I was not born a feminist. I was not even raised a feminist. I did not become a feminist by proxy in my tender early college years. It took me a while to learn what feminism was. Now that I know, I embrace it.
Stage One – Ignorance
…Is not actually bliss.
Freshman year of college was rough because of: distance from home, demographic transition, half-hearted emergence from my timid shell in an effort to make friends. It was also rough because I was a journalism major, but had never written what could be called an article. My first was for “The Maneater,” a campus publication at Mizzou. When I got a column for “Move,” its accompanying magazine, I was thrilled.
The column’s angle was “a fresh take on classic literature.” I’d take one of my favorite books from high school English lit—“The Picture of Dorian Grey” or “The Great Gatsby,”—and compare it to college life. Dorian joined a fraternity. Gatsby’s parties went 21st century.
My first disastrous failure was a column about “Jane Eyre.” The subtitle was “Prude and proud.” (Looking back I am not, in fact, proud. It literally pained me to copy and paste the link. The things we do in the name of transparency.) In the column, I talk at length about hemlines and heels. The post was meant to suggest that more conservative women could still capture and hold the attention of men.
(Full disclosure: I had a major crush on a fraternity man at the time. He preferred the flocks of decked-out freshman that swarmed his house every weekend to me. I was jealous. I don’t think he even read the column.)
When the column was published, “Move” was flooded with negative feedback. I was attacked and so was my editor (sorry about that, Brandon). The consensus was that I was a female-hating slut-shamer. Me? I didn’t even know what slut shaming was.
I didn’t bother to find out, either. I tried to shut it out. Instead of educating myself, I retreated as far from the issue as possible.
Stage Two – Education
I can’t remember where I first heard about feminism. At the time the article came out, I had only just followed Jezebel on twitter. I think it must have been my friend Hanna Jacunski who first introduced me to the concept of feminism—its basic principles via assertions that women should be proud of their bodies, that there’s no such thing as a slut, that inequality is inherent in the system. These concepts made sense to me.
Then came Kari Paul. She was another of my first editors, and I thought she was the coolest. I followed her on twitter too, and started reading the articles she tweeted. I guess twitter was instrumental to my education.
I met Hilary Weaver shortly afterward—another feminist role model. She invited me to Mizzou’s Vagina Monologues, and I learned about the struggles of women and the battles we (and our bodies) encounter every day.
Along the way I read stats, learned about Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s street art project, and about artists such as Judy Chicago and Frida Kahlo in art history class. I formed my own ideas about street harassment when it happened to me for the first time. I took my first gender studies class abroad, and learned about the skewed representation of women in media.
I met Alicia Tan, Celia Ampel and Mary Kay Blakely. I read this article about motherhood, and this article about the term ‘feminism,’ and this one about abortion clinics closing in Texas. I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s entire TED Talk when that one Beyoncé song came out. As I got older, women’s issues became real to me; this is our lives they’re talking about.
By the time I registered for the Women’s Leadership Conference at Mizzou, I was educated enough to contribute to discussions. Subjects such as the wage gap and sexual harassment at work were talked about openly, and so were their possible solutions. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow were guest speakers there. Afterward, I spent hours online creeping their work.
I was inspired. The conference was my shining moment of realization—my pivotal point. My climax.
Stage Three – Transformation
Now, I am a feminist.
A few months ago, shortly before my college graduation, I looked up the “Jane Eyre” article. I read it and cringed. God. I can’t believe I wrote that.
But I’m living proof that the difference between damaging ignorance and productive activism is education.
Yesterday, I got a call from my friend Katie*, who’s an intern at a consulting firm. A few weeks ago, she missed a deadline. She’d agreed to go to a fellow intern’s house for dinner. She worked in her hotel room until it was time to leave, popped over to the friend’s house for a quick bite, and was back at her computer two hours later, but the next day her report was late.
Her manager called her into his office to express his displeasure that she’d chosen to “hang out with her friend, go on a shopping spree and have a sleepover” instead of getting shit done. He falsely assumed, based on his internalized female stereotypes, that she’d wasted the entire evening gossiping and chirping with another woman.
He could use some education.
On 4th of July weekend, I floated the Guadalupe River with some friends. My dear friend Megan* worried out loud that her swimsuit was “too slutty.” I told her that ‘slutty’ was a term coined by men to make women uncomfortable with their sexuality. Nothing was ‘slutty,’ and the only thing that mattered about her suit was whether or not she felt good in it.
The guys with us looked bemused. “Wait,” they said, “there’s no such thing as a slut?” No, I told them. They gaped. I laughed.
They could use some education.
Plenty of people start where I did freshman year. Plenty of people are ignorant. I hope there are too many resources out in The Universe for them to remain so for long.
‘Cause we should probably all be feminists.
*Names have been changed