This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

In the first meeting of my Gender Theory class my professor asked the class if we were feminists. I think all but one hand (out of 8 students) was raised. I experienced a brief moment of shock and pleasure - shock because this was the first time I'd been in a room (other than meetings of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, of course) where almost everyone identified as a feminist, and pleased  because I was surrounded by so many feminists.

Now you might be wondering who that lone not-feminist was. After all, he/she was sitting in a Gender Theory class! And I might have been thinking that too if this were my first year in college. But after taking intro levels and GenEd women’s studies classes, I know that being a member of a women’s studies class does not a feminist make. Or at least a conscious feminist make. As a wizened junior, I know that this person will probably come along until at least  the end of the semester.

I’m not trying to preach to the choir here, but after hearing feminism explained over and over during my first two years of college to groups of students who repeated the frustrating phrase, “I’m not a feminist, BUT…” enraged me to no end. I was in college! Wasn’t this where those grand meetings of the mind were to occur? Why couldn’t these people just see past their ridiculous fears of being called something associated with radical politics and lesbians and dumb jokes and just admit that THEY ARE FEMINISTS TOO!?

But then I calmed down. Hearing people ignorantly deny that they are feminists sometimes annoys me, but most of the time I find it exciting. I have accepted the fact that people will ask things like, “Can a person be a feminist and feminine?” or, “I’m not an activist or anything, so I’m not a feminist.” When I was a peer teacher my sophomore year in a GenEd women’s studies class, I chuckled to myself when student after student shared things like, “I had this really weird teacher once who was a feminist, “ or, “Yeah, I mean, there were these angry, loud girls at my high school who were feminists” in the first week of class. (Two of the girls from that class are now women’s studies minors. Score 2 points for feminism!)

However misguided these perceptions of feminism are, it still means that these people are thinking about feminism. And questions that might seem like the have no-brainer answers to feminists like you and me mean that these people are interested in learning more about feminism. When people ask simple questions about feminism—that a couple years ago I would have been horrified to hear—I now react to them by making a mental note of how I need to think about explaining feminism to people who haven’t self identified as feminists as long as they can remember. (I don’t even remember the first time I heard the word “feminist” but I cannot think of a time when it was something I didn’t identify with. I learned to read with chapter books about suffragists, okay?) I also know that by presenting myself as a feminist I’m giving people an example of what a feminist can look like. I know that my Miley Cyrus CD-buying, perezhilton.com-reading, shaved-legs self breaks a lot of feminist stereotypes. I am also aware that my yelling-at-people-across-tables, giver-of scary-looks-after-offensive-comments, opinionated self keeps some of these stereotypes up… but, what can I do?

I know that for those of you who have made that early realization that you are feminists and are still in high school, talking about feminism can be hard. I went to a fairly liberal private school, and while my best friends brushed off being identified as feminists I didn’t think much of it. Now that we’re in college, one of them made the comment to me last year about how glad she was that we could have all these interesting conversations about feminist issues now that we were all in the critical, heightened-awareness environments of our big-name universities. Old bitter me would have said, “What the crap were you doing in high school?” but I just responded with how glad I was about that, too.

With more awareness, more people will come around to calling themselves feminists. And having friends and role models (like YOU all) who are fun, funny, interesting and nice who identify as feminists will certainly speed up that process. So don’t get frustrated. Perceptions change, and the pride you feel in being a teenage feminist will only grow.

Liz P blogs about feminism, current events, pop culture, and teens at her blog Our Turn.

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Liz P
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