feminist: especially on the hard days

I am having a tough time this week. 

Being a feminist. 

It hit me especially hard on this day. December 6th.

Twenty-six years ago today a man walked into a classroom at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and murdered 14 women and wounded 14 others. Before he started shooting he uttered the words, "I hate feminists!"

#december6.jpg

 

I was 17 years old at the time. Super self-involved with my own life, my on-again-off-again boyfriend, and sneaking into bars on the weekends with my fake ID. I am sure I watched the news that night and knew what had happened, but I can guarantee that at that moment in my life, this was just something that happened on the other side of the country and it didn't affect my little world. 

Two years later and in University, the reality of violence against women, of needing someone to "Safe-Walk" me to the bus stop after a late night class or lab, of a few too many dates gone wrong (read - most likely date rape, but no one told me I could say no , or wasn't at fault because I was drunk, and I mean, I did invite them in, right?), sunk in. 

And so you learn. You learn to not make too much of a fuss, to not take up too much space, to not make too much eye contact, to walk with your keys between your fingers-always at the ready. You learn to not drink too much or to make sure you have a wing-women willing to pull you out of a bad situation about to get worse. You learn to laugh at the jokes, even when they are always at your gender's or your expense, you learn to play the game to get ahead, according to the rules established by the good ol' boy's club. You learn that all those catcalls from strangers are compliments and you should feel good that "You've still got it." You learn that feminist is a bad word and you don't want to be one of those militant, butchy, angry women. You learn to subvert all your power, your opinions are cushioned with softness, and you learn to say I'm sorry, a lot. You learn all of this from the culture around you and you inadvertently get a fucking PhD in misogyny. 

Fast forward to today and you are remembering that 14 women were killed because they wanted to be engineers. Because they were women. Because they were women in a {then} predominately male-dominated field of study. Because they were feminists. 

And in a #ThisIs40ish survey in this month's Chatelaine magazine, 68% of the women surveyed, when asked if they are feminists, said NO. 

I am not going to lie, I have a stomach-churning, jaw-clenching, utterly visceral response when people tell me they are not feminists. It makes me angry. And watching this video made my blood pressure skyrocket. I am a middle of the road feminist? I am a closeted feminist? I am in no way a feminist? I don't believe in labels? WOMEN, PLEASE!!!

Do you know what I hear when I hear women say these things? I hear all those 'how to be a nice girl' lessons we learn growing up. Don't rock the boat, don't take up too much space, don't choose a side, don't offend anyone, don't speak too loudly, don't "lean in" too far. I hear women spewing the rhetoric of decades of patriarchal media and messages that like to keep those of us of "the fairer sex" in the nice little boxes they've constructed for us. I hear victim-blaming, I hear apologies for being women and having opinions of our own.

Chatelaine says that Feminism has a "branding" problem, and while I won't completely disagree with this, I will disagree with who has been in charge of the branding. When women say they aren't feminists or can't seem to identify with that word, all I want to do is ask them what being a feminist means to them, with full knowledge they are going to bring up the radical image of a bra-burning, man-hating, no make-up-wearing, she-devil. And then I want to ask them where they think they got this idea from? Who told them that this is what feminism is? Who controls the images we see, the articles we read, the news we consume?

WHO BENEFITS WHEN WOMEN REFUTE FEMINISM?

It sure as hell is not women. When you constantly get side-tracked into a semantic discussion about the "bad PR" of the word, and not the movement of feminism and the fight for equality itself, you are succumbing to the greatest trick the patriarchy ever pulled, convincing women that we are each other's worst enemies

We live in a world where the wage gap between men and women still exists. Where women's access to health care and their rights to bodily autonomy are being stripped away daily. Where women are threatened with death and rape for having opinions about video games. Where hundreds of girls can be kidnapped, sold into forced marriages and raped, all for wanting to get an education. Where a judge will ask a teenage rape victim why she couldn't just kept her knees together. Where 14 women are killed BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN. Where more than 40 women will come forward to bravely tell the world about the most horrifying thing that has ever happened to them, perpetrated by someone we all thought was one of the good guys, and people with say that they are "bitches" and "unrapeable". Where we still hear the tired line, "boys will be boys", and if he is 5 years old and he hits you, he must REALLY like you, and if he is 35 years old and he hits you, you'd better have solid proof before we'll believe you or help you.

I have one question for all women who don't want to identify as feminist because they think that doing so means they will be seen as some kind of angry radical.

WHY THE FUCK AREN'T YOU ANGRY YET???

What is it going to take to get you to see the validity and the necessity of embracing feminism, both the word and the movement? What is your tipping point? How close to home does something have to hit before you're ready to say ENOUGH? I firmly believe that positive change can't and won't happen without a little righteous anger spurring it on. I want more women to get angry and demand better, first of themselves, and then from everyone around them. 

Roxane Gay says it best and most succinctly in the last few lines of her book, Bad Feminist (one I highly recommend everyone read),

No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman. I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

Me too Roxane, me too.

Especially on the hard days.

N~

 

In Sweden, a new campaign is underway to give every 16-year old in the country a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book "We Should all be Feminists". A brilliant little book and adaptation of her 2013 TEDx talk of the same name. 

In the spirit of giving and of getting more women to embrace feminism, I have purchased 3 copies of the book and will be giving them away to three lucky readers. Keep it for yourself, put it in the stocking of someone who you think needs to read it, or better yet, read it to your children and give them a head start and solid intro to feminism. 

To enter, leave a comment on this post about why you are (or are not) a feminist, and share the post on Facebook or Twitter (leave me a link).