How Feminism Took Over My Life

I often joke that feminism was the side interest that became the hobby that took over my life.  I laugh when I say it, but it’s true.  And this is the story of why it turned out that way-~and why it absolutely had to.

I think I always identified as a feminist, because my mother did.  She raised me to believe that I should always be able to support myself, focused on my abilities and intelligence as opposed to my looks, and was staunchly pro-choice.  My mother is a different brand of feminist than I am, a feminist of a different branch and a different generation.  A different wave of feminism.

Freshman me, along with Sarah P., who attended "Gender, Disney and Pie" with me.

Freshman me, along with Sarah P., who attended “Gender, Disney and Pie” with me.

My point is that I of course always believed that women should be equal.  I have always been pro-choice, have always been outraged by the gap in pay that exists along gendered lines, and have been attuned to differences in expectations regarding careers and housework for women.  It was enough to make me a surface level feminist-~I accepted that equality was an issue.  I just didn’t really understand what I w

as dealing with, because when I was younger, I saw feminism as a couple of distinct issues, but that was it.

Then, my RA my freshman year was a communications major focusing on race, gender and the media.  As he said, that was code for never getting a job (he works at NPR now, in case anyone is curious).  He held a floor event called “Gender, Disney Movies and Pie”.  A bunch of us showed up, though I guess some people were mostly there for the pie.  For me, though, this changed everything.  Part of it was timing: I was currently in my first ever sociology class-~-a class that would go on to change which degree I earned and change the way in which I approached my career and my interests-~with a reasonably feminist professor studying issues related to female sexuality.  Part of it was a pre-existing interest.  But during this event, my RA explained the Bechdel test to us, and talked about the four Disney movies that gender scholars consider to be positive portrayals of women.  He pointed out different clips and the ways in which women are portrayed in Disney films.  And there was pie.

The thing is, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  And at the same time, I had started studying heteronormativity and gender issues in international context for a research paper.  Over the course of spring of my freshman year of college, I absorbed a large amount of information about gender and sexuality issues.  I worked with a TA who was focused on studying those issues herself.  I talked to my sociology professor about the government almost shutting down over Planned Parenthood.  I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  And I was hooked.  

From there, I started this blog (which turned two years old just a couple of weeks ago).  I read The Means of Reproduction.  I started researching birth control and women’s empowerment and women’s issues in the developing world, and prepared to go abroad.  I’m not going to lie: this entire transformation occurred over the course of 2011, gaining momentum as I studied it more and more, started attending events, researched things for this blog, and became more involved.  By the time I left for Kenya, I’m pretty sure that gender studies and feminism had become a central part of my academic life, and was becoming important to my activism.

By the time I got back, I was That Feminist Chick.  I was known for it.  I became a certified Rape Crisis Counselor, volunteered at SlutWalk, joined my school’s Students for Choice group, and started to run my debate league’s Women’s Initiative.  And that’s where I am now, but that chronology doesn’t really give you a full picture of what happened.

What REALLY happened was this: learning about the Bechdel test and studying gender and sexuality in social context unlocked the

This photo was taken at the Unite Against the War on Women Rally in DC, a week after I returned from Kenya.  With Abbe R. (left)

This photo was taken at the Unite Against the War on Women Rally in DC, a week after I returned from Kenya. With Abbe R. (left)

floodgates of my realizing just how socially constructed our identities are and just how much outside structures (such as the media) keep us in these patterns.  When I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter, I suddenly woke up to how young women are taught to be young women and how incredibly problematic that socialization process was.

For me, it was like I had taken the red pill from the Matrix.  I was furious about everything, because I was suddenly awake and able to see the socially constructed reality in which I had been living.  I was able to see the pain that people were in because of these social structures-~friends were coming forward talking about their sexual assaults; I was suddenly able to recognize instances of my own internalized misogyny; I was able to see the connections between Patriarchy and the oppression of same-sex couples, when I had spent years working with Day of Silence; I was suddenly aware of how incredibly problematic elements of our culture were, and how much I wanted to see things change.

The thing about feminism is that it’s not just an abstract philosophy.  It’s not just a thing I like reading about.  It’s not just a job I go to during the day.  It’s a way of thinking about the world.  It’s a way of analyzing and interpreting social phenomena.  It’s fascinating, yes, but it’s also frustrating.  It becomes the lens through which you see things.  And for me, that’s exactly what happened.

In her novel The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd writes that “Once you know the truth, you can never go back and pick up your suitcase of lies”.  (Folks, I’ve literally been holding onto that since my sophomore year of high school).  And it’s true.  So once I was able to start seeing what the social system in which we lived was doing to people-~once I could see the ways in which women have been discussed and the ways in which we have been treated-~I couldn’t unsee it.  I couldn’t go back to believing things were okay, so I did the only logical thing left: I just embraced feminism for all it’s worth.

Feminism may be the side interest that became the hobby that took over my life, but at the end of the day, the truth is this: I’d rather be angry about what I see than be blind to what’s going on.  And if I could go back, it’s just about the only thing I’m sure I’d do all over again.

This post goes out to Dan R., the RA who originally taught me about the Bechdel test.  You could never have known where I would end up because of that day, but I’m so grateful. 

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~ by Randi Saunders on July 19, 2013.

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