“Are you a feminist?” an ex-boyfriend recently asked me. It was a question he’d never posed to me before. When we dated our lives were simpler and hedonistic – Hillary Clinton hadn’t officially run for president, most of the jobs I’d had until that point had been in the women-dominated field of education, and I couldn’t even fathom that a few years down the line I’d be living in San Francisco and working in tech.
But in the two-odd years that I’ve lived here in SF, I’ve thought more than I ever have about this question, and what it really means to be a woman in the 21st century. How much of my current life situation has been shaped by my gender? Why does he make more than me? Why are there no women on this panel? Who are you calling a basic b*tch?
I’ve started writing this post about five times, each time veering off to one branch of the female experience – My grandmother not being allowed abortion pills til she was 30 and married. The sexual intimidation and power mongering I’ve experienced in the office alongside countless other women who’ve been equally reframed or placated until they either took action, or took a new job. The women in the computer and video games I played growing up – from sexy and badass like Carmen San Diego (but also, a criminal) to that single female snowboarder in 1080° whose entire power level was depleted from anything but the most perfect landing. The small undertones, in hindsight, of my schooling, even in the post-race, post-gender liberal bastion of a so-called enlightened New York City suburb.
In 2017 America we women still make considerably less than men; our government restricts our access to family planning while many of us are not even offered maternity leave through our workplaces; a funny man drugs and rapes dozens of women and the jury may be forever out; an orange man in a suit chuckles about grabbing women’s most sacred places and he’s elected to the highest office.
Growing up in this country at the tail end of the twentieth century and in the start of a whole new millennium, I am fortunate to have been born in a time and a place where I could, as a woman, do something as small as take myself out for lunch with nothing but my wallet and my thoughts, or something as big as buying a one-way ticket outta here to experience adventure on my own. To honestly never have been asked, “Are you a Mrs. or Miss?” (scroll down to Back Story). To know there are safe options when you walk into your best friend’s apartment and she’s sitting there hysterical with that positive little test.
Reproductive rights, equal pay, the glass ceiling, violence against women … The all-encompassing words for these voluminous issues that themselves are a bulging patchwork of the small subtleties of the female experience. The off-the-cuff remarks, a slightly lecherous gaze, interruption mid-oration, that third time you say “No” and that nauseating feeling of seeing it not sinking in. Our fawned over and Photoshopped female bodies exalted on flashy billboards just to be blown to smithereens on magazine covers, social media, and in the words we say to and about other women.
Women‘s rights. Apostrophe ‘s’, possessive. Pro-choice. Birth control. A woman’s right to choose. Noun, verb, infinitive, these words constantly surface in many forms in any discussion about women and what we want – That hold, that final say, that unfettered, uncontested ability and confidence to make the very decisions that affect our insides and outsides.
I blink back from my runaway thoughts, he’s looking at me for a response. “Why are you asking me this?” is all I can muster. I’m looking into the digitally-composed eye of the very man-child who set me off an a journey of not just running with my fiercely independent female nature, but corralling it and wrangling it into my own story of transcendence after he put me through the most f*cked up of emotional labor power plays I’ll ever experience.
The most powerful thing we can learn as young women is that we are enough on our own. Partnership, while it is a nice-to-have, is not core product. For me, being a feminist is about the unwavering belief that women can be fulfilled and are capable on their own. That a woman can set out on her own and protect herself walking down a dark street. That a woman doesn’t need you to buy her a drink, in fact, she’s got yours too. That a woman is not physically satisfied when the guy comes before her, and that she deserves nothing less for him to do everything in his power to get her there too.
“Yes, I am a feminist,” I say.
A feminist. A supporter of women and all those who do not consider themselves “men”. A transcendentalist. A friend of the females. Whatever you want to call it, being a woman and being a feminist is about taking the risk, transcending yourself and the expectations of friends, family, and the people you don’t know who spins society’s wheels. To put aside all fears, rationality, and expectation – three things that keep women from leaning in the way that men are groomed to.
Feminism for me is about taking and maintaining control over our female lives – personal, professional, and sexual – and wrestling it not only from the political bodies that rain down on our lives from afar but also from within ourselves, from those fears and those pressures that tell us we aren’t complete on our own.