The Dawning of the Age of the Feminist
At 19 years of age, I shocked the entire staff of the Pierce College Roundup when I was the first to receive a first place award at a state conference for an on-the-spot opinion piece on feminism. It led with a line from the piece that inspired my feminism, The Vagina Monologues: “Down there? You want me to go down there?”
Going down to try to claim the written copy of my piece after the awards, I was approached by members of the judging panel.
“We liked it,” he said. “It was terrific. But it would never be published.”
“Why not?” I asked.
I never really got a direct answer to that question, but it boiled down to somehow comparing the word feminist to the word vagina in the dirty-word pantheon was unacceptable for mainstream America to hear.
In my younger world, feminism was a dirty word, a thing you never talked about. Feminists were man-hating ball-bashers, pantsuit wearing frigid “femi-nazis” who were so into the cause of women that they didn’t see anything else around them. They isolated men and were too radical for the mainstream.
Yet when I snatched my mom’s copy of The Vagina Monologues to read it at 18, it changed me. Eve Ensler, the famous playwright, told me in her wonderful words that I was a woman, and that was really okay. I would be hurt and things would be difficult, but it was all about getting back up and fighting the good fight until it was won. It even led me to participate in The Vagina Monologues at Cal State Fullerton my senior year of college.
Reading the forward from Gloria Steinem, I realized I could be smart and bold, fierce and seeing more to the world than what it had given me as a woman growing up in a conservative Christian town. I was left thinking back to several years before in high school, when my teachers would yell at me for having an opinion and asked me why I couldn’t be quiet and a good girl like my older sister. They called me trouble, when in truth I wasn’t; rather, I am everything that Gloria wrote about.
So imagine my betrayal when she was in the news last week about how supporting Bernie Sanders was more about my libido than about my mind. How I should support Hillary instead. This wasn’t my Gloria. This wasn’t the woman who taught me to think for myself and be a powerful woman in my own right. This wasn’t one of the women who inspired my feminism.
It was so unfortunate, because now is an amazing time to be a feminist. Strangely enough, it has transformed into a modern buzzword, the pendulum swinging to it actually being cool. The single most influential female pop star in the world, Beyonce, showed up at an awards show with the word “feminist” in big giant letters flashing behind her. Younger starlets embrace it, and I have had conversations with plenty of my male friends about their feminist leanings, both gay and straight. This is the biggest step of all; when men start to embrace feminism as their creed, they help bring women to the forefront. They have done random things such as come up with hashtags such as #fuckthepatriarchy (which is still in the running for sexiest hashtag ever for me) or speak publicly about why they believe in feminism.
It’s so rare from my father’s generation, where men were put in cookie cutter boxes of masculinity that they had to break (like my dad did), but it’s now more common. I think it’s partially because these men are our friends, brothers and devoted sons to their mothers, our comrades in arms against the large, big bad world. They worked with us, studied with us, partied with us, took care of us as we took care of them. They saw the injustices as we faced them and saw our struggle, taking it to heart, seeing us through horrific things they can barely dream of: date rape, sexual harassment, abusive relationships and discrimination for being women. They may not always call themselves feminists, but they support us in any way they can, and that is truly special.
When I see people like Madeline Albright saying that there is a special place in hell for me for not supporting a candidate just because she is a woman (although she has since retracted), I wonder about my feminism. I see my mother and the women who pioneered the cause, who are deathly concerned about a Republican who seeks to outlaw abortion yet again in the position to appoint Supreme Court justices. I’m frightened too, but I can’t elect out of fear. And I see my sisterhood, the younger women who also are looking for hope rather than fear, and want to vote accordingly.
This is how we become divided as women. Messages like this in the media is how we fracture, wage war on one another, when in truth we need to unite to see the bigger picture. Others who don’t support women want us who do fractured and splintered, transform us into stereotypes of cat fighters and gossip mongers, feeling the need to fit with the box given to us rather than follow our own instincts. And then seeing women who normally I respect play into it made me feel downright wrong. We should stand together, old and new, never apart.
However, I have to keep reminding myself of the stories my mother told me from when she grew up: About her high school classmate who sought a back-alley abortion and was left to die on her parents’ lawn. Remembering all the money put into her brother for college because the boys went to school, and how she was unable to go to Berkeley like she always dreamed because she was a girl and should be more focused on finding a husband, paying for college out of her own wages. How there wasn’t always the term “Ms.,” let alone birth control that was readily accessible. There are things that, as a woman who was born years later, that I take for granted because… well, in my lifetime they were always there.
Yet I remember that day at 19, standing there and hearing that a part of my body was considered to be a dirty word unacceptable for mainstream America. When, after my divorce, I began to become sexually promiscuous that, although my closest friends celebrated it, I was shamed by others and even lost friends due to it. How, even when I loudly proclaimed my feminism for years before it became “cool” and “mainstream,” that my ex used to refer to it as “cute,” dismissing the cause. Dismissing us.
Yet I see how it used to be versus now, like when everyone would snicker at my last name of Slutske, and now how women I come across tell me how cool it is, that I should be proud of who I am and own it. How I see everyone involved in the conversation of feminism — black women, Latinas, white and even transgender women asking those inclusive questions, sharing their feelings and garnering love and support from each other. Empathy and support is just as important to our feminism, and it helps build something better for the future.
One day, I was sitting with my friend and her two young boys. While she and I enjoyed some grown up conversation, the boys were distracted watching television. They were watching a fantasy kids show with multiple main female characters, totally invested in the story arc. There was no one shushing them, ridiculing the characters or calls to watch a more “boy” show. This was the show they were following, in fact highly invested in, with strong female characters and strong male characters both equally involved in the adventures. This was feminism in action: The ability to see male and female as equal partners, as if it was no big deal.
We still have a ways to go, problems they won’t know about until they’re older. Abortion is constantly threatened, Planned Parenthood is always in risk of having money taken away for women’s health and the depictions of women as simply sexy is sadly still more commonplace than it should be. Yet I see people fighting these stereotypes head on, both men and women. We are getting closer to the dream of equality between genders, although the fight is still on for a more inclusive voice. We are at the beginning of something great, where even kids are being raised with these ideas, and they’re becoming the backbone of our society. We just need to go a little further.
Feminism is not about anger, and it’s not about frigidity. It is a living, breathing, beautiful thing that everyone is starting to see blossom and grow, and in turn nourish by seeing more, asking more. It is the opportunity to be more, to strive further, to tap greatness from everyone on a level playing field, no matter who they are. And, despite everything, I’m truly excited for the future.