Informal Feminism

{March 20, 2011}   My Personal History With Feminism


So last week due to lack of time on my part I co-opted any essay that I had written for my last year at Trent. Well it was a good essay I feel, it was a more academic style then I am used to producing for this blog and with that said I am back with a more informal blog this week. Last week I had an argument about feminist’s and feminism and was told that many people, including the person I was arguing with, felt a lot of the time when listening to feminists speak they came off feeling as if we were demonizing men and that was our goal as feminists. So this week, I thought I would like to tell you about my history with feminism and the experiences that shaped me into a feminist in order to show that the goal is not about demonizing men but about helping women to see problems they face.

When I was growing up, I often heard that I could not do something because I was a girl. I guess that really stuck with me, it is the one thing that drives me far crazier then anything else. I found myself on the end of this double standard quite often, my brother is just over a year older then me and he would be allowed to do things before I was able to. In the beginning I was informed that I couldn’t do the same things because he was older then me but when I reached the same age it would be that I couldn’t do these things because I was a girl. The example that stands firmly in my head is being told, after my brother had attended a concert at the same age that I could not attend a concert because I was a girl. It not only applied to events but also to things as simple as electronics, my knowledge of them was undermined because of my gender. Over the years with my family this changed to degree because I am stubborn and forced my way into doing things regardless of if it was ok for a girl to do and thus the beginning of my burgeoning feminism. However, home wasn’t the only place I encountered issues of gender.

When I was in high school I began to see the larger implications of gender. No longer did I only see the issues that only concerned me but also the ones that concerned other women. I watched as women I knew allowed themselves to be degraded by their boyfriends and seemed to almost enjoy it. Women were constantly belittled in conversation and made to seem inferior and many of the women I knew allowed it happen willingly, if they didn’t participate. This was something that even as a young teenager sat poorly with me and I had many conversations with these women about their opinions. I found that many of girls who were in high school with me barely, if at all, registered the problems facing women. They didn’t understand that women still lacked equality with men and that by allowing their boyfriends to say these horrible things about women was problematic. It created a system where these women came to accept that being a woman meant to be discussed in this way, as women they were beginning to accept that they were inferior to men. What struck me about this, and pushed me into wanting to be a activist for women, was I was afraid that no one was going to tell these girls that it was o.k. just to have self-respect and that they didn’t have to put with being degraded by their boyfriends. As women they didn’t realize their own value or have respect for themselves or for the other females in their lives because they were being constantly undermined by men. I remember sitting in a high school English debate and hearing women saying that equality was achieved and feminism was dead, as well that what it had achieved was little more then a bad reputation. To hear that from girls my age was disturbing to me, even as a teenager, I was just coming into my feminist glory at this age. I wanted to find a way to make these women understand that feminism was not something that was dead but something that was very much still fighting on their behalf. So the roots of my history with feminism is locked into equality, I wanted these women to understand that they are equal with these men and as such deserved to be respected.

After high school I entered college, a university transfer program that allowed me to upgrade to Trent when I was done. In this program my hold on feminism became deeply entrenched into who I was as a person. In the program I was given the opportunity to write on issues that were close to my beliefs and wrote almost every paper with a women centered focus. It was also a program that helped strengthen my ability to make proper arguments for my points but it also helped me realized that many women might not understand feminism because it wasn’t explained properly to them. It has been my experience that feminism is demonized because people feel that it is super radical and that if you are going to associate with it you must qualify as a super radical man hating lesbian. I wrote a paper when I was in this program that explained the different types of feminism. One class we had to choose a paper to present that we had written that year, I choose my paper about feminism because it was easiest for me to speak about. This paper discussed the differences between something like radical feminism and liberal feminism, I learned later in my academic career about other types of feminism. I mainly discussed the idea that all feminist were not alike and should not be qualified as one universal group, with the main image of that group being super radical. After I finished discussing this paper one of my classmates came up and told me that she really appreciated the discussion of the paper and that it had expanded her idea of feminist and feminism and moved it away from that negative image. It was in this program that I learned the best way to understand feminism and have other people to understand feminism was to discuss it.

I took a year off after my stint at college; I was burned out and poor. In that year I did a lot of partying and found a new home in clubs and bars. My experience in these places is what helped to solidify that going into women’s studies was the right decision. Often on these nights I found myself or friend I was with approached by men at the bar, not unusually by any stretch, but the interactions that resulted from these approaches were occasionally troublesome. I have been grabbed by strange men who claim they just want to talk but do it while trying to put their hands on my ass. I have had friends who have been sexually assaulted on dance floors because of a man’s inability to get the point after being repeatedly told to go away. I have had friends who are called names because they refused to deal with a man at the bar and I have pulled friends who have drank to much away from men who planned to take them home instead of sending them home to sleep and put them in cabs myself. It was in these settings that the lack of respect for women became clear. The women who frequented these places were considered to be available to any man in the bar because they were there. I had many friends were said no only to be constantly harassed by the same man again and again and then abused verbally before they finally gave up. It goes back to the Madonna or whore syndrome I have talked about before. If a woman is out to enjoy a night of dancing at a club she is automatically slated in the category of whore, she is open and available and if she says no then the solution is just to be persistent. This is a problem and fighting this stereotype is what helps to make women safer when they go out for an evening. By experiencing and having friends experience these different problems it helps clarify why I felt the affinity towards women’s studies because a women shouldn’t have to be aware of her outfit choice so that she doesn’t cause a problem. If a woman chooses to reject you she shouldn’t be subjected to verbal assaults or more, she should have the right to be safe regardless of if she chooses to go out to the bar. With that in my head I returned to school again, knowing that education was going to be my way of learning how to communicate these ideas effectively.

The next three years of my life I spent doing what I love best, though it might not have felt like it at the time, educating myself so that I could hopefully find a way to share my experiences and show that women need to continue to fight because we haven’t reached a state where we are equal. As a feminist I don’t want to demonize men. Believe it or not my goal is not to get rid of them and in many of my university classes we discussed how men also face their own problems and issues due to gender. My intention is to show the different ways that women still face oppression and trying to find ways to fix the oppression that we do face. Do I believe my blog is going to change the world? Probably not, but what I hope it does do is allow people to understand there are still many issues facing women and hopefully open some eyes to things that my readers might not have thought about before. The experiences that I wrote about in this paper helped to shape the person I have become and explain why I identify as a feminist, not to put men down but to challenge the popular images and stereotypes of women. Please feel free to share any experiences that may have shaped your beliefs on feminism. 



Beth says:

I love this post!! Even though we’ve talked often about our experiences with feminism in the past, I loved hearing your story told so compellingly. I can really relate to a lot of things that you said, especially the point about young women being forced to accept being in precarious and unsafe situations as though this is somehow normal or OK (total bullshit!) I also want to say that you really helped me open my mind and discover my own feminist values that I still hold dear. So thank you 🙂

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