Sometime in the past year it became overwhelmingly clear that I am a feminist.
For a long time, "feminist" was an empowering word. Then, at some point in the 90s it became a badge of shame. It was right up there with "bitch" or "cunt." No one wanted to be called a feminist. Women would start sentences off with "I'm not a feminist but..." only to be followed by sentiments that were unequivocally feminist.
I don't think I ever started a sentence off that way because it seemed ridiculous to me. Then again, I wasn't really interested or concerned with labels at the time. I was more concerned about music, art, boys, and getting good grades (probably in that order) while "feminist" was busy becoming a bad word.
It was only when I went to college and began interacting with the world that I saw just how unequal the world really was. I realized that my mother, being ordained, was actually a rarity. I began to understand that I was not like other girls - I fought my way into classes full of men, earning respect and wrapping power about me like a cloak. I understood very quickly this was not because I was trying to subvert convention, but rather because I didn't know what I was doing was different.
My experiences of discrimination, by many accounts, were few and far between, though I watched as others around me suffered much different fates.
And sometime during that period of observation I grew up.
I realized just how extraordinary it was for a woman to have done the things I'd done, been invited to the places I'd been invited to, and accepted by groups that so rarely accepted people with my piping. I realized just how much further I might have gone had I been a man. I realized how much was still held above a glass ceiling, and what insidious tools society used to subvert and dismiss the ambitious of my sex.
It made me angry. And so I wrote. At first it was just little things - a main character who didn't whine and learned to take care of herself. Then it became bigger - addressing reproductive rights and the illogical conclusions many right-wing extremists would have us come to (these were short stories which I still hope to have accepted in magazines...the time to wait for submission and acceptance is considerable!).
It might have been my pregnancy that tipped me over the edge into owning the "f" word. When I realized that even times where women were practically worshiped, they became more trapped than ever by social expectations, corporate greed, and misplaced beliefs.
Yes. I'm sure that was it. I just couldn't stand the idea of someone else dictating how I should use my uterus and how it should be treated - especially someone who doesn't have one.
That is how I became a feminist.
Yes, it is still a dirty word. Sometimes it's probably more dirty than "cunt" and certainly dirtier than "bitch," which for some horrible reason has become acceptable to use by women about other women (similar to other derogatory words for other groups). But "feminist" cannot be waved away like "bitch." It is so much more empowered and intelligent than "cunt." The anger and aggression of a feminist is more sharply honed, more precise, and better prepared than these other dirty words. A feminist can influence minds, change attitudes, command respect, and if she wants, she can even take down a nation.
This is not the name given to someone who hates or who wishes for domination over men, but rather a person yearning for a new paradigm - a new way of life that allows partnership despite difference, and honors the unique powers that only women can wield.
Truly the "f" word is worth using and owning. It might be the most bad-ass a woman can be. If so, it seems ripe to start calling people out. Let us begin sentences with "I'm a feminist and..."