F is for Feminist
I believe that some of the young women who did not, and still may not, like the word Feminist have started to understand why Later Born Baby Boomers as well as women of the preceding generations still use the word. This makes me sad.
Words that end with isms and ists are usually not the best of words because part of their very nature is the lumping of people together under rubrics that organize people without necessarily serving any positive purpose. I understand this. I actually made this little texture several years ago for use in Second Life®. It is a concept I’ve kicked around for a while.
But I also understand why feminist isn’t an F word.
Allow me to share a some of my background so you will, perhaps, understand why I developed a pro-woman, feminist attitude by early adulthood. I grew up in turbulent mid-20th Century America. Some people look back on the time period through a sugar-coated lens but life was difficult for girls and women back then. I do not consider myself old, but I remember some ghastly discriminatory acts to which I was subjected and even more ghastly acts that such discrimination supported.
I was told by Mrs. Fleck, my Fourth Grade teacher, after I wrote a “What do you want to be when you grow up?” essay that outlined my plans to be an anthropologist, that women did not do things like that, but that maybe I could be a secretary for or an assistant to an anthropologist.
In first grade I remember another girl being admonished for continuing to wear the pants she had worn on the way to school under her skirt after her arrival at the school building. It was early in the morning, before 8 a.m. and the extremely cold day in which the temperature was well below freezing, probably near zero, had not even completely dawned. I remember looking out to the still dark play yard through frost covered windows as this admonishment was happening and thinking that the whole situation was stupid.
Until I was in Junior High we were not allowed to wear pants or shorts while school was in session. I remember the outrage we girls felt when one of our cohort, a girl named Terry if I remember correctly, had the back of her shorts grabbed and tugged on by the male principal supposedly to send her a message that her shorts were too short. We knew it was perversion plain and simple that would allow a principal to touch a 12 year old girl’s butt. It troubled me but at the time I did not understand why. I think this was the first time I was presented with the “if you dress like that you are an immoral girl and deserve whatever you get” attitude.
I was raped a couple years after that, and I told no one as by that time I had fully internalized the cultural norm that it was my fault and no one decent would ever want me again. My behavior changed and I couldn’t understand why no one had told me about all the bad things that could happen. Keeping girls away from information they need in order to understand the world was pretty much a normal thing back then. The guy who raped me told me that I was tied to him because of the act and for a short while I believed it and continued to see him because I thought I had to. My high school boyfriend figured out what had happened, sort of, and long story short, he dumped me, although he made it clear we could still see each other for sex if I wanted. The last two years of High School were very, very lonely.
At the Dairy Queen I remember being verbally assaulted loudly and quite publicly by a real jackass in my class who suggested sitting on his face and other vulgar comments. There were adults in the place but I suppose they had the “boys will be boys” attitude. My high school boyfriend was with me and he did not come to my defense. I think it was right then and there that I knew I was truly on my own from then on out.
I shunned group activities and public events from then on. By the end of that school year I had developed severe depression, was having suicidal thoughts, and was hospitalized in the psych ward. Fortunately for me the staff there was smart enough to know there was nothing more than situational problems with me and I was smart enough to know that I didn’t want to go any further down that route.
Though I withdrew and just focused on my studies for the next two years in High School, I was well on my way to what was then referred to female neurotic behavior partially because of the further misdirection I received from a counselor I visited for the next two years. I was seduced by him within a couple of weeks of my turning 18 and graduating from High School. Before that he had been setting the stage for it, but carefully kept himself out of legal trouble. The slime ball was smart enough not to physically get involved until after I was an “adult.”
The one friendly bit of advice I got from a male high school teacher was when he asked me why I wasn’t taking Typing II. I would “need it when I went out in the world to get a job,” he told me. I had enough typing to write letters and use a keyboard. I knew right then and there that the world was going to try to screw me in other ways when I went out into the world than it already had.
For the next fifteen years I was shy and not very outgoing sticking with my studies and pink collar ghetto jobs. I never made more than $12,000 a year until I was in my mid-thirties. I should have interviewed for career track positions when I graduated from college in 1979, but I did not even know that it was an option and no one in my college at the university thought to tell me that. Information that would have led to equitable opportunities was still very hard to get if you did not know what it was you did not know.
I was an intellectual, socially shy, liberal feminist in the 1980s and 1990s, but not one to make a fuss about much. I boycotted things and wrote letters, but that was the extent of it. I seemed stronger to others than I actually felt that I was. But by the time my own daughter was beginning to interact in the world, I became an activist because I realized that I was the person I had been waiting for to make the world a better place for future generations.
I was ignorant as a young woman and that uninformed path I walked took to me to some very unfortunate places. I raised my daughter to be as capable and informed as I could and I became an activist and a public feminist because I wanted her to have me as a role model, even if she did not like to use the word feminist and really did not understand what the women’s movement was all about. I was glad she just went out and did what she needed to do without having to label herself or others. I am not so glad that idiot throw backs to past century are trying to bring back male rule through an escalation on the war on women that is not really a new thing but simply a surprise attack in an ages old battle by some men to keep women under their control through cultural manipulation of what had recently, in the historical sense the 1960s and 1970s is only yesterday, been a major biological breakthrough for women being able to better plan their lives so as to sensibly space children if they chose to have them.
I went to D.C. for the March for Women’s lives in April of 2004. I didn’t think I would HAVE to return for the very same march so soon. I will be there this September. Come join me. This time let’s try for 2 million women!!!
Feminism is not a word that has to be shortened to a single letter. Such shortening is simply society’s way of drawing attention away from the concept behind a word by drawing attention to the word itself. Don’t fall for it.
sandra Tyler says
You’re a trully strong individual. I don’t know how you survived such abuse so young. And even by your counselor? How sick is that? Your daughter should be very proud of her mom.
Thank you. I am stubborn. I think that stubbornness is what allowed me to survive to an age that allows me to be strong.
That was an amazing and I am sure, difficult story to tell. You did it very well. I am impressed with the woman you have become and repulsed by the men who tried to break you.
Difficult? Somewhat. I’ve been through so much in my lifetime, both good and bad, that I feel I have to share what I have learned. Without that I would be a selfish blob of self pity writhing on the floor like some misplaced jello. But than you for noticing my efforts. I think life is to share! If I survived, many others can also.
You endured a lot of adversity and I’m sure this has made you a very strong woman. I’m glad you shared this with us…perhaps others will understand why you’ve embraced feminism and why it isn’t the “f” word.
I’m sorry you went through so much. I hope I’m raising my daughter to be kind, compassionate to others and “one tough cookie.” Thanks for sharing!
Deb Studebaker says
EXCELLENT article Nancy!! As I read this, I had flashbacks of so much of the same things ~ it was uncanny. You and your daughters should be very proud of the contributions you are making with the passion that you invest in making this world a better place for women!!! I will strive to do the same, as will my daughters ~ hopefully if we can get enough involved WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE;0)
Thank you Deb! Your support means more than you can know! We are only alone in silence. Your daughters are lucky to have you as a mom! Our adversity becomes their strength.
Thank you for sharing such a powerful and personal post. You are truly amazing and strong and such a role model for girls and ladies alike. I hope I never forget the struggles of the women in the past who made it possible for me to have the life I have now, and the ones who will continue to fight our our future. Thank you.
Winnie and Everyone. Check out yesterday’s post (Sunday April 8th) http://reasoncreek.com/2012/04/08/freedomwriting/ for my thank you to all of you for your support and encouragement! I hope you will join with us on April 28th and again in September to celebrate the free and powerful women we are.