Feminist. Am I one? Yes, but I wasn't sure for a while. I'd hear the word and make about a hundred different associations, some good, some bad, all contradicting each other. Some women championing the cause were brilliant and strong, and had beautiful ideas. Others sounded whiny and entitled, or seemed to undermine the very thing they were supposedly standing for. You know, the women who get mad when men open doors for them- like, obvs you can open a door on your own, I get that. If the man doesn't get that, he's the one who looks like a weakling (in the brain), not you. If he is a sane human being he probably opened the door as a gesture of respect. Isn't respect what this movement is about?
Equality. What does that mean? I hear it used interchangeably with "sameness." Women want the same educational opportunities, the same wages for the same work. I'm getting my Ph.D and hope it will lead to a fulfilling career, so I want those things, too. But do I really think equal means "the same?" If we are already equal, why do we have to become more alike to prove it? Am I not a feminist if I still like lace dresses and baking cookies?! Do women have to take on "men's" work or characteristics in order to gain equality? No. I don't think equality means sameness, because I don't think we need to change the way we dress or the things we like to become equal. This is not to say that all women should be required to wear pink and bear children, just to say that some of them want to. Real feminism should represent all females, and I think turning feminism into an effort to erase differences between men and women is exclusive and harmful. Differences make people interesting. Differences should be seen as part of our worth and equality, something that adds to it, not something that stands in the way. Feminism is called "feminism" and not "humanism" because womanhood is something meaningful, something distinct from manhood, something equal to it but certainly different. And that difference should be defended, not attacked. Feminism needs to be about establishing some of the same rights for women that men have, but it can't end there. It needs to spark a respect for that which is uniquely feminine. I'll come back to that. If you disagree and think there are no real differences between men and women aside from anatomy and "culturally enforced stereotypes," fine, but please find a new name for your movement as the current one is not accurate. Thank you.
Reliance. I'm 19 and super happy and I've never had a boyfriend. I definitely wouldn't say I, (or any women) "need a man." But I do need men. And I believe men need women. Emma Watson said "It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals" I think the best part of that quote is the last part. I'm tired of the boys vs. girls mentality. We shouldn't be opposing each other. Instead, we should be complimentary to one another. I have many beautiful, uniquely womanly qualities like instincts to nurture, to be compassionate and gentle, to be creative. I struggle to be brave, assertive, or professional. I understand that not every woman or man has the "stereotypical" personality and there have been a lot of efforts to raise awareness and acceptance of that. In one sense that's great because I think it's important to look at everyone as an individual rather than as a stereotype. I don't think it's bad to be atypical when it comes to qualities that are traditionally masculine or feminine. But I think it's important to remember that men and women do need each other, because we all need a balance between characteristics that are "masculine" and characteristics that are "feminine." For me, my dad and some of my close guy friends have been that balance. They've shown me how to have courage, how to stay grounded when I'm too paranoid, how to laugh at myself. Sure, you could say that doing away with gender roles completely could achieve this balance instead. But it would do so on an independent level. Maybe we'd believe we could be whoever we want to be instead of feeling limited. But I think we'd also try to believe we could complete ourselves on our own. I think it's more beautiful to keep the idea of relying on one another, of being halves of the whole that is humanity and helping each other to be the best versions of ourselves. At some point we all experience the temptation to isolate ourselves, to proudly act like we can do life alone. Instead, we need to stand together and create meaningful relationships where we can help each other grow.
Respect. Unfortunately, there are so many points of contention between us as men and women right now that make trusting and relying on each other challenging. There's certainly a shortage of respect for women in the world today. There are terrible crimes like rape and trafficking where women are victimized. There are advertisements everywhere in which they are objectified for the consumerist pleasure of others, or distorted to cause insecurity so they'll buy unnecessary products in pursuit of "beauty" and "perfection." These lies affect men, too, and make it harder for them to appreciate true beauty, distracting them with a pitiful, overly sexualized substitute. This hurts everyone, women and men alike. All of us are better than that, and all of us suffer when we settle for less than the truth and respect we desire. I support with my whole heart the movement to stop this. I believe every woman is precious, regardless of her size, regardless of whether she's wearing a bikini, "boy's clothes," or a burqa. I simply hope that she is viewed with real love wherever she goes, and feels she can respect herself. Love and respect should transcend outward appearances and go beyond sexual value. Every woman, every person is a whole human being, a body and a soul, and should be seen and treated as such by others and themselves.
Reluctance. So...why was I reluctant to call myself a feminist? I think I've explained some of my slightly unusual views above, views that made me feel I didn't fit in with the movement. In the end, these views simply convinced me that the feminist movement needs me. It needs the vision I have for not just accepting it, but changing it- hopefully for the better. The world needs my perspective. It needs every woman's perspective or else it will be incomplete. I can not accept the feminist movement as it is now because it does not value all these perspectives. I had to hesitate, think through all of this, and refuse to just jump on the bandwagon because the average radical feminist would view one of the women I love, admire, and respect most as a failure. My mother never had an impressive career. During college she fell in love with my dad. If she had gone the typical "feminist" route she would have waited till she had finished college and established herself professionally to have children. And then her oldest daughter, Sarah Miller, would never have been born. Me. I wouldn't be here to write this. As it was, I got so very lucky. She struggled through the last couple years of school while raising (and breastfeeding!) a fussy baby. And then, after obtaining her degree, she became a stay-at-home mom. Some consider that unremarkable. Some think her opposition to the birth control that so many feminists fight for is appalling. Me? I honestly have to thank her for it. I think that she, now the mother of four daughters, could not have done anything more feminist than to raise me and my sisters to be not only beautiful but intelligent, compassionate, and strong. I want to see a feminist movement that will see her sacrifice for what it is: not a waste, but a wonder. I want a feminism that will love every woman, even the unconventional ones.