I must confess that at the beginning of the semester I was in denial of my feminist identity. Yes, I had taken multiple classes during my undergraduate education in the area of Women and Gender Studies. Yes, I had presented a research paper at leading disciplinary conference on language and gender. And yes, in second grade I insisted that I could play the president of the United States in my class program. So I suppose I knew I was a feminist all along, but despite this, I still hesitated in uttering, “I am a feminist.”
I find two reasons my feminist identity was problematic to me. First, I was afraid of the word “feminism/feminist.” I circumvented the terminology because of its power to isolate me. I couldn’t publicly ascribe myself to feminist ideals because of the pervasive stereotype that feminists are (extremely) angry and basically just man-haters. I feared the stereotypes and stigmas. I knew that the stereotypes were not true, but I couldn’t help resisting insinuations that I was associated with “that camp.”
Second, feminism is just plain…complicated. Many have attempted to provide a unified postcard version of the movement, but trying to put boundaries on Camp Feminism for mapping purposes is problematic. (Did someone say forest fires?) Instead of acknowledging the personally frustrating bits of feminism it was easier to go the way of, “Well, I am feminist, but…” (I’ll just stay along the paved roads of the park.) There are still aspects of prominent feminist thought, especially as portrayed in popular culture, that couldn’t (and still can’t) avow to or reconcile. This made me unsure how to be or how I could be a feminist.
What I realized over the semester is that there really isn’t one “camp” that all feminists belong to. Readings have problematized feminism for me by presenting various intersecting, yet diverse perspectives. As a result of identity intersections being publicly theorized, multiple feminisms have emerged that seek to re-imagine society void of hegemonic structures of dominate. Despite its newly realized plurality, feminism takes up unpopular questions of power and privilege, voice and agency, identity and intersectionality. By raising socially subversive questions, feminisms acknowledge the complexities of all these questions and their enigmatic response. It is not blunt criticism. Questioning leads to the naming of experiences, deconstruction of structures, contemplation of alternatives, and the active remodeling of systems and behaviors that deny the worth of the individual and the community based on social assignments. My own feminist thinking requires just that, thinking. By thinking, I mean raising social issues, contemplating social structures, and recognizing the experiences of others. It is about coming to terms with the landscape.
So, the question becomes how is my own definition informed and what do I exclude and include? Trying to define feminism is constraining. In attempting to articulate a definition I find myself struggling with limiting its boundaries. It’s about women, but it’s also about men and the individuals who identify as neither. It’s about experience, individual and communal. It’s about unity, but it’s also about division. It’s about empowerment, but it’s also about oppression. It’s about the ideal, but it’s also about the real. I don’t find feminism nearly as black and white, either this or that, as it is made out to be.
The more I reflected on my personal definition the more I found words, fancy sentence structures and organized paragraphs of thought insufficient; all I seemed to be able to do was make a rudimentary list of characteristics supplemented with everyday instances where I found these qualities exemplified in my own life. As I wrote notes on a chalkboard I use to brainstorm, I couldn’t help but to think about myself as an elementary school student filling in sentence prompts. Feminism is…
Then I remembered a favorite NPR “This I Believe” in which seven year-old Tarak McClain reads 30 of the 100 “I believe” statements he wrote for his kindergarten homework: to bring 100 of something to school. Inspired by Tarak’s seven year old philosophical prowess I began making my own “This I Believe” as a testament to my feminist thinking.
- I believe feminism is about CARE for self and other, the practice of being considerate and respectful.
- I believe feminism is about commitment, the realization that they journey is long.
- I believe feminism is about confidence, the ability to be unwavering in commitment and not discredit personal competence.
- I believe feminism is about HOPE for a better future.
- I believe feminism is about contemplation, the ability to think reflectively about the world.
- I believe feminism is about conversations, the ability to talk about what you have been thinking.
- I believe feminism is about change, the willingness to take what you have been thinking and talking about and turn it into positive action.
- I believe feminism is about learning (see #1-7).
- I believe feminism is about teaching (see #1-8).
- I believe feminism is about crying when needed.
- I believe feminism is about embracing anger as productive, and demarcating this from violence.
- I believe feminism is about laughing and smiling endlessly.
