style into the cause; and, most importantly, respond to the unique needs of young (or youngish) women going through it.”

I have a couple of things planned for this month and it is not all going to be light and fun.  Breast cancer is a tough reality for far too many women.  It is something that affects far too many families.  My own included.  I lost my grandmother to cancer when I was thirteen and there are still days it knocks me down, panting for breath.  I hope to balance my posts with not only stories and hardships, but hope as well.  If anyone has a story they’d like to share please feel free to contact me.  Also, I just found out the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. was on Netflix.  I plan to watch it and write a review.  I would love it if others wanted to watch it as well and join in on the discussion.

Guest Post: Choosing Not To Be A Feminist

I was born in the late 1960s and as such was a daughter of America’s feminism movement of the 1970s.  Probably not literally, though.  Like Lindley, I don’t think I have ever actually had a conversation with my mom about her self-identification — or not — as a feminist.  Regardless, I was definitely surrounded by feminist ideals as I came of age in the 1980s.  As I went off to college at a university that made Berkeley look conservative, I took with me my self-attached FEMINIST label and convictions to be strong, self-directed, self-determinate, independent, and successful in any profession I chose.  I had grown up being told — by my parents and society — that the world should be open to me regardless of my gender.  I believed it and I was going to take full advantage of it.

Interesting, though, the choice thing.  While it was clear I was “allowed” to choose any profession I wanted, society was also telling me that that was the only decision I had to make.  The rest…well, I could have it all!  It was the era of the Super Mom, where women brought home the bacon, fried it up in a pan, colored their hair because they were worth it, and baked their kids cupcakes and lead Girl Scout troops after work.  There was so much excitement and empowerment and cheering from the feminists blazing the trail ahead of me.  No longer was I just expected to be a housewife.  Now I could have a career AND a family!  YAY ME!  YAY US!

Behind the fanfare, though, I saw something else.  While it was awesome that women now had a choice, instead of choosing, most women seemed to be adding.  Very counter to everything that surrounded me, I distinctly remember deciding before I left my teens that I would do things differently.  I was going to choose.  Career or family but not both, not at the same time.  I did not want to have it all because, frankly, it looked exhausting.  Feminism was about having choices, right?  So making a choice still allowed me to call myself a feminist, right?

Apparently not.

It became clear to me pretty quickly that my decision to either have a career OR a family was not an acceptable one.  Well, at least not a feminist one.  Somehow I was still being oppressed by choosing one over the other?  So I learned to keep my family plans to myself.  A number of working moms, trail blazers a couple decades my senior, got huffy when I suggested I would stop working if I ever had kids.  I got the distinct impression that that was NOT what all their hard work had been for.  Suddenly I was ungrateful and selfish.  And definitely not a feminist.  So I dropped their banner and haven’t picked it up since.

Sadly,  the times I grew up in have resulted in “feminist” having a less than desirable connation for me.  I am as eager to call myself a feminist as I am to own being a Christian.  But the truth is, at their core, their foundation, I am both.  But both terms can drag along such baggage and so quickly sort me into an assumed category of beliefs that may or may not be true about me.  And so today, at 44, married, and having chosen career instead of children, I am simply, happily, Toni.

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Toni is a dear friend of mine and an avid blogger.  Check out her blog Woodhaven Ramblings.

Celebrating Womanhood: How I Discovered I Was A Feminist

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 GreenFor 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.