I cringe when I think of the things I used to say.
“I’m the furthest thing from a feminist.”
Feminists were frightening. They were nit-picking, angry man-haters, busy trying to become the men they hated in pursuit of power. Plus, feminists didn’t like stay-at-home-moms, and I thought I’d like to do that someday, so I distanced myself from the movement.
“Women are pretty emotional, they probably shouldn’t be president.”
I’d heard this argument and agreed. I was emotional, and this meant I could step into that office and be one missed Midol away from sending nuclear weapons to God-knows-where. Emotions were unpredictable, hormones unruly, so how could any of us be expected to rule the free world? Better leave those jobs to people with more even-keeled brains. Thank God He gave us men.
“Allowing women in combat is a bad idea.”
I used to nod along, quietly listening to the debates of military minded men and soak in the lessons they taught. According to them, adding women to their combat teams would change the dynamic and, ultimately, their world-saving capabilities. They made sense, for a while. Women aren’t biologically built the same. Maybe it really would distract men to have to worry about protecting their female counterparts. Maybe women wouldn’t be able to keep up.
But then I started to ask questions.
What if she could keep up?
What if she was perfectly capable, and she just hasn’t had the chance to prove it?
What if she wanted that chance?
The questions continued. One debate-heavy night I got to the heart of the issue with another military-minded man, and it turns out there was another problem, which was, perhaps, the real issue: a woman on the team meant that “men couldn’t act naturally.” Really, this meant that men would have to stop making derogatory, sexist, over-sexualized comments and cursing as much as they pleased. Or they wouldn’t stop, but they’d be too self-aware, and that would no longer be entirely comfortable. It would get in the way of the workflow.
I called bullshit; most people in the world need to learn how to regulate inappropriate behaviors, and the military shouldn’t be an exception to this norm. And, honestly, wasn’t it time to stop worrying about how free you are to say what you want and just worry about doing your job? Or, heaven forbid, reprogram your thinking so rude/inappropriate/sexist comments don’t even cross your mind?
The discussion (argument) spiraled out of control to end with a surprising, even more disturbing conclusion. That night I learned that some people actually think that men are smarter, as well as stronger, and women make sub-par career choices because of their limited capabilities. They were small-minded, unintelligent, and weak.
I was there, faced with these comments and questions and this male’s narrow-minded belief system, and I was dumbfounded. Shocked, really, and much angrier then I thought I’d be. This moment changed all; it goes down in history as was the moment I realized that I am, and probably always was, a feminist.
I used to be afraid of being lumped in with those angry protestors. I was not the man-hating type, and I thought that if I didn’t don a labia-hat to march about town I had no right to the movement. Plus I had opinions that contradicted the loudest in the platform, so it would probably be best if I just keep my mouth shut altogether. Most of all, I thought that if I wanted to be a mother, forgo a career, and love a husband from home, I shouldn’t consider myself liberated or enlightened.
That night set something free in me, though, and I realized that I had been wrong. Feminism is not, and should not, be narrowed down to a select group of political policies, reproductive laws, or who’s doing what with their jobs or their homes. It is more than that.
Feminism is the belief that women are of equal dignity as men. As worthy of respect as men. Women are valuable, capable, contributing members of society, and should be treated as such.
Today I thank the man who was so absurdly wrong that I now see what is right: I am a feminist, and feminism is good. I have finally seen that this is not the movement I once hid from, but a well-founded belief that women are humans deserving of respectful treatment.
We are not playthings, trophies, or rewards. We are not sheep.
We deserve the opportunity to serve wherever we please, in whatever capacity we please, and to do so with support. We should feel free to serve in the home, if that is where we’ve found our most authentic selves, but also free to pursue that same whole-hearted living in the classroom, the boardroom, the battlefield or wherever else we walk. We deserve to do so without being cat-called, shunned, or shamed.
We deserve to engage with this world as whole persons, not divided into half-selves that don’t feel or make mistakes. We do both, and we need our male counterparts to continue letting us in anyway. Not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Without us an entire portion of the human experience is lost.
We are owed equal freedoms and the chance to pursue what is good without the pre-conceived judgement of men who believe they are wiser before they’ve even known us.
And then when they do come to know us, we should be free to embrace our nature, with all the mess and hormones and emotions, as our gift; perhaps this feminine range of experience would make us wiser leaders, not wild ones.
At the very least, no matter what we choose to do, it must be clear that we are more than mere ornaments, and we are not more worthy of respect if we are smaller, more attractive, or more pleasant.
As women, our hearts and minds and souls are as wide as the sky, as diverse as the earth, and we are all good.
Thank God for that.