Several posts on feminism at The Outlier Collective convinced me to finish this essay, which I started a year ago and never found the footing for – it’s a tough subject and one that I haven’t fully resolved for myself.
I stay current with feminist issues and have, for much of my adult life, believed that I’m a feminist. I am a white, middle-aged, middle class mid-western woman with a four year college degree. I am a veteran of the US Army. I am the parent of a daughter. I come from a long line of hard working, sometimes abused and economically bereft women. While I grew up with domestic violence, witnessing and experiencing physical and emotional abuse, I have never been sexually assaulted or raped. I have experienced gender discrimination and workplace sexual harassment, but I’ve rarely, as an adult, felt powerless to change my circumstances.
I write down all these facts – my “street cred”- because I’ve come to feel defensive about definitions of feminism put forward by both proponents and antagonists. I’ve stopped calling myself a lot of things, because labels are limiting – not just in one’s thinking, but also in one’s ability to have conversations with other people. I have called myself a feminist, politically independent, a secular humanist and a myriad of simplistic and ultimately restrictive labels. I am none and all of those things, depending on the membership requirements. I am as middle-of-the-road as they come.
Not being much of a rabble-rouser, protester, fierce advocate of the masses, petitioner or community organizer, I tend to shy away from collective causes. Groups exhaust me. Meetings inspire narcolepsy. Shouting and fierce arguing repels me. I am, by nature, an introvert and I tend to counter passion with rationality. Dogma, theism, polarization or fundamentalism of any ilk makes me avert my eyes and walk away muttering swear words under my breath. If one could protest passive-aggressively, I’d be the poster child.
When I look at my personal history of feminism, it’s been a long and uneven road. I was the first woman in my family to serve in the military and get a 4 year degree. I have, through much struggle, broken the generational cycle of bad marriages, addictions, violent husbands and abused children. Financially, I don’t live in fear from paycheck to paycheck. I work hard, I don’t expect to be taken care of, I am assertive and I don’t hesitate to call bullshit when I see it. If I stay silent, it’s because I’m giving myself time to think before speaking. If I shout, it’s because someone is causing direct and immediate harm to themselves or others.
On the flip side, I have tortured myself with body image insecurity. I have stayed too long in denigrating friendships and relationships. I find it hard to respect women who obsess over appearance or men. I find men who hate women dim and irritating. A few feminists strike me as shrill harridans and some misogynists make me laugh. I don’t wear womanhood as a badge of honor or find the cult of motherhood to be any more meaningful than a biological happenstance. I’m pretty sure all of these things or just a few would knock me out of the club.
I don’t understand sexism or racism or any -ism that serves to separate humans into us and them based on biological roulette. It seems illogical and irrational and ignorant, so while I can recognize and acknowledge that it occurs, I don’t “get it”. That it still occurs so rampantly is puzzling to me. Unfortunately answering everything with “well, that’s just a whole lot of stupid there” doesn’t serve as a cogent argument.
I do understand why people are passionate and angry and fierce about defending the helpless, the hungry, the abused. For me, though, the battle had to start with the personal – overcoming self-destruction, turning away from toxicity and raising my daughter to be an amazing, self-assured human being.
I am trying to do right in the world without sacrificing my hard won gains. Is it enough? Am I doing enough for feminism? My mediocrity, lack of traumatic experiences related to gender and my inability to shout passionately at the world makes me doubt my veracity as a feminist. Some feminists make it clear that I might not be of their ilk.
I believe, though, that there are many women, like myself, who believe they are feminists simply by doing, by fighting their daily, local battles. Some of us turn the tide of generational family history. Some of us blunder through life, ignoring cultural and familial messages, just doing what we need to do to be decent human beings. Surely there is room on the landscape for some of us to be feminism.