I can finally call myself a feminist!

June 15th, 2013  |  by Veralyn Williams |  Published in Blog, Personal Essays  |  1 Comment

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I felt Caitlin Moran’s book, “How to be a woman,” so deeply and I think I finally know. While raving about it to yet another person– this time to Liz, my boss at Bedsider– I said, “For the first time, I can finally call myself a feminist.” Liz told me to, “write that down.” And I did!

Now let me explain:

My senior year of High School I produced a story on my “legal status” here in America, and I imagined what going back to Sierra Leone (where I was born), would be like, after growing up in the U.S. since I was a baby. And in that story I said quote: “I’ll be an outsider because of my feminist and outspoken ways.” At that point, being a feminist simply meant being a woman not afraid to be opinionated. And that was me. So I was a feminist… Until I got to college…

My first two years at Hunter College, I think I took every intro-course with the words: women, African-American, and feminist in the title. Learning about Native American history, the Civil Rights era (beyond MLK’s “I have a dream” speech), and reading, “Ain’t I a Woman?” by bell hooks (intentionally uncapitalized) made me question everything I ever believed! I was shocked and conflicted by the different realities of Virginia Woolf vs. Zora Neal Hurston, and I began to look at the different aspects of my identity.

Soon calling myself an “outspoken feminist” felt wrong. I was a black, woman, American, Sierra Leonean, immigrant, childless, working class, product of the NYC public school system, student. And every time a classmate called themselves merely a “feminist,” I either a) dismissed them as being in denial about the other ways they were being oppressed. Or b) dismissed them as a “privileged” white person. And I didn’t want to be associated with a title that meant either.

Since my (ok, angry) college years, I have warmed up to the idea of “feminism,” but the title still felt wrong. Being a feminist seemed to take on more than I personally wanted to. Yes, I want to be seen as equal to any man in the workplace and I want to make as much (or more) money for doing the same job, but I’d still prefer a man take out my garbage, change my light bulbs, and enjoy the meals- I want to make for him.

I wanted the Beyonce-brand of feminism… asking “Can you pay my bills?” while saying, “Let me cater to you.” And proclaiming, “Who runs the world? Girls!” But to me, that was a secret wish. No one I knew was calling that feminism. [In fact some of my favorite modern-day-feminist would call Beyonce something… quite the opposite of a feminist.] But I think Caitlin Moran would.

I went into reading Moran’s story knowing absolutely nothing about her, and I was immediately captivated by her “put it ALL out there” voice. She talked about her childhood realities, while growing up as the oldest of eight kids, in a very poor family. She talked about her complex relationship with her vagina, with underwear, with fancy high heel shoes, with men… and she used her experiences to illustrate the ways so many women are socialized to think about these things, in the exact same destructive ways. Now here’s my walk-away from that:

If you have a problem with what society expects from women and you a) want to change things– you’re a feminist. b) want to change some aspects of it– you’re a feminist. c) see a method to the madness, and choose to keep doing what you’re doing– you’re a feminist.

The point being: feminism is wanting women have the right to choose from ALL their options, so they can have the life they want. And for me that does not just mean in relationship to a man, that includes all the other parts of my identity that intersects with “being a woman.”

So yes… I’ll admit it… I’m a feminist!

  • Alison

    This was shared with just about every woman I could think of and made me do a little internal-jig and cheer.

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