I wear push-up bras and high heels. I go gaga for lip gloss and lipstick, nail polish, and heavy eye-make up . And I’m not even going to lie, I’m a sucker for pouty boys that call me ma’am. But besides my affinity for sundresses, pearls, and men in ties, I’m a feminist. In fact, I’ve always considered myself to be one. But despite my own declaration in the fight for gender equality, this doesn’t seem possible to people.
“How can you be a feminist?” I’m asked all the time. “Do you even know what that means?”
While feminism can mean different things to different people, I’ve often felt like I didn’t fit the mold — like I wasn’t the ideal. Like I couldn’t claim it. And then it hit me: Feminism can be whatever you need it to be. And sometimes, what you need it to be will change from time to time.
This powerful realization hit me as an 18-year-old young woman sitting in on my first Women’s Studies class at a small, private, all-women university. This moment of feminist clarity has always stuck with me, and now as a 23-year-old post-grad, I am constantly revisiting feminism and its applicability in my ever changing life. Although feminism, even in 2011, often still sounds like a dirty word with a negative connotation, I’m constantly surprised at the way feminism finds itself in my day to day life — it really does come in all shapes, sizes, issues, prospects, and in all kinds of different people. And despite being so diverse and so varying from time to time, I’m still relieved that I can make feminism something all my own.
I like to think that I’ve been a feminist from the beginning. When I was seven years old, wearing overalls and pigtails, I remember raising my hand over and over again in class to answer the questions being asked by my teacher. I’d sit up as straight as possible and inch my hand higher and higher into the sky. I had something to say. I wanted to be heard. But instead, the boys in my class would always be the first called on. I would often come home and cry. “My teacher doesn’t like the girls, she doesn’t listen to us like she does the boys.” At the time, I didn’t have the words for it, but I knew it wasn’t fair. Instead of sitting back and taking it, though, I went with my parents to the annual parent-teacher conference and asked my teacher, “Why do you only call on the boys?” She didn’t have an answer, but from that point on she never overlooked my eager hand. This made me realize that sometimes speaking up can make a world of difference, and I like to think of this as my first moment of personal activism.
In high school, I refused to participate in the abstinence only sex-education program. I may have been sixteen, but I couldn’t sit there without throwing up my hand. “What about condoms? What about STDS? What about things that will actually prevent pregnancy and keep us safe?” I was silenced and shushed, but it lit the fire in me — a fire that came alive the minute I stepped foot onto my college campus. In college, I was always changing as a feminist — always.
There was the year I spent reading nothing but feminist literature; everything from Helen Cixous to Katha Pollit, Gloria Steinem to Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, and Bell Hooks to Ingrid Musico. There was the summer I spent interning for two of my favorite feminist authors in New York City. There was the year I ran the speakers’ bureau chair on campus and hosted the transgendered performance artist Kate Bornstein and the quick-witted blogger and author Jessica Valenti. There was the year I rejected all Women’s Studies classes — after I was told that I didn’t look feminist enough — and just spent time focusing on defining my gender and social beliefs through my own lens, even if that means sparkly pink nail polish and writing letters to my congressman by myself.
There were so many feminist discoveries throughout the last few years. Like the time I posed nude as Miss January 2009 for a feminist charity calendar. And there was the time I sold carrot cake cupcakes for a Wage Gap bake sale that charged men $1 and women only 72 cents. There were times when I was tired of talking about feminism and women’s issues, but at a women’s college it was inevitable. And then there were times when I couldn’t get enough and I didn’t understand why there wasn’t room for discussion about this in a quantitative reasoning class. Sometimes I would feel like a super feminist, and other times, not so much. Some days, feminism would be on my mind. And of course, some days, it won’t even cross my thoughts.
And while this fickle romance of always trying to work towards what I believe in isn’t perfect, it’s my journey. It’s ever-changing, but it’s exactly what I need it to be — when I need it to be. Feminism fascinates me in the way it’s solid but fleeting in my life. For example, my beliefs on abortion, breaking the glass ceiling, sexual assault, women’s education, contraceptives and abstinence-only education haven’t changed throughout the years, but how I apply feminism into my day-to-day life, whether it’s a job or in a romantic relationship, is constantly changing and evolving.
I’m not a perfect feminist (is anyone, really?), and I’m never claiming to be, but this is how it works for me. Some days, I’m ready with an iron-fist to protest and shout…in my heels and lipstick. And some days, I’m quiet and passive and just want to think about what Bell Hooks truly meant in Communion. But I personally want this feminist juxtaposition; the constant reminder that feminism is here, it’s mine, and it’s something I can always make my own just clicks for me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
[Check out the Feminist Portrait Blog Carnival to read other women’s inspiring stories of their feminist “click” moments.]