Feminism as a Lifestyle

I was raised in what was essentially a matriarchy, one that was unofficial but undeniably present. I was fatherless, born with an anonymous X in my genome. Fortunately, my biological father had been excluded by design, since my mothers had no desire to share their parental responsibility with a sperm donor.

Thus, women have always led my household and I quickly realized women were capable of anything. In my mind and in my brother’s, women were absolutely capable of becoming active professionals and assuming roles that were traditionally reserved for men.

In our daily lives, my parents demonstrated the importance of equality as I was expected to work in the yard and feed the animals just as my brother was expected to help with the laundry and dinner preparations. As a result of that upbringing, I always felt I was equal in every conceivable way to a man.

That belief in my own value as a woman and as an individual has allowed me to express myself in a manner that is uninhibited by social expectations of female gender performance. For example, I could play basketball at recess with my male classmates; admire fast cars; play with dinosaurs; as well as love horses and the color pink.

Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, in her essay “We Should All Be Feminists” defines feminism as the belief in the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. In short, feminism can simply be understood as the idea that women should not be treated like second-class citizens. My freshmen year of high school, one of my longtime friends proudly proclaimed that she could never be a feminist.

Knowing that she had been raised in a matriarchy, like me, I could only stare at her in disbelief. How could she, of all people, believe that?

It was then, when I noted the disgust and the contempt in her voice, that I discovered the negative connotation that many people have attached to the idea of feminism. To her, feminism conjured notions of deep-seated rage, militancy, and the establishment of uncompromising rules that defined how a woman should dress, talk, and behave. To her, feminism, rather than providing freedom, meant the absence of choice.

The emergence of the ‘feminist divide’ within our friendship marked the divergence in our interests. I joined Young Democrats, spent my Fridays with the Gender and Sexualities Alliance, and became an active member of the Feminism Club; she didn’t understand why I bothered.

Despite our differences, we remained friendly, trading banter and boasting of recent accolades, always managing to speak without saying anything at all. The little time we spent together was focused on searching for the person we had known when we were young: she looked for the girl who wore faded boots and blue jeans and spent hours amongst animals and bugs. I looked for the independent and ambitious woman I had expected her to become.

Instead, I found a woman who was content with her life, who believed progress was no longer necessary and that women should be satisfied with the advancements that they have already made. She never pushed boundaries, never challenged the school rules and regulations that prevented women from wearing tank tops and allowed teachers to stop us in the hallway to measure the length of our shorts. For that, she was celebrated and valued. We were both brought up in a matriarchy, but that no longer mattered.

It is apparent then that within our society, there is a right way to be a woman. A good woman is pleasant, maternal, and submissive. A good woman must, paradoxically, be both chaste and sexually expressive. A good woman can work, but must be satisfied with seventy-five cents rather than the dollar their male colleagues earn.

Therefore, a feminist, one who believes in the equity of wages and that boys will not be boys, is not a good woman. As a feminist, one who believes in the importance of female choice and female empowerment, I was a bad woman, an undesirable.

My friend’s distorted view of feminism often led me to become unnecessarily defensive about my feminist beliefs. When someone would identify me as a feminist, I would struggle to formulate a justification for my actions and opinions, as if the word feminist was an insult, “It’s not feminism, it’s human rights.”

Undeniably, ‘feminist’ is rarely extended as a compliment and often becomes an unwanted label, “What are you some kind of feminist?” Successful women in numerous fields and industries, even world leaders, have avoided being identified as feminists in an attempt to circumvent the social stigma and controversy that is attached to the term.

However, despite the widespread social belief that feminism is the appalling result of the equal rights movement going ‘too far’, I refuse to ignore the importance of the feminist movement or to view the word feminist as derogatory. I will continue to have strong opinions on institutional sexism that continually favors men, on pay inequity, on the repeated attacks designed to restrict reproductive freedoms, and on institutionalized violence against women.

I am a feminist, one with the nerve to suggest that the patriarchal tendencies and misogynistic values embedded and upheld within our culture are serious issues. I am a feminist, who recognizes the inherent double standards that are so carefully woven into our social fabric; standards that ensure a woman is shamed for her sexual expression while a man is celebrated for his. I am a feminist who frowns at degrading song lyrics and at those who attack the personal and conscious decisions of others in the name of ‘feminism’.

Moreover, in spite of any issues that I or any other may have with the way in which others might express it, I cannot deny, nor would I understate, the absolute necessity of feminism in today’s society. Furthermore, it must be understood that feminism is not limited to the expansion of women’s rights, rather, feminism provides choices that seek to empower women, men and non-binary individuals indiscriminately.

In order to promote true equality, it is evident that we must disregard social regulation of feminist expression and return, instead, to the core value of the feminist movement which is summarized by Barack Obama, in his letter on women’s rights, as “the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.”

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