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December 10, 2015

Confessions of an Ardent Feminist.

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“Rebellion is fun and you can do it everyday.”

I was a feminist long before I knew the word, so naturally when one of my girl power heroes came to town for a chat I knew I had to be there.

Gloria Steinem spoke at the newly restored United Artists Theater in downtown Los Angeles. The event was promoted as a conversation with Melissa McCarthy. During the conversation, the two women confessed to actions they took or conclusions they made during their own journeys as feminists.

This chance offered me time to reflect on my path as a life-long activist.

Just because inequality angers me, I don’t have to be an angry feminist.

When I was in high school I participated in a march for women’s rights in Los Angeles. It was the largest gathering of feminists I’d ever encountered. The number of supporters amazed me, and I felt intoxicated to have found a community.

I, also, faced the sizable group of opponents of equal rights, mostly centered on reproductive rights. Their graphic posters and propaganda scared me. Our group was huge and furious, so we quickly drowned out the anti-protesters. At the time, I thought well this is how things occur. We demand, raise our voices and let everyone know how ticked off inequality makes us. Still, I was never comfortable with the animosity.

It had taken a long time before I understood that while I shared the indignation they felt, my response to it didn’t have to be about throwing stones. I could respond in ways that aligned more directly with my ideals by embracing elated and joyful feminism.

Feminist is not a dirty word.

The staggering number of women who emphatically told me that they were not feminists used to shock me. Now, I attribute those counts to misconceptions and as a response to radical feminism. Otherwise, I couldn’t understand why women, in particular, would be opposed to gender equality.

I confess that I, too, contributed to the disdain for the word. I could argue insecurity about openly identifying as a feminist. Sure in certain circles, I was quite vocal about my activism but, in general, I preferred to keep silent.  Even as late as 2004, I was still in the closet about my views. That year I participated in Washington in the March for Women’s Lives with about a million other like-minded individuals. I choose not to let my employer (a technology company) or even my mom know where I was headed that weekend much less the reason for the trip.

The shift in my perspective of the word was gradual. As I started using the word more and more in different spheres of my life, it became an ordinary word. I no longer felt ashamed or insecure when I uttered it. I could not pinpoint when it occurred, but eventually I stopped perceiving feminism a dirty word.

“Rebellion is fun and you can do it everyday.”

Ms. Steinem said, “rebellion is fun,” during the chat, but it’s also my own confession about feminism. Having grown-up in a strict Catholic family, feminism was my first and favorite rebellion. I have relished and immersed so much into this “ism” that it has become a form of play.

When I was 17, I met this beautiful boy who had long hair, played guitar, and introduced me to Jimi Hendrix. Enter my stepfather who forbids me to see the boy because of his hair. He actually said, “girls have long hair and boys have short hair.” The next day I got my one and only pixie cut. I asked him how could it be that I had short hair and yet I’m still a girl. My stepfather was livid.

Using rebellion in everyday helps me remind others about how we create a framework of inequality by actions and words we use everyday. If someone jokes about rape or violence toward women, I use humor to remind them that violence or rape are unacceptable.

Other times, it’s preferable and fun to confuse people. At times, I will run into people who will never have an open mind and aggressively opposed gender equality. For instance, a man who I run into on a semi-regular basis will often tell, “you are too pretty to be one of those man-hating women.” Or he might say, “the only thing wrong with you is that you listen to those lesbians.” Instead of angrily responding with an equally rude comment, I thank him as if he gave me the kindest compliment. “Yes, thank you for noticing,” I might respond. Keep in my mind that the tone has to be just right to pull it off without antagonizing anyone.

My commitment to gender equality is fierce and an ardent part of my identity. Listening to McCarthy and Steinem speak reminded me that while feminists embrace similar views, we approach these perspectives in own ways. We can all help toby continuing to bring conversations about gender equality into the mainstream instead of keeping in the realm of women’s studies.

Another Relephant Link: 

Conscious Feminism from a Recovering Misogynist.
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Author: Camerina P. Schwartz

Apprentice Editor: Ann Marie Matthews/ Editor: Travis May

Image: Flickr/Rich Anderson

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Camerina P. Schwartz