For many women, it may seem natural to embrace and identify with the moniker “feminist”. Our lives and perceptions of reality are shaped by our identities, and these identities alter how we are treated and perceived. When we live our lives as women, we see firsthand how this identity informs our treatment. Logically, we move towards feminism, aiming to lessen the inequalities we face. However, it isn’t always that simple.
Fear of the Feminine
Feminism did not come naturally to me. My childhood was marked by a cycle of mistreatment that, in my young mind, reinforced my growing disdain towards women. Living in a small country home with mother and father, I often felt isolated from the world. I found comfort in my father, and in turn, felt a complete disconnection from my mother. My only grandparent, my grandfather, served as an icon of intelligence, and shaped my view of admirability.
My rocky relationship with my mother, a cycle of emotional abuse and explosive confrontations, shaped my view of women. For children growing up, especially girls, the same-sex parent is an essential part of how we view ourselves and the world. We emulate our mothers, and they shape our archetypal views of womanhood.
My mother, until recently, never stood as a symbol of reliability and support. I always knew I could depend on my father; he was the only true expression of unconditional love I have experienced to date. With this mistrust of the feminine already deeply seeded in my mind, I found it difficult to gain and maintain friendships with other girls. Every falling out with a female friend stood as a testament to my fears, and reinforced my hesitance to embrace feminism. I held onto my anger for a long time. For years, I surrounded myself with men, my only female friends sharing my mindset. The women I grew close to reinforced my beliefs, and we took pleasure in mocking and maligning women we felt reflected the negatives of womanhood.
Especially in the academic realm, I felt a need to qualify myself. I became the girl who was “not like most girls”, a woman somehow free of the negative qualities I thought were intrinsic to femininity. I read male authors, listened to male musicians, and studied the art of male painters, afraid that an interest in the work of women would seal me into a sort of feminist casket. To be taken seriously, I believed, I must reject the markers of women and femininity. Counter-intuitively, femininity, in my mind, was bitter, cold, antagonistic, unintelligent, and weak.
My embrace of feminism came only when I faced my own demons. My world shook when my father died; I felt as though I had lost the only true, unconditional support I could ever have. Faced with pain I had never experienced, I reentered therapy after a two-year hiatus. There, I faced head-on the trauma that had shaped my worldview. In doing so, I began a process that would fundamentally change my life for the better; I began to forgive. The trauma I had experienced had manifested into a larger specter that loomed over my life, which encouraged my mistrust and hesitation to connect. In forgiving my mother, I started to knock down my negative archetype of the feminine. I shed my mindset of “woman=negative”, which allowed me to be able to embrace my own femininity as a positive.
Though I still work to break this barrier, I have made strides. I have begun to enter friendship with women without a hovering mistrust; in turn, I have realized that the incompatibility of my previous female friendships has likely been a result of this mistrust. I have started to love and embrace feminine art, and I have finally thrown away my academic prejudice against women. My own sexuality, too, has been influenced by this radical acceptance. Though I was aware of my own bisexuality, I was not able to accept and embrace it until I worked on my bias.
Feminism is an essential mindset. Without it, we cannot successfully progress as a society. However, it can take work to get there. So, if you feel icky calling yourself a “feminist”, I implore you – figure out why. It might just change your life.