In this time period, references to burning bras on television and in popular culture were common. Working women in shoulder pads and navy blue power suits were predominant characters on television, but women sitting at home watching the episodes were hitting a glass ceiling in their own careers and lives. I think that in the early 90s there was a certain nostalgia for the suffragette movement of the 60s. There was a certain sense that feminism had no longer become a woman’s cause-- it had become the working woman’s cause, and the media became obsessed with stopping the sexual objectification of woman in the workplace. You remember that time. It was during that time period when you kept hearing phrases like “sexual harassment” and “lawsuit” never present without the other. You remember that time when your kindergarten teacher explained to you that you shouldn’t let the boys touch your bum, or play boys chase the girls. You remember that time when you would sing to your brother, “Anything you can do, I can do better?”
But before you were conscious of this, you were eating some cookies, maybe dipping them in some milk and wishing your first name was Sam, too.
During this same time period, it somehow became ingrained in my head that burning a bra was something you had to do as a woman, a rite of passage. I had no idea why it was necessary and it kind of seemed like a waste of good clothing to me, but I was under the impression that you had to go out, buy a bra, and promptly burn it for good measure.
By fourth grade, I still had no idea what feminism was, but things were said to me in my sometimes backwards town that instinctively struck me as wrong. Like when Mom took me to a new church just to try it out, and they showed me a children’s bible featuring pictures of gays being burned. I knew this was wrong. I didn’t even know what a gay person was, but I knew in my gut that burning them was wrong, and thought to myself that God couldn’t possibly want that. And one day in fourth grade, when Darryl Wilcox told me girls weren’t allowed to play baseball and couldn't be good at it because they were supposed to "knit and stuff", I instinctively knew this was wrong, too. A certain rage bubbled up inside me, and I told him he was stupid, that girls could do anything. (By the time sixth grade rolled around, I had to take anger management classes for this indignant characteristic of mine that overwhelmed my senses and caused me to have blurred fits of pure anger. But that’s another story.)
So, here’s the truth, flat-out: I am a feminist.
And as an university-educated female, I don’t understand why feminism has become such a dirty word.
Rejecting feminism as being outdated and the territory of your mother’s generation is the equivalent of coloured people deciding that Martin Luther King’s words no longer hold weight or relevance. You think equality’s been achieved? Of course it hasn’t. I’m not going to recite basic Sociology 101 facts. You all know about the wage disparity. You all know about the glass ceiling. You all know about the rapes and the women who are still pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen and abused by their husbands. You all know about genital mutilation, and you know about baby girls left in ditches. You all know this.
So why are you ignoring it?
Maybe I’m more sensitive to this because I spent my summer as a second-class citizen. Maybe it’s because I spent my summer working twice as hard as some of the men on the construction site, just so I could prove myself, prove my worth. Maybe it’s because I spent those days on the construction site never taking breaks until I was dehydrated and exhausted because I knew if I quit, even for a second, my job would be given to a man and I would be considered lazy, worthless, inept. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t able to go to the nakamal and drink kava because I was expected to be at home cooking dinner. . . or maybe I’m more sensitive to this because I had a certain ex-boyfriend who would constantly tell me that I was acting a certain way, feeling a certain way because I was a girl. He told me I couldn’t do things because I was a girl. He fabricated what he figured I must be feeling, because I was a girl. You just won’t get it, you’re a girl. You can’t do that, you’re a girl. (Strange, too, because that boyfriend's mom was a feminist.)
Maybe it’s because in English class last week, I could hold back my cynical laughter when Ryan kept referring to feminism as “feminist stuff” and “feminist things.” As in, “Oh, you go do your feminist stuff, and I’ll sit here and be manly, drink a beer, scratch my balls and make sure the world still operates in a functional manner.” Ryan is a third-year journalism student. He’s going to be a reporter someday, responsible for how you read about the world. And when our prof suggested that the character in the story had passed down feminist values to her sons, Ryan was absolutey opposed to and flabbergasted at the thought of men with feminist values.
Well, Ryan, here’s the thing: there’s another word for feminism and it’s egalitarianism. You believe in equality, right Ryan? Because I sure do.
And if you believe in equality, you’re a feminist.
Feminist. It’s heavy in my mouth, on my lips. It’s thick. It’s said with hesistation. But you know what? It’s not the hairy-legged, birth-control toting, Maya Angelou-quoting, Ani Difranco-listening, testosterone-hating uber feminists who are giving women are a bad name.
It’s the women who have rejected feminism. It’s the women who call other women down in the street.
Maybe our ideals of perfection, our ideals of body image and what a woman should be are created by men, sitting in their corporate offices and knowing that from now until the end of time sex will sell, but it is other women who enforcing it.
Slut, bitch, fat, dyke, tramp. Dirty prude, that whore, hello anorexic, did you look at how tight her jeans are?
These aren’t things men have said to me. It’s always been other women.
I am a feminist. I believe we don’t have to be catty, we don’t have to call one another down and we don't have to buy into the products being marketed to us. I believe we can be proud of our sexuality, our intellect, our ambitions, our bodies, our entire worth.
And I believe this is something we’ve all forgotten along the way.