- I believe feminism is for everyone!
- I believe feminism is about the individual and the community and the world (not just the humans).
- I believe feminism is about the past, the present, and the future.
- I believe feminism is about running and dancing, biking and hiking, singing and creating art.
- I believe feminism is about living your dreams (even when it seems the world is against you).
- I believe feminism is about asking “What?” “So, what?” and, “Now what?”
- I believe feminism is about embracing the tensions of conformity.
- I believe feminism is mom telling you she loves you and dad telling you he is proud of you.
- I believe feminism is not about silence; it’s about finding a voice.
- I believe feminism is not about fear. Fear is a form of domination.
- I believe feminism advocates for critiquing the ideas, not the person.
- I believe feminism is having someone bringing you another pot of tea and splitting a piece of lemon cake with you while you are studying.
- I believe feminism is about calling it out in the day-to-day in thought and in action.
- I believe feminism is eating chili and playing Rock Band with great friends on a Tuesday.
- I believe feminism is about taking naps, detours, breaks, etc. until you are ready to continue.
- I believe feminism is about admitting humanness, the knowledge that no human is perfect and the knowledge that we each come with our own identities.
- I believe feminism is about embracing hypocrisy, mine, yours, and theirs.
- I believe feminism is about courage.
- I believe feminism is never to be isolating. That said, it is not about guilt either.
- I believe feminism is about creativity, in expression and in re-imagining the world.
- I believe feminism is about LOVE, not the sentimental or the possessive but the “politicized force that enables movement against dehumanization (Foss, Foss, and Trapp, 2002, p. 272).” As hooks writes, “‘[love is] the idea of being able to let fear go so you can move towards another person who’s not like you ‘(Foss, Foss, and Trapp, 2002, p. 272).”
To me feminism has a fundamental place in both my professional and personal lives. The list I created demonstrates just some of the many ways this worldview informs my life. I realize, however, that much work is still to being done, both in re-imaging society and in re-creating my own less than feminist ideals and approaches to living. I write this essay in a week in which I have been rather frustrated/angry/saddened/and a whole other range of emotions prompted by un-feminist comments and actions of the people around me. In the midst of this, I find myself challenged to transcend un-productive emotions and revenge-filled inclinations to not love. Even if I don’t identify with a particular, defined, feminism my list reminds me of the profound wisdom feminism has to offer this world.
Life as a feminist is not ever going to be easier. However, that does not mean that it will not be worth it. So, I am going to enjoy the view here. I am pitching my tent.
Foss, S.K., Foss, K.A., & Trapp, R. (2002). Contemporary perspectives on rhetoric (3rd ed.) Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
McClain, T. (2009, January 18). Thirty things I believe. NPR “This I believe” Podcast. Podcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99478226.
About the author and the essay
At the time of writing this essay, Lydia Reinig was a first semester graduate student of Communication Studies at Colorado State University. After four formidable years of undergraduate education somewhere in middle America and a childhood on a farm in Iowa, she was three months into a new ambitious adventure in academe. Writing this essay allowed Lydia to synthesize scholarship with her own everyday experience—to make scholarship real and personal—as a Public Speaking instructor, colleague, daughter, friend, traveler, and bicycle accident casualty among, her various other identities. Upon editing this essay three months later, Lydia had more fully embraced her feminism through reflection and in practice. She had even made a t-shirt pronouncing her feminism and discovered that feminists are so much fun at parties despite popular opinion. While she academically pursued a certificate program in Women’s Studies, incorporated questions of gender in her thesis, and was enthusiastically proposing feminist conference papers, she sought to sort through the feminist wisdom intertwined in the banal elements of life.
In this end this essay is a result of countless conversations over lifetime, in her undergraduate career, and in the past six months. Specifically, it is indebted to the members of Feminist Theories of Discourse for their profound insights and ideas and to Jeremy and Kyle for their wisdom and maintenance of Lydia’s sanity. It is dedicated to Cindy, Chad, Erika, Jay, and Sheri, without whose guidance this essay would have never come into existence, and to Mom and Dad for their loving acceptance no matter the adventures. By the way, Lydia is ambivalent to camping, outside the fitting metaphor it provided in the essay, but thinks she ought to give.