This is What a Young Feminist Looks Like

Lots of young fems making lists today. I'm joining in! Why am I a young feminist?
  • Because I will not give up my right to choose. And yes, I do think that right is in danger.
  • Because I hate knowing how likely it is that I’ll have to choose between having a family and having a career.
  • Because, even if I choose “career” (see bullet two), I know I’ll have to work harder and make less than my male colleagues.
  • Because I do not accept that women deserve maltreatment and abuse simply because they are women.
  • Because I don’t think that birth control is a “women’s” issue or safe sex shouldn’t be encouraged.
  • Because it’s absurd to think that a woman cannot be trusted to make her own decisions.
  • Because equality has not been achieved yet. And because I'm hopeful that it can be.
  • Because there are women all over the world – who call themselves feminists, who call themselves something else, who just call themselves women or men or whatever they choose – who agree.
I’m comfortable calling myself a feminist and have been doing so for some time. But I understand the hesitation many young women have about publicizing their own feminist views by openly embracing the label. I find myself having to explain the word, over and over, to people who don't think they understand it or agree (when they probably do!). I have to justify why I feel that, yes, feminism as a movement is still important – even in 2010. I have to explain why I don’t think Sarah Palin can call herself a feminist, and why women politicians deserve criticism from their female peers – no, just because you and I share a gender does not mean that I agree with your views, and I will not support you, regardless of your gender, if I feel that you’re holding women back or taking away their choices. I’m comfortable asserting this online and (thankfully) at work. Here's the rub, and something that, in the spirit of this blog carnival, I'll admit even though I'm really not proud of it: in my personal life, I find myself keeping it quiet. "I'm Katie, and I'm a feminist" is not the first thing I'll advertise when I meet someone new. When I hear friends make sexist or misogynistic statements or jokes, I catch myself – not always, but often enough – keeping quiet instead of piping up to point out what’s wrong with what they just said. I try not to go off on long rants about sexist politicians and celebrities at parties (this, however, is not always successful) and find it easier for everyone if I keep these opinions to myself. I put a lid on the frustration I feel when my mother preaches about abstinence and judges friends of mine who are living with their boyfriends or who are pregnant. When I don’t, it can seem like I’m putting someone down or being overly sensitive or bossy. It ruins the mood. It starts arguments. It makes people uncomfortable. There are plenty of times when I don’t think I should have to start ranting away. During a movie, or when we're watching TV? There are some obviously sexist, racist, discriminatory things on the screen – often expressed shamelessly. Wouldn’t my rants just be pointing out the obvious? Everyone else has to see the same things I do, don’t they? And jokes are just jokes – surely my friends don’t actually feel this way. Surely not all women want to be objects and want to play into stereotypes and outdated, sexist, cultural norms. Surely not all men want them to. Right? Please tell me I'm right. But I'm not. And that's the hard part – that's where I'm not doing any favors for a movement I love, for a word and an idea that's changed my life like it's changed so many others. The little things count. My voice counts. And I shouldn't be afraid or ashamed to use it, even when it might not be "appropriate" or it might someone a little uncomfortable. When it brings the conversation to a dead halt. When it might make my mother nervously change the subject. What does a feminist look like? Sometimes she's passionate, opinionated and a little too quiet. So here's my Women's Equality Day resolution: to pipe up and say what I feel all the time. And I'd encourage you, young fems and everyone else struggling with this, to do the same. Seems so easy, but I'll be the first to tell you that it takes guts. Mostly lungs. Thank you, Fair and Feminist, for hosting the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival today! Check out all the posts here and join in. Photo credit: incurable_hippie via the Creative Commons License.
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  • MadamaAmbi

    Oh Katie Katie Katie–I just love you for bringing this up! What you described may be more common among younger women struggling with their feminist identity, but it’s also true of older women who are just coming into their anger and their voice. Many women online have told me that my outspokenness has given them the Courage to own their anger and to express it (I’m capitalizing Courage because I’ve been reading some Mary Daly lately). Here’s the bottom bottom bottom line: why do you need to “keep the peace?” Why is it expected that you should routinely bite your tongue when you are really outraged? Why are other people more important than you? Even your mother! Why does her opinion and her judgment get to reign while you don’t even get a vote????????????? (Clue: she won’t disown you for disagreeing with her, I promise.)

    In our world there are very powerful censors for women. My life has been lived in many cities of the U.S., where I’ve noted that men drop their opinions like a sneeze–it’s NO big deal. They feel unquestioned entitlement to say what they think and IT’S NO BIG DEAL. Even when it’s controversial, they don’t feel they have to explain if they don’t wanna! There is even no controversy over their right to be an asshole! They get to be jerks with stupid opinions and know what? They’ll still get the job or the political office or be invited to the party! Know what I’m saying gurlfriend?????? I know that you do…

    So, I tell women they can express themselves with the same goddam entitlement and then just DROP it. You do NOT have to represent the movement every time something makes you so outraged you need to call it out. Just call it out and move on if that’s enough for you. You have no obligation to teach feminism whenever some dolt wants you to–I just tell them that there are gazillions of books on the subject IN THEIR LOCAL LIBRARIES! For lazy-ass doubters, I refer them to Professor Bettina Aptheker’s famous lecture series “Introduction to Feminisms” available on DVD for the rock-bottom price of $20 (at the UC Santa Cruz bookstore and you can buy it online). Bettina is funny, warm and accessible and for a couch-potato way to learn about feminism, you can’t beat it! But here’s the truth: most people don’t wanna really understand the issues because really understanding feminism will mean that the core structure of the WORLD would have to change. People don’t like change; it’s hard-wired in our brains that we will do whatever we have to do to make the world conform to our opinions and our comfort level because humans, as a species, haven’t taught ourselves how to handle COMPLEXITY!

    Katie, my friend and fellow feminista, you will find YOUR VOICE and you will decide for yourself when and where you choose to use it. You will come into YOUR POWER as you continue to pose these questions to yourself. I admire you for grappling with them, as many, many, many women do. Here’s an anecdote for you: I was describing to a woman who neither identifies with nor disdains feminism because she doesn’t think about it at all. She told me “You’re ready to be a general in that army and most women don’t even want to go near that war.” Her comment helped me understand why I always feel SO alienated among women who have no clue and want no clue. She also suggested that feminism needs to find less demanding, less confrontational ways to include women like her. She wasn’t opposed to learning, just felt her life was difficult enough without so much confrontation. This was my sister! A woman with whom I shared my childhood! Wow, huh?

    You’re raising complex, important issues for women’s movement and one of them is that in the U.S. women think they actually have the luxury of opting in if/when it suits them. Women in places like Afghanistan, Iran, Congo (to name only a few), have no options. Their human rights are dangerously on the line. I never forget this. But that’s what drives me and you have to find for yourself how to be a feminist in a misogynist world. Who would choose this path if she didn’t have to? Well, women like you and me, who can’t ignore murderous, disastrous patriarchy. But Katie, I’ve been at this for almost 37 years! I didn’t get here without going through the same shit you’re going through! Hearing from you that the same-old same-old is still alive and well doesn’t surprise me but it sure does strengthen my resolve. Thank you for sharing this, gurlfriend. LOVE 2 U.

  • GloPan

    You go, Katie!