Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The F-Word

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.    

Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieWe Should All Be Feminists


The other day, I posted on my personal Facebook page a list of the books I had purchased in the last week. Even for a bibliophile, purchasing thirty books in a week was a new low high. Topics ranged from fascism, to discerning propaganda, to racial issues, and to feminism.  

Yes, friends, we're going to talk about the F-word.

I'll be the first to tell you that I got lucky meeting my fiance Rob. I love him for a lot of reasons, but one specific reason is that he is pretty egalitarian. He's not intimidated by my intelligence. He doesn't expect me to cook and clean solely because of my sex. He pushes me to achieve, and he celebrates when I succeed. He doesn't refer to women as "bitches" in casual conversation. (Yes, that actually happened in another relationship - no, I didn't dump the offender right away because I was stupid). Rob views me as an equal whether we are butting heads over Jeopardy or something more substantive to debate.

Despite his character, there are fundamental differences in how we view the world. I didn't realize until this year's election that, for all his sterling qualities - he just didn't see it.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. 
- Rebecca West 

I apologize for the tangent here, but there is one thing you must understand about me - I came out of the womb fighting. I burned at perceived injustice and always wanted to fight for what I believed was right. Some would say that I must have been taught this, but my parents are ordinary people. My father is a typical moderate conservative; he is the type of Republican who couldn't stomach voting for Bush a second time. My mother is a moderate liberal; her beloved brother was out and proud, and she would be the first to tell you she "didn't see race."  Neither talked much about politics at home. I couldn't even tell you who they voted for in most presidential elections. Political activism wasn't even on the radar in my home.

When I was five, my grandfather drove us through a very nice neighborhood he was working to develop. The adults admired the houses. All I saw were the numerous trees that had been cut down. I was horrified and immediately started a petition at my preschool the next day that my grandfather replant every tree that had been cut down. I spoke to every parent coming in and our of the building, begging them to sign. I proudly served that construction paper and crayon petition to my grandfather, certain that he would do what was right. 

My petition the next week that he should give some of these houses on the golf course to the homeless didn't go over so well at the school.

Some might argue that perhaps it was a teacher, or a television show that molded my character, if it wasn't my parents. The idea is that children cannot inherently be activists. But as far as I know, neither my preschool nor Mr. Rogers turned out a tiny marching band of environmental socialists. It was just me.


I wish I could say that I retained that sense of purpose as I grew. But although I fumed and even ranted to a few close friends, I did nothing.

Part of it was naivety. Part of it was apathy. Part of it was ignoring my own privilege. Part of it was wanting to be liked. 

I was labeled a bitch anyway. Why did I care so much about being liked?

Source: Wicked Clothes

When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch.
- Betty Davis

And then Donald Trump ran for President of the United States.

We had a man running for the highest office of our country explicitly speak about sexually assaulting women - and he won.

Although there are plenty of my friends and family who will laugh at the idea that I've been silent as they have had to suffer through my rants, it took a misogynistic autocrat to force me to reexamine myself. And I don't like what I see. I began life with promise and a desire to fight for those who were less fortunate than myself. And somewhere along the way, I lost that. I am complicit in the state of things today. Sure, I voted for Hillary - but that wasn't enough. I should have spoken up long ago before things got to this point. I should have protested. I should have volunteered more. I should have donated more. I wasted years of my life being absorbed in my own privilege.

A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.
- Gloria Steinem

Which leads me back to Rob. I love him, even though I disagree with him nine times out of ten when we have a political discussion. He's more conservative than I am - most people are. But it broke my heart a little when he couldn't see things the way I did. 

Enter books.

Rob has agreed to read whatever books I set before him so that we can discuss and debate. A selfish part of me wants him to read these books and think what I think. The realistic part of me knows that probably won't be the case. But if I can open his eyes, just a little bit, to issues I find important - I'll consider that a win.

We're starting with feminism, because where else could we start? I was a feminist before I was any other type of -ist, when I boldly told the neighbor boy I could do anything just as good as him. (Provided it didn't involve crossing the street, as I was only four).

Source: Amazon

Please join us this week as we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists. I'll be asking Rob how he personally defines feminism, as well as sharing my own beliefs. I'd love to hear your own definitions in the comments below, and I hope you join me on this journey. The best way to combat the evils in this world is through education. I truly believe that.

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