By: Kari S.
I have wanted to write this for a long time, and these kinds of writings are one of my favorite to read, as well. I suppose being a part of an activist group or political party is similar to being a member of a church or something, in the sense that we often relate our testimony – our journey to how we became a part of this. We’re a community with a common goal, but with unique backgrounds, and I don’t know, I have always found “how I became a feminist” stories to be quite enlightening and interesting.
Oftentimes I find that many feminists were born into a family that encouraged interest in women’s rights, or were at least “liberal” in their political beliefs. I was actually born into something almost opposite. My parents are great people, but neither one would identify as a feminist and for most of my upbringing, were avid conservatives. I went to church all of my life and learned all about the world from a patriarchal view. I remember feeling like it was unfair that I was a girl, boys got to have so much more fun. I knew what the gender roles were supposed to be – I learned from my family that most of the women stayed home and the men worked – but I wasn’t tempered like a little girl “should be” tempered. I was loud, I was rowdy, I told poop jokes, I got into too much mischief, I was afraid of absolutely nothing, I was a leader and I was never obedient. I was told by my teachers that I was acting “unladylike” and “little girls shouldn’t behave this way, you should be ashamed of yourself.” And for moments in time, I really was. While I could look the part of a little girl by wearing dresses and pretty bows in my hair, I couldn’t disguise my enthusiasm for more boyish activities and toilet jokes.
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but by the time I reached high school I was a disgusting hybrid of a conservative and a rebel, who on one hand was still just as loud, mischievious and obnoxious as my child-self, but also took on a slut-shaming, anti-choice and even sometimes homophobic (though at the time I would have argued that I wasn’t homophobic at all) demeanor. I considered myself a republican because all I had really seen in the political realm was the O’Reily Factor and I thought that people who were poor were poor because they had made bad decisions. I thought that women, while at an obvious disadvantage in life, must adhere to their assignment as wives and mothers and to deviate from such roles was self-indulgent and stupid. Deep down I knew it was unfair, but it was all I knew from the way I was brought up and so I thought that it must be the way God intended. I had also been nurtured by fairytales, TV and other crap to believe that bad things happen to people because they have done something wrong, so I often had a victim-blaming stance when judging a crime that happened. These horrors were actually who I was. I cringe to remember it, but I know that the main problem here was ignorance.
By the time I went to college, it was an established cliche in my social circle that people going into college are very corruptable and often come out as “bleeding heart liberals” because all the evil professors want to make you one of their minions. If there was one thing I was certain about, it was that I was absolutely unable to be influenced by anyone other than myself. I had never been susceptable to peer pressure, I never understood why people did things they didn’t want to do because of it, etc. And because I already didn’t have a lot of respect for adults, I was pretty certain that NO professor was going to change ME. And even today, I stand by almost the same belief. I came to be a feminist because of my own personal research, and the help of professors pointing out to me real facts and information about women’s rights and global issues relating to women. As I learned more about global politics and business, I became less ignorant and more aware of the struggles that women faced. When I could remove myself from the narrow path that women were meant to take, my eyes began to open and my heart began to open, too. I realized that my voice has power and that things I say can greatly affect others, and in a negative way. I stopped saying “That’s gay” and “She looks like a slut” and other horrible things because I realized that this was hurtful, unfair and wrong – I wasn’t detached from these issues anymore, these people could be me or some one close to me, or here’s a radical idea: because they are people. I could be a “slut” in some one’s eyes, because the definition of a slut can be almost anything. I started to think less of people as a category or a statistic and I started humanizing everyone. Finally, I came to the epiphany that all the “you’re a bad girl” treatment I got as a child was EXACTLY what people mean when they talk about gender roles being taught, not naturally occuring. I realized that I had been a feminist all along, but I never knew it. I had recognized the unfairness and the discomfort I had within my assigned gender role – to be docile, quiet and mild is simply NOT me – but I never knew the word for this was “feminist.” Suddenly the world was full of signs and symptoms of patriarchy. I had never noticed the way most movies have less than 3 female characters named who speak about anything other than men, I hadn’t known there were other women who suffered public groping on the trains and there were voices and writings out there for me to read about, I didn’t realize how huge and horrible human trafficking is – I DIDN’T NOTICE ANYTHING! It’s amazing the way patriarchy so skillfully hides to those who are not taught to recognize it. I took it further by making learning about feminism as a fight for the equality of all people, not just women. I started learning about and respecting the disabled, the transgendered, the homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, a-sexual, all the sexualities!!!! I learned about drag queens and cross dressers, non-gendered people, the young and the old, the different races and the huge impacts on them and for them and by them and all the ways the world is subjected to the whims of privileged white people. I learned about the classes and how wealth is not fairly distributed and women especially are at a disadvantage. I learned about what it means to be a white American and the amount of privilege that automatically gives me. I learned about the way people feel marginalized, and I learned that being an ally doesn’t mean you deserve a prize, it just means you are a decent person. I did this research myself, without bothering the oppressed. I was consumed by feminism and I still to this day have an avid passion for it – I am a full-blown feminist.
I went through a brief period of feminism competition where I put down literally everything and anything that wasn’t 100% in my opinion “good enough” to be feminist. I bothered my friends and family by talking about feminism constantly and ramming my beliefs down everyone’s throats – even when they were agreeing with me! But I also faced a lot of legitimate opposition from some family and friends. I came back from college and like I mentioned before – because the whole “changing into a liberal” thing was so cliche, everyone thought I was just another statistic of college kids gone crazy liberal. My family claimed I was being influenced by my professors and liberal peers and wasn’t seeing reason. I can’t begin to describe how frustrating it felt to hear these comments after I worked so hard INDEPENDENTLY researching feminism and human rights. I don’t understand how seeing clear facts – like that women make less money than men – is being “influenced” by some one’s corrupting beliefs. It took me a very long time, but after presenting real facts and stories and clear ideas of what is right and what is wrong, I think I made some slight progress with my family. My feminist ideas are still not taken 100% seriously, but they are better respected than when I first went away. The most painful part is that I know my family is full of intelligence; I don’t understand how they can hold on to these ridiculous ideas after I have told them and shown them that things are not what they thought they were.
I am so thankful for the internet, because without it, I probably would still be blind and conservative, stuck in the belief that I am trapped and shouldn’t be the way I am, that I am unladylike and rude. Because of where I live and the people around me, I still am astonished that I ever found the way to feminism, and even though I now stand out like a turd in a punch bowl, it’s not like I care because I was never very good at conforming to anything acceptable anyway. The fact is, no one is perfect and being a feminist doesn’t make me some one better than others because there are still a lot of things I need to learn and I have such a long way to go. Being a feminist just means to me that I make the effort to better myself and educate myself and do my best to remain aware and actually do something about the issues that bother me. It’s a daily battle to be a woman in a patriarchy, and I’m just thankful that now I’m not the enemy of myself.