Two weeks ago today, I woke up to a comment on my blog that was, well... at the very least, long. It was from someone who claimed to "know me". This person chose to remain anonymous though, so didn't really want me to KNOW or identify them. Just that they've been watching, reading, and keeping tabs on me for the past 20 years.
That comment could have totally ruined my day. I could have deleted it. I could have responded to it in kind, but instead, I chose to just sit with it for a bit, complain to my friends on Facebook and Twitter, and then go back and dig for the feedback behind all the nasty vitriol and personal judgment thrown at me with those words. I knew it was in there - some nugget of truth hidden that I needed to hear.
And then I thought to myself and to him...
WHATEVER DUDE! (I've made the assumption the comment was written by a man, but I could be wrong.)
You don't know me! From what you wrote, you never really did, and from the sounds of it, you sound kind of petty and bitter. Did we have a fight? Did I 'friend zone' you and you can't get over it? No, seriously... What happened?
Listen, you are right, I am not the same woman I was in my twenties. If that was the case, THAT in and of itself, would be the tragedy here. I've grown, I've changed, I've switched careers three, maybe four times since then. Why are you holding me to the dreams of a single, 20-something-year old who was trying to figure out who she was? Have you not also changed significantly since then? I see you are now married. That's nice.
You said in your comment that I should drop the torch of feminism that I never really held onto and let the younger fems take it. You also made a lot of hurtful, personal, and rather dick-ish remarks about me (that say more about you than me, if we are being honest), but this is the one thing I keep coming back to, because it was in this part of your lengthy comment on what you think of my life, that I found that nugget of truth.
Twenty years ago, if someone had come up to me and asked if I was a feminist, I am pretty sure I would have said, no or I don't know. When I was at university, I was in a program that was 90% women. We were all scientists, learning and working in medical laboratories that were also mainly made up of women. At that point in my life, and in the environment I was in, it never occurred to me that my gender was a problem, or would hinder me in my chosen profession.
Shortly after I graduated, the political world changed (thanks Ralph Klein!), and my ability to work as a professional laboratory technologist went up in smoke, along with the 500+ jobs that the government cut in my sector. Luckily, I still had a good job working as a clerk at the hospital and was able to bump up my hours to an almost full-time position. It took me three years to regroup and find a career that I wanted to pursue in earnest. Once I had made that decision, that is what I did.
Once again, I found myself working in an environment where the majority of my co-workers where women. Upper management, on the other hand, was definitely male-dominated and it was here that I first experienced workplace sexual harassment. Except I didn't recognize it as such. In my naïveté, I thought people (my peers and my superiors) genuinely wanted to talk to me and listen to my ideas, and not just get into my pants. And even though I never slept with anyone at work, the attention I sometimes received from upper management, which I assumed was because of my abilities and ideas (and often was), others assumed was because of my skills in the bedroom. Female co-workers started to resent me and male co-workers made even more advances towards me because they thought I was "easy", or used the resentment of the others to their advantage to try to sandbag me at work.
And still, at this point in my life, I would not have told anyone emphatically - YES! I am a Feminist!
People of course, had other labels for me: bossy, slut, loud, emotional, bitch. And they weren't wrong. I was and I still AM almost all of those things. And as we all know, being a woman who knows what she wants (professionally, personally and in the bedroom), who says so, and then gets it, doesn't always fit with the narrative of the day or the patriarchy. I would see the looks on people's faces when I would walk up to the CEO of the company I worked for and just start talking to him and I DIDN'T CARE, I had ideas and wanted to share them. And yes, anonymous commenter person, I did date more than a few men while I worked at the hospital - residents, nurses, laundry porters - I was young, and single, and totally date-able, if you know what I mean. Trust me, there was nothing desperate about any of it! Also true, I met my husband at work, we fell in love and got married - as one does sometimes! Contrary to what you think or are trying to imply, I feel no shame about any of this.
Two life-altering events happened to me over the course of six months at the end of 2005 and into 2006. One - I went to a large, incredibly beautiful and traditional African wedding in Dar Es Salaam and spent the next two weeks in Tanzania. That whole trip knocked this sheltered little Canadian girl right on her lily white behind and opened me to people, places and experiences like none other in my life. I am not ashamed to admit that racism never affected me to any significant degree until that trip. The questions, both curious and often rather dismayed, my asian husband and I faced while travelling across this beautiful country, made us realize how much we take for granted in Canada, and how important it is to recognize our privilege and grow from that place. Especially as we embarked on the next significant chapter in our lives - starting a family.
That second life-altering moment happened the moment I found out I was pregnant with our first child. Everything was perfect for the first six months of that pregnancy, which was also a bit unexpected given my history of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was working, I had a new manager who recognized my talents and nurtured them without employing misogynistic shame tactics, and my husband and I had settled into our first home and adopted a puppy. I was still bossy, and loud, and even more emotional, (duh, PREGNANT) and still not quite a feminist.
