Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Feminist Education

I always knew I was a feminist. Even when I was just a little kid, it always bugged me when my brothers got to do something and I didn't, just because I was a girl. My parents encouraged this behavior. I had my very own Popeye shaving kit - plastic razor, shaving cream cup, and brush - and I used to "shave" with my dad in the mornings. My brothers didn't have facial hair to shave, either.

When I got to college, St. Mary's in Notre Dame, Indiana, these views were obviously encouraged. I was sort of shocked, though, at the number of women who did not feel that they were feminists. I mean, how can you not be a feminist?

But I know why they felt that feminism excluded them. Sure, they thought that women were just as good as men. They wouldn't say that they didn't support equality between the sexes. What they objected to was the association between feminism and lesbianism. Somewhere along the line, those two terms became intertwined in a way that today's young women - and some not-so-young ... I would say most women under 35 - can't seem to get past. The forerunners of the "women's movement" were so successful that a lot of women today don't see the need to fight. And so the fight for equality has been taken up by other oppressed groups. Lesbians, by nature, call into question what society expects out of women. Because they are not yet totally accepted, they have to fight. Part of what they fight for is equality between the sexes. I'm not saying that this is an absolute explanation of how "lesbian" and "feminist" began to be seen as synonyms, but I think it is part of it.

There was a time in the when it seemed that following any of what was seen as a woman's role was playing into the hands of the patriarchy. To be a "true" feminist, you had to reject everything that men have set out as being for women, or what women should do. I remember reading Adrienne Rich in college and being so furious to see "It is the lesbian in us who is creative, for the dutiful daughter of the fathers in us is only a hack. " (Adrienne Rich (b. 1929), U.S. poet, essayist, and lesbian feminist. "It Is the Lesbian In Us Who Is Creative," (1976).) I am not a hack. I am not a "dutiful daughter." But I am also not a lesbian.

Now, I know what Rich was saying. I understand that she wasn't really talking about sexuality. But still, it was upsetting to me because I felt like there was no place for me in feminism. I was (and am) an intelligent, outspoken woman. No man tells me what to do. But I am also a straight woman. I love men. It was so upsetting to me that I felt like I had to defend that position. Feminism isn't about the superiority of women - it's about equality.

I was a member of the Feminist Collective on campus, but eventually stopped going because it eventually replaced the Gay, Lesbian, and Questioning (I can't remember the full name, I apologize) Outreach group that didn't get acknowledged as a campus organization. I felt like the Take Back the Night walk was the only thing the group did that was "feminist" as opposed to "lesbian." I think I was one of two straight women who attended meetings, so I stopped going. It wasn't that I didn't support my lesbian friends, I just didn't want to support the meshing of lesbianism and feminism. It isn't lesbians or lesbianism that I have an issue with. It's the underlying notion that I can't be a "real" feminist if I like men. I feel that the blending of lesbian and feminist implies that I'm a bad feminist if I like men, and I don't think that's true.

This is all to introduce an old post I discovered at one of my favorite blogs. She wrote it three or four years ago, but it is new to me, and I love it. It's called Yes, You Are.

It very much supports my view that everyone is, or should be, a feminist. Because the definition of a feminist is simple: Any person who believes in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. My cousin's husband has a wonderful t-shirt that says "This is what a Feminist looks like." I love it, and I want Mr to wear one because, whether he would admit it or not, he's a feminist, too.

1 comment:

jami said...

"Rita" I gotta say, I've never read your blog before. Turns out I'm moving to Chicago next year and I wanted to check in with you. Very well done blog entry, by the way. You really worked it out. So... call when you can.