On Feminism

22 Sep
Though if you want to be a delicate princess, all the time or sometimes, then you are damn well welcome to do so too. (source)

Though if you want to be a delicate princess, all the time or sometimes, then you are damn well welcome to do so too.
(source)

Just moments ago, to put it in breaking news lingo, I read an article on Emma Watson’s speech to the UN on feminism and, particularly, the HeForShe campaign. The article cites a glorious portion of Watson’s speech in which she says that she decided to be a feminist because it just made sense.

I decided that I was a feminist. This seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, [women’s expression is] seen as too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive.

Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.

Many a badass woman has talked about how they of course they decided to be feminist, because when they paused to look around at the world they lived in, it just made sense.

This is not how I became a feminist.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I was “born” a feminist, but I was certainly shaped into one from before the age that kids develop theory of mind. What feminism really stands for, the ideas of equality – equal opportunity, equal respect – they were delivered to me as the norm. I grew up a feminist the way you can grow up a Southerner, or a Catholic, or a French-speaker. What feminism said was just a fact of life, the same way that belly buttons and fingernails and noses were.

Well, mostly.

Let’s back up and pan out. I grew up in the Midwest, as many of you lovely readers know. Because my parents are brilliant humans who cared deeply about my education, I attended a private, all-girls school from the age of three. Sure, this caused a lot of difficulties in my life, because a pre-pubescent or post-pubescently-hormonal clique of girls is about the social meanness equivalent of a pack of rabid hyenas starving for unsuspecting prey with a side of well-marinated sadism, but beyond that, uh, tiny pitfall, my school had a hell of a lot going for it.

For one thing, I was surrounded by girls. Yes, I did art and English and social studies and French entirely surrounded by girls. But I also did algebra and geometry and trigonometry and AP calculus and honors physics and AP bio and AP chemistry entirely surrounded by girls, too. There was never even a spec of the “girls can’t do/are less good than boys at STEM fields” attitude that apparently pervades other academic institutions. For me, the idea just plain didn’t compute. It was ridiculous. It was laughable. At least, it was once I heard about it. Because growing up from the age of three going to a school that required I and my entirely female classmates to take all those STEM field classes, and furthermore take them under the direction of something like 98% female faculty – the idea that “women aren’t good at math/science” never entered my brain. It’s like how I don’t know the Chinese word for milk. It’s just not ever something that was taught or exposed to me. I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t speak anti-feminism.

My school showed me that women could run the gamut of competence. My English teachers were 99% female. My science teachers were 99% female. My math teachers were in fact 100% female. Interestingly enough, my music and drama teachers were mostly male. And straight. So there went any kind of “heteronormative males can’t be interested in the performing arts” stereotype.

When it came to higher education, the faculty that taught me included both women and men with PhD’s. Most of the administrators at my school, both grade school and high school, were women. And what’s more, my school has had a 100% college acceptance rate for its graduating seniors since women were first allowed into college after my school’s inception in 1833.

So, I had a lot of role models. I saw adult women in positions of administrative and academic power and expertise. But my school also taught me that capability was not something I needed to look upward to find. I was shown that women are competent at any age and level of experience. When it came to student government, being at an all girls school, obviously, every single position was filled by one of my female cohorts. Our state-winning sports teams were entirely female. Our academic competition teams were entirely composed of females taught by mainly females, and we routinely routed out the all-boys schools we competed against. Our clubs, our plays, our every extra-curricular ever – they were run and attended by female students. I – and other students – even created clubs. We saw a need, we filled it. We problem-solved. We critically thought. We engineered. We created. We supported. We fought. In my sixty-seven person graduating class alone, one female student set a new record for the military entrance physical fitness test. Another went to West Point. And another to the Naval Academy. On the flip side, one of my friends deferred college for a year and prioritized full life experience and went to teach in Peru.

I lived in a world of intelligent, competent, caring, complex women. Sometimes we hated each other. Most of the time we at least got along, if not fiercely loved each other. Our views on love, sex, religion, politics, academics, sports, literature, really life in general were spattered across the board. But whatever happened between us, we knew it was because we were people, not “just” because we were women.

When I was still in grade school, I once asked my father on an election year if there were any female candidates. He told me that no, there weren’t, because women are naturally less good at being leaders than men.

That statement did not compute with small me’s view of the world. And to my school, I am incredibly grateful for that.

Oh yeah, I later ended up heading five clubs, creating a seventh-twelfth grade mentorship program, graduating as valedictorian, and becoming the first of my school’s students to go to Caltech.

I think I did all right on the leadership front.

Oh! And I do believe that next election, I’ll likely be voting for Hillary Clinton, very serious female Democratic presidential candidate.

Because the fact that she is female does not bother me.

Because I know that what her second sex chromosome is matters less than what she has shown of herself.

Because I know that women can be leaders.

Because I was raised a feminist.

I thank my fellow females for that.

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