Define Feminist for me. Please.

Feminst. Such a dirty word. Man hater. Angry woman. Blunt hair-cut cargo jeaned fury. I like to think this isn’t the case—that saying I’m a feminist doesn’t bring evoke the idea of anger, but I’m learning how slippery words can be. I used to be comfortable calling myself a feminist. I also used to listen to a lot of Ani DiFranco and thought shaving my head was the best way to mark the transition from high school to college. But then, boys are pretty nice. And baking is a lot of fun. And how can you be a feminist if you realize the thing that makes you happiest is nurturing and supporting those around you? When the idea of a family is appealing and when you don’t have the urge to be Just Like A Man, to be Completely Equal in All Ways?

And yet, I’ve recently found myself in endless arguments over feminism—mostly due to my inability to articulate a frustration that is still there, somewhere.  I’ve found myself defending my feminism and bending and weaving to make the story accessible to whoever I’m talking to. I’ve found myself trying to explain something I can’t quite pin-point, and I’m doing a piss poor job of it.

I think this is exactly the problem.  My inability to articulate what being a feminist means is not unique to my tied tongue. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m looking for it, or that I’m thinking about it because of a larger cultural shift, but I keep finding other expressions of the same struggle. Most recently I’ve seen a spate of advertisements that feel like touch points to the conversation that’s roiling in my skull.

This video from Always (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs) has its own complications (and a really good send up can be found here http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/30/yes-always-s-like-a-girl-campaign-is-great-but-it-s-also-deceptive.html ) but I found myself choked up at work, watching it.  One of the things I’m having the most trouble explaining is who exactly I’m mad at. I’m not mad, but I want a conversation. It isn’t just the boy, saying he isn’t insulting his sister but yeah, he’s probably insulting girls—it’s the woman running like a girl and making fun of herself/women.  This is the dialog we have to change.  Sitting in a bar talking about this ad this weekend, I was told “this just doesn’t happen anymore, this isn’t relevant.” Except, I think it is, and I think it’s so ingrained, that “throw like a girl” is shorthand for weakness and that it’s word-slippage in one sense (I don’t really mean a girl, I mean you throw a little silly) and not at all (girl is still girl).  The boy isn’t insulting his sister.  And I wasn’t pissed off when my good friend told me “come on princess, climb” because princess isn’t an insult. Sure. He was only saying it because it’s easy to get a rise out of me, he was just teasing.

The second ad is a Verizon ad, aimed at increasing STEM enrollment by women. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3cyRRAfX0) I may not be a good example of this kind of encouragement (my direct family never encouraged beauty over intelligence) but I’ve still seen it happen, and I think it’s even more complex than the ad has time to elaborate.  I remember having to fight my guidance counselor in high school—I wanted to skip lunch for more science classes, he told me that I should have some down time to socialize.  I’m not sure if my brother breezed through with a no-lunch-pass because I’d already done the fighting for our family, or because he was a guy, but I do know that I had to fight to be in as many science classes as humanely possible.  I do know that I was told, recently, that I was a nurturer and that my “personality type” was more akin to an administrative assistant than a CEO. While these are two personal instances, both by men who were completely out of touch with “modern society,” the fact remains—I still had to fight, and I was still told I function more as a supporter than a leader, and I watched other women be told the same thing by the same men.

The third is a clip from Comedy Central, The Fault in our Schools. (http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/z2b627/the-fault-in-our-schools) While this is intentionally comedic, playing off of stereotypes—there’s truth at the heart of it.  NPR has a good write up (http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/06/28/326203255/tackling-sexual-assault-on-campus-with-comedy) and brings up the exchange: “You’re telling me that women just spend the whole day navigating an obstacle course of sexual menace?” “Yeah, pretty much.”  I count myself fortunate that I have never felt uncomfortable at a college party, but I also didn’t party very often.  I do know that every time I walked between campuses late at night I kept my phone in my hand, with 911 pre-dialed and ready to send. I do know that every time I get a tattoo part of me thinks—one less way to be a Jane Doe.  No one has threatened me, but I grew up in an era of Unsolved Mystery and Law and Order: SVU.  I grew up being told, you never owe a man anything, even if he takes you to a nice dinner, and always where shoes you can run in. Never wear earbuds after dark. I’ve called a friend, three time zones away, and said into the phone, honey, what’s for dinner tonight? so it sounded like I was going home to someone.

I’m not trying to say that the fault lies with men—I don’t think it does. I don’t know what I’m angry about, and I don’t know how to fix it.  But I do know that I consider myself a feminist, despite the way that can be seen. I do know that I’m interested in men and someday I’ll have to figure out how to let one open a door for me if that’s what’s important to him. I also know it’s important for me to be involved with things like SheRocks and creating a community of strong women, even if that means sometimes guys don’t get to play.

I have no answers, but I’m musing over a lot. I hope other people are too.

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