Where do people get this idea that being feminine means you can’t be a feminist? It’s ludicrous. Anyone who would say this acts like you have to be a butch dyke to call yourself a feminist. I’m middle-aged, so I’ve been exposed to the term since the 1970s. I have watched it change over time. Second-wave feminism gave way to third-wave feminism, but no one has ever owned the term. It has been defined a thousand ways by a million different people.
I like to wear makeup, if I weren’t too lazy to put it on daily. I like pink. I like skirts and dresses. I like pants. I love my husband, and dozens of other men I have met in my life. There is no requirement to hate men as some people will say. I know the difference between a greeting and a cat call, which I think most women know involves sexual overtones.
I have watched being a woman change over the course of my life, too. When I was a teen, my mother applied to be in one of the first women’s studies programs in Iowa. Ironically, she was not able to get her degree, because her womanly duties interfered. She was pregnant when she started the program, and giving birth along with managing her household upkeep, overwhelmed her ability to be a graduate student. Today, women often finish graduate school long before they start families. Or their husbands help with the children, so they can attend school without dropping out.
My mom’s brief stint in Women’s Studies did allow me to read, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Feminine Mystique,” “The Color Purple,” and “Jane Eyre,” because though I was young, my mother wanted me to gain something from her assignments. So, my second wave feminism exposure didn’t include much pontificating on feminism per se. They were stories about women’s lives, and how being a woman had affected the characters. Instead of theory, they just gave windows into the experiences of women who were strong, not delicate flowers, yet still living lives dictated to women by their gendered societal limitations.
The most recent time I knew I was not equal to a man physically was at a party where I attempted to defend a girl being hit by her drunk boyfriend. He jumped on me, laid me out flat in the snow, and pinned me as he pummeled me with punches. I pushed him off with every ounce of strength I had, yet he was immovable. Other men had to pull him off of me. Similar experiences with being raped taught me I was biologically not equal and submission was my only option. Hell, the first boy I slept with punched me a few days later because I didn’t tell him I was a virgin, and I stained his father’s sheets with blood. I didn’t know there was blood your first time.
One Medium writer a while back said no one told our grandmothers they couldn’t do things. I laughed when I read that. My grandmother became an adjunct professor of home economics for her whole life with an expertise in sewing/clothing/textiles. Her real passion was archaeology, which she ended up doing as a hobby. Someone did tell her she couldn’t do what she wanted to do — finish a PhD, instead of stopping at a Master’s. Go into home economics — when she really wanted archaeology. She was told she had a family to take care of. It’s hard to imagine my powerhouse grandmother bowing to these pressures, and yet, she did. At least there’s a museum collection named after her.
Much of what being feminist means to me is to let every woman live life on her own terms, be it as a chief execute officer with a nanny helping to raise her children, as a stay-at-home mom who homeschools, as a professor who never wants children, or as a nun who is married to God. It is letting a woman be freed from social dictates, unbalanced roles, discrimination, or physical harm. Wear bright red lipstick. Be a cheerleader. Always wear flannel with your shaved head. Whatever. Above all, being a feminist means supporting women to reach their potential on their own terms. It is freedom for men and women, because both genders get to shed social constraints to be who they want to be. Any other of this talk trying to define who is and who isn’t a feminist is just noise.