Well, ok, that’s not entirely true. I know who she is, and I certainly can Google her and find out everything I don’t know. But I don’t know about her the way that so many other women do, women who really understand the feminist movement and have been doing so much important, admirable work.
I don’t know the feminist movement personally, but I want to.
I consider myself a feminist, yes, but what does that mean to me? I care about women’s issues, and there are so many to care about! I care about what happens to women and girls, all over the world, I care about what will happen to my future daughters and what happens to my friends, and I want people to hear about it. When I asked my mom what it meant to her, someone born in the ’50s, she talked about bra burnings and said something about the ’70s, and added, "But it’s really not that important anymore, I guess."
In 2003, Bush passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. As an editor on my high school newspaper that year, I designed and wrote a two-page feature section on partial-birth abortion. I was upset and angry that something like this could happen, even at 16 years old, and I and my journalism teacher knew that we needed to talk about it. But after news of what I was doing spread, I spent two weeks fighting my school’s principals just to get it published.
I attended the March for Women’s Lives the following year, and I took my mom with me.
That same year I entered college to pursuing an English/Cultural Studies degree, and I added a couple of Women’s Studies classes on a lark (Feminism in Islamic Literature, Women’s Studies 101, Women Who Kill — about female criminals through history. Yep, as fascinating as it sounds). Not only did they add credits to my degree and interest me on a personal level (I am a woman; this class will be about women; I should take this class), but the other students were from many different backgrounds, and we all brought incredible perspective to discussions two or three times a week. I went to one of the most diverse high schools and universities in the country, by the way, so, really, I got that in all of my classes.
However, although I felt I was a feminist, I saw the classes more as "study." Which was fine — I had so much to learn. But lessons about self-identity and -awareness echoed my Psych classes than anything else. Learning about sexism wasn’t a real shocker; if it hadn’t been obvious up to that point, then clearly you hadn’t been paying attention. But I never learned what anyone should do about it, so I walked away when class ended worried more about my thesis paper than issues of sexism, discrimination and calls to action. Something was missing, but I was too young and inexperienced to pinpoint exactly what it was. So, unfortunately, I walked away from it.
But I couldn’t stay away. I had studied storytelling for four years. Looking back, what was really fascinating and empowering for me was seeing these women express themselves so openly. They didn’t feel like they had to hold back or edit themselves; they just let it out. But as we discussed and debated so passionately in that "safe space" of our classroom, I wondered if any of us truly felt safe doing the same thing outside of those walls. Campus was a bubble; everyone wandered around pondering things and telling each other about those things, but it was mostly a commuter-school. Many of us (myself included) drove away from it at the end of the day, back to reality (job, family, responsibility) and away from grandiose ideas and theories. How many of my friends in these Women’s Studies classes kept speaking up when they left the building? Did we still feel so empowered and honest when we went home?
The Internet, I realize now, is helping these young women keep it going even when they drive away from the safety of academia. For me, this is about communication and empowerment, two concepts that are solidly linked. Screw the "safe space." There shouldn’t have to be a dedicated space and time when you can allow yourself to share your opinion and feel passionate about something — it should be whenever and wherever you want. I read plenty of blogs, websites and articles written by women who are compelling, informative and proud, and these voices get louder by the day. Working on this conference, I’m meeting women who have been participating in this conversation for years and who are just starting out, who want to cross generational divides and learn from each other, who want to make friends and want to take action — just like I did back in college.
This is powerful and important, and I’m proud to say that I finally, truly, get it. Feminism, it’s nice to meet you.