Fast forward six months. A fight with a male co-worker over an workplace event we were planning ended with my blood pressure reaching epic, and dangerous, levels and me being immediately hospitalized and put on bed rest when it showed no intention of going back to normal. It was September 26th, 2006 and it was the day that my life's trajectory changed. The road I was on gave out right under my feet and thrust me onto a completely different one. One fraught with danger, uncertainty, and little to no control over the destination, let alone the way there. Perinatologists, neonatologists, words like viability and survival rates, all of this floated around us, and we were thrust into a world that no one can ever prepare you for. You learn to drive while you are on that road. And learn I did. I read every piece of information I could get my hands on about having a premature baby, the signs of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia and ran through every scenario imaginable, with every possible outcome for this baby. I had the hospital, my OB, my husband, my parents, and my neighbours on speed dial on my flip phone, and wasn't afraid to use it.
I think the simmering of the feminist in me likely started the morning of my son's birth day. We were prepared for anything, as long as it kept both of us safe and alive. Induction was performed via cervidil gel and by some random fluke of nature, it worked VERY quickly on me. Within an hour and a half I was in labour, but the problem was, no one believed me (except for our doula). I cycled between 30 second contractions and MAYBE 15 seconds of rest for about 5 hours. When the nurses finally agreed to page my OB and I was able to get into a tub, I immediately felt the urge to push, and it was discovered that I was already dilated to 10 centimetres and the baby was crowning. The next 15 minutes are a blur of nurses screaming at me not to push as they tried to get me upstairs to the actual Labour and Delivery room, me screaming at them to FUCK OFF - which my husband says he heard while he and our doula took the stairs up and I was shoved into the elevator, and then the very fast birth of our child into the chaos of an L&D room that had no idea what was going on. I kissed him once before the NICU staff, who somehow miraculously showed up within 30 seconds, took him and his father away to yet another part of the hospital while my until then absent OB delivered my placenta and stitched up my 2nd degree tear.
I've never thought of my first child's birth as traumatic, mainly because the whole second half of that pregnancy was one extended stress-filled event we were hoping would end well. In the aftermath of it, and with the benefit of hindsight and all I know now, I think of the ways I could have advocated better for myself. I would have asked more questions, I would not have accepted being blown off or ignored, or the way people were discounting my own experience at the time, simply because that's not the way they had seen things happen in the past.
My son was born at 9 PM that night, and apart form our initial little kiss, I didn't get to touch him until 3 AM, after I snuck out of my own hospital bed and walked up to the NICU and asked the nurse on duty if I could hold him. All 3 pounds, 13 ounces of him, with more wires and tubes attached to him than seemed possible on such a tiny person. Yet, there he was, breathing on his own, holding my finger, sleeping in my arms. I sat there and watched him all night long and a helpful nurse brought over a breast pump so I could get started with our breastfeeding journey.
You want a moment when I became a feminist? When I took up that torch? It was that night. And maybe even then, I wouldn't have identified it as such. It would take me another three years and the birth of my second child - accomplished completely according to my wishes, to fully own my feminism and say it out loud. But that night, watching my son sleep, seeing his every pulse and breath on the monitor above his incubator, and listening to the steady whooshing of the breast pump extracting the tiniest bit of colostrum from my breasts, I knew that I was a changed woman. And it wasn't just because of the birth, it was because for a lot of that time, I was alone. I was alone in the hospital at night, still waiting for my blood pressure to come down, with a baby one floor away, and a husband and dog at home in our own bed. I was alone in the wee hours of the night figuring out breastfeeding and caring for this tiny human. Then I was home, and it was me, alone, setting my alarm and getting up every three hours to pump even without a baby around so that he would have MY breastmilk in the NICU when I could not be there. And in all that time alone, I found a strength within me that I didn't know existed. It propelled me forward when I had thought I couldn't take one more step. It made me learn new ways to do every day simple things and forced me outside of my comfort zones. It sent me to the internet to seek out the community I needed to help me grow.
I've said many times before that motherhood was the catalyst to me owning my feminism and that still holds true today (and if you had truly been reading, you would know that already). I am a perpetual late bloomer and the discovery of my feminism is no exception to this rule. Motherhood is not the ONLY thing that makes me a feminist though, and looking back at my life and experiences makes me see how much the culture that we live in shaped my thoughts and how much of that I now know needs shifting.
Anonymous Commenter guy, you told me that I should drop the torch that I never really held onto and give it over to the younger fems to pick up, but to this I say NO, I will NOT. Because while yes, it has taken me this long to come into the fold, I AM HERE TO STAY. Why would I leave now? I am not done. Feminism is not done. I love that so many young women are out and proud Feminists, making the world that much better for themselves and in the end for my own children as well. I support, and amplify, and learn from this younger generation every single day. I take those lessons, as well as the ones I have learned from feminists of the past, and incorporate them as best I can into my life, both online and in real life. And as with anything that we want to teach our children, the best lessons start in the home. I will continue to hold on to the torch of Feminism as long as I am here to teach them - even if that lesson is simply to not make the same mistakes that I did in the past. And when the time comes, I will pass the torch on to them, to take forward into a brave new FEMINIST world.
P.S. I do hope you, your wife and her friends have all enjoyed your daily dose of "snark reading" over your morning coffee!