The summer that I turned eleven, I went through this huge feminist phase. I had these two guy friends who heard an earful from me over the course of those three months about how boys have it so easy, boys are allowed to be loud and gross and dirty but girls? No, Little Girls are supposed to wear pristine dresses with perfect bows in their hair. Little Girls are supposed to become Young Women who perfectly balance that fine line between sexy and slutty and never burp in public. Little Girls grow into Fine Ladies who graduate college and accept $0.77 to every dollar earned by a man, before quitting to pop out babies and run a clean, organized household.
I’m not ashamed of how much time I spent thinking about the outrageous expectations for girls and women but, strangely enough, my mother was.
At some point that August, my mother made sure to have the conversation with me that I needed to “tone it down” on the impassioned feminists speeches because I was starting at a middle school where nobody knew me and if I carried on ranting the way that I was, then people (boys) were going to get the idea that I was a lesbian and nobody (boys) would want to date me.
I tell myself that if my mother had been a woman who had given up her dreams to settle down and raise a family then I wouldn’t have been so quick to acquiesce. But the thing was, my mother was a woman who went to college and pursued her goals and didn’t marry my dad until her late twenties and only stopped working because my older sister had really severe asthma that required near-constant attention. By the time I was eleven, my mom was a single parent, raising two girls and working as a middle school music teacher and I decided that if anyone knew what I was up against at my new school, it would be her. So I followed her advice, and I settled down and I bottled up my angry rants and you know what?
Boys still didn’t want to date me.
It took getting to college and having spirited debates with professors and classmates to realize that I could have been doing so all along. I had snuffed my own passion, held my tongue about those subjects that would make me seem less than ladylike and in doing so, I succumbed to the very pressure that I was so angry about.
Some people think that a lady should be quiet.
I spent a near decade believing that society would think that I was a man-hating lesbian just because I supported feminist causes like a woman’s right to reproductive health. To be fair, maybe Society would have thought that about me. Regardless, my own sense of feminism is not rooted in targeted hatred for men.
My sense of feminism springs from a severe dissatisfaction in the way that society views a woman’s role, an intolerance for the phrase “boys will be boys” and the fact that slut-shaming is something I was programmed for the minute kids (girls) at my school started having sex.
I don’t hate men in general, and I don’t blame them in general either. It’s society, our very culture that perpetuates oppression. It’s slut shaming, and victim blaming. It’s brushing aside female politicians as either a moron or a bitch. It’s my mother telling me to be delicate.
It took me nearly ten years, but I understand now. If I want to be respected in this world, I don’t have to be soft spoken and gentle. I can be charismatic and warm. I can be clever and outspoken. I can wear lipstick and a suit. Whatever I am, I will be vast and I will be brilliant.