I’m 46 years old, and I have never known myself to be anything but a feminist, in word and in deed. I marched for the ERA as a young high schooler, had a copy of Our Bodies Ouselves when it was still thin, and knew even before I’d started dating that I would keep my own name if I got married. As for work? Well — of course. In whatever field I wanted. And if a man didn’t respect me or these ideas? He had no place in my life. Period.
I was raised by strong women: Two grandmothers who were among that less than 10% of American women who attended college in the 1920s, and a single mother, widowed when I was a baby, who worked hard and had a tool box with her name on it, so that we would remember to put the tools back if we used them.
None of these women ever took guff from anyone, none ever felt (or demonstrated to me, at any rate) that they should shrink themselves or their opinions to fit the world around them. I grew up knowing of Grandma Hauser’s bitterness that she’d been called home from college to tend to a sick mother when there were three healthy brothers at home, and that Grandma #2, known to us as Queenie, had been a flapper at a time that her sister was busy learning to keep house. The subtext to it all was always: You have every right to be who you are, and when the world tries to tell you different? Push the hell back.
I was lucky.
And yet, I am still a product of much more than that. I still move in the world as-it-is, not the world as-I-dream-it, and much as I am the first to say that the world used to be worse, I will also freely admit that we have a long way to go. I have a long way to go.
I’m a feminist. And there are things that I do, regularly, that I think feminists probably shouldn’t do.
- I don’t leave the house without make-up. This one isn’t that bad, I figure. It’s decorative, and I actually mostly enjoy it. Make-up is fun, bottom line. But I know (because I have access to the deepest recesses of my brain, even if sometimes I wish I didn’t) that even on days that it’s not fun, even on days when it’ll make me late to take the five minutes I need to apply the layers — I’m going to take those five minutes, because I worry what the world with think of me otherwise. The look I achieve is minimalist, entirely natural (people often express visible shock when they hear that I wear make-up at all), but that just further proves the point that I’m using it as camouflage, not artistic expression.
- I shave my legs and underarms. I have none of the above-suggested ambivalence about this one. I’m pretty confident that this is moronic. I know feminists have a variety of opinions on this (as on all things), but I can only be the feminist that I am, and this feminist firmly believes that the removal of the hair that serves as a secondary sexual characteristic, indicating that I have gotten through puberty, is a concession to the patriarchy, pure and simple. It’s about the assumption that straight men like their women to look like little girls. Which, you know, I’m kind of opposed to that sort of thing. And yet, I find my hairy legs and pits truly, deeply unattractive. That part of my mind is throughly colonized. So I carry on. But when my daughter watches me shave — as little girls will — she not infrequently gets a wee lecture in which I tell her that if she decides to never do this crazy thing, I’ll think that’s kind of cool.
- I feel guilty about eating. I know I shouldn’t. I talk and write about how women have to heal their relationship with food. I don’t participate in those conversations that women seem to be forever having in which they beat themselves up for having a damn piece of cake, and I try to frame the damn cake in a positive way when I can. And I never, ever express this guilt out loud to anyone but my husband, in private. I do not need to add to the ambient noise, to the very problem from which I suffer. Most importantly, my son and daughter will never hear it from me, because I want them to shake this illness that plagues our society. Instead, I encourage them (with the assistance of their most excellent father) to listen to their bodies, to eat for enjoyment as well as health, and to love the bodies (tall, broad, and strapping) that the good Lord gave them. But the guilt? I feel it. It’s there, and I hate it.
- I look in the mirror and love my body only grudingly. Like 90% of people, my body doesn’t correspond to the ideal with which we are inundated, and to which we are constantly compared. The ideal with which we as a society shame each other and ourselves. My bra size has only grown with pregnancies and my middle years, and my middle bits are a combination of scarred (two emergency C-sections + one major surgery to remove an enormous tumor — you can read all about it here, if you’d like!) and mushy, and there are days when all the kind words that I share with others, the things I say out loud to my daughter and son, and the unabashed lust of my husband — the best, most honest man I have ever met — matter not in the least. I wish my body were… different. I love it, sure, but kind of like you love the lame dog who does her best and is really sweet, so you forgive her for being so damn slow on walks.
I am a better feminist than I once was, and I think that — as a direct result of how they are being raised — my son and daughter will be better feminists than their father and mother are.
But it’s not easy. And there are days when it’s damn hard.