Stereotypes are great ways to judge people…said no sane human ever. But in all seriousness, stereotypes are awful, but they are sad testaments to the world we live in. We are taught and perhaps even raised to think one way about a certain group of people. Often times these stereotypes begin as jokes, for example:
Lesbians: hate men, are butch, vegetarians, love and can fix cars, wear plaid, wish that they were men (no really, people think this)
Feminists: hate men, don’t shave their leg/under arms, hate family values, are troubles makers looking for a fight, hate men, they hate God, hate femininity and did I mention hate men
Anyone notice some similar things when looking at these lists. Both of these groups of women are portrayed, through stereotypes as being ultra masculine men haters who just want to start a fight.
Before I start tearing into this, let me explain something to all of you: I am an out and proud feminist…who happens to be an equally out and proud lesbian. I knew I was a feminist when a boy in my sixth grade class told me that girls couldn’t play basketball, I then proceeded to sink 20 free throws in a row. I knew I was a feminist long before I knew that I was gay, mostly because our gender is drilled into our heads from the moment we are born until our dying breath. I can look back now, with all the education that I have and say that I was a tomboy, not because I hated being a girl, but because I hated being treated like a stereotypical girl. I didn’t like being compared with a cookie cutter idea of what I should be and beyond that I knew that I would never live up to that expectation. I felt like I was being punished for being a girl and nothing confuses you more than being told that you aren’t good enough because of something you have no say in. So at age 11 I decided that I would fight back, at the time I didn’t know against what, but I knew I was about to face something bigger myself and I would have to dig my heels into the dirt and stand my ground.
When I was older I finally learned what feminism was: I learned the history behind it, I learned about women who died before the 19th Amendment was even considered. I learned about these women I realized in that same breath that I would pick up the torch that they ignited and that I too would be a feminist. Now I’m sure you are all thinking, ‘great this woman is going to ramble on about how she loves feminism, but why should I listen, why should I care what happened to her’. My answer is simple: feminism is a movement; a way of life that has crossed into other movements and for me being a feminist has walked hand-in-hand with me being gay. Also, what happened to me could easily happen to others.
The second I came out, I was slapped hard in the face with a shocking reality check: I had just taken on another label that carries a large list of stereotypes. Of all the stereotypes associated with being a lesbian the one that also made me the most upset was that we hate men. That same stereotype is also commonly associated with being a feminist and it makes my blood boil. Let me put this in simple terms: I do not hate men just because I love women and think they should be treated equally. I love women, I feel connected to them in a different way then I do with men, on what planet does that mean I think all men are bad? Being a lesbian has always made me feel as though I was constantly having to protect myself and defend my very existence. Do you have any idea how exhausting it is constantly have to explain yourself because instead of getting to know you, people see only the label of your sexuality? There was however one thing that helped me constantly stay in that fight and never just except it when people treated me like trash…and that thing was feminism.
I learned about these women who looked around at their lives and decided that they deserved better, that they deserved equality. I learned about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul and all the other women who fought for the right to vote. Some of these women died without ever seeing their hard work pay off, but that never stopped a new group of women from rising up and carrying the banner forward. I learned about the 19th amendment, about women fighting for equal pay, for being allowed to work along side men. As a gender, we as women have never been handed anything freely: everything we have, every right we hold dear we had to fight tooth and nail to receive. When I looked at the history of feminism, at the fights these women headed and saw through to the end I was inspired. I read and studied every aspect of the women rights movement I could find and in my darker moments, those readings, those women kept my head above water.
My senior year of high school, if you were to look in my locker you would see a jacket that I always forgot to bring home, my AP English notebooks and sandwiched in between my copy of Wuthering Heights and East of Eden you would a book that didn’t look like it belonged with the others. I was made fun of constantly because in my spare time I would be seen reading my copy of Betty Freidan’s book, The Feminine Mystique. The pages were worn and dog-eared, the binding was cracking from being over used and the once stark white pages were now decorated in pencil marks, notes and highlighted passages. My classmates called me a feminist as if it was supposed to be an insult, but that book carried me through one of the most confusing times in my life. I needed a boost of courage because I had just started coming out to people and I was terrified of what was coming next in my life.
“In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination—tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she “adjust” to prejudice and discrimination”
That book taught me to want more, to fight for more, to fight against the unfairness I had been born into. It hit me like a ton of bricks; I no longer had to be treated like crap by society and then thank them for the service, I could fight back and demand better…and that is exactly what I did. I stopped wishing that my life would be easy and simple, instead I looked to those women who came before, the women who had no role models, the women who became the heroes of little girls everywhere.
When people attacked me on my Facebook page saying I was a stupid dike that no one would miss if I killed myself, I reminded them that it’s spelled dyke, (if you are going to insult me, spell it right). When the valedictorian of my class called my best friend a fag I told the senior administration that they either needed to stop him or I would find a lawyer that would. When that same boy told me that I deserved to be shot for being gay, I showed up everyday despite his threats and ended up doing better than him in two of our classes. Every time the world told me to give up and except that my life was going to suck because I am gay, I refused to accept things as they are and instead I made a conscious decision to make my future brighter than anything my tormentors could ever imagine.
In college I found a whole campus full of women who shared this passion for making this world fair and equal and in those four years I met amazing women, young and old. I shook hands with Gloria Steinem and got lost in theories that taught me that not only was there a fourth wave of feminism coming, but I was that fourth wave.
For some people feminism is a terrible inconvenience. They see it as something that we no longer need because, hey women can vote and we even have women CEO’s so feminism is over right?
Wrong. As long as there is inequality of any kind in this world, we as a society will need feminism.
For the scared young woman who doesn’t understand why congress is voting on her right to birth control, for the college senior who is afraid she will not be hired because she is female, for the gay teenager who feels lost, scared and confused, for everyone who is different…feminism is what keeps them in that fight, it gives them hope and it tells them that they can in fact change the future.
I grew up with people telling me that I was only worth something as a woman if I had a nice husband and good kids. When I came out they were quick to tell me that I wasn’t worth much of anything anymore. In my darkest moment, when I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw because it scared me, I looked at the copy of that famous book as it sat on my bed and I thought to myself that if those women could face the world and change the course of history then I could be half as brave and face my own truth and maybe change my little corner of the world.
So think what you wish, draw your own conclusion, but for me, for the 14 year old me who thought her life wasn’t worth living, feminism saved my life and it gave the knowledge that no matter what challenges I face in my life I wouldn’t be facing them alone, I would face them with all the feminists that came before me and made it ok to say that this is what a feminist looks like.