I don’t remember the exact moment I became a feminist, but I imagine it began around the time I got my first job in retail. An elderly gentleman called me ‘pretty girl’. To some people that may seem like a compliment. What’s wrong with being called pretty? Maybe you’ve even said that to a young woman: “which of these pretty girls wants to help me today?” In that moment, though, and in the eyes of that man, I was an object. I wasn’t Alexis. I wasn’t even Cashier Number Three. My entire being was defined by two simple words: Pretty. Girl. And it was degrading.
Was that all I was? Gender: female. Notation: pretty. What happened when I got older? What would replace the word ‘pretty’?
I was sixteen, and I knew my place.
I grew up on a cattle farm in Alberta, Canada. I was raised by a mother (female) and father (male), and was the youngest of three girls. My mom and sisters were anything but timid or simple-minded. In my time growing up I never once thought about my chosen gender, nor considered myself limited. I had a father who taught his daughters how to gut a fish and castrate a calf, and read us princess stories in our pajamas because we asked him to, again and again. I had a mother who, while being a stay-at-home mom for most of our upbringing, was strong and capably independent. Year after year I saw her wielding hammer and wooden spoon alike with as much expertise as any man. (That’s not to say that she was a jack-of-all-trades, as my Dad was the handier of the two and he was definitely not allowed in the laundry room).
My dad was not an outspoken feminist, but we were raised in a household where we never thought inequality was a problem to be addressed. Even in grade school I had male and female teachers who were my role models. It wasn’t until high school that I learned a female principal was called a ‘bitch’, and a male principal was a ‘boss’.
My parents are baby boomers, and are a product of their era. My mother was also a devout Christian woman, and I heard her say more than once that she would submit to her husband in any decision, but only after her opinion had been heard. I don’t remember my Dad every exercising that ‘biblical command’, and something about the notion did not sit right with me. Submit? That word didn’t seem to be in my vocabulary.
But, we’ll get to that later.
I, like my parents before me, am a product of my generation. Millennials are known for being opinionated to the point of narcissism. Growing up, I was a cruel mixture of self-critic, world-critic and Christian-ethic. I liked makeup and arts and crafts, and I also loved playing in the mud and collecting caterpillars as pets. I never felt limited… Until puberty.
Women in Canada have the right to vote. They are given government supplemented maternity leave (so long as they have worked at least six hundred of the required hours). Women can wear whatever they want (though that conversation may lead to the subject of consensual rape based on a woman “asking for it” because of what she wears—again, we will get to that later). Canada is a democratic nation. Canada, as well as the United States and several other countries (but not nearly all) claims gender equality.
I claim bull.
I had a job where I made twenty-five percent less than my white male co-worker who was in my exact same position and was less qualified. I work just as hard at my job, and yet he made more money. I had not gone on maternity leave. I had not left on extended disability leave. I had not timidly sat around waiting for the grace of the pay-day gods to rain down on me. This is not for lack of my asking for raises, or applying for promotions. This is a fact of life. Men, on average, make more money and work less hours. If you don’t believe me, check out the stats on www.internationalwomensday.com. There are all sorts of charts and graphs for you nerds out there.
I am not the sort of feminist to parade down the street without a top on (though if that’s your thing, I’m certainly not going to stop you). I’m not a feminist who targets men with angry rants about pay-gaps (though as I explained, that gap very clearly exists, and I have many calm conversations with men regarding this subject). I am not the feminist who burns her bra or makes public speeches that reiterates what people have heard repeatedly. That only speaks to their choir. It’s not that I don’t agree with the statements these feminists are making. I wish that those feminists could be heard by everyone, but to be honest, not everyone cares. Public grand gestures don’t fit my personality. For the most part I am a quiet person—until you put a pen in my hand. I stand for what I believe in, and I try to do so through encouragement and open conversation. You could say I am a subtle humanist when it comes to face-to-face interaction.
I think it’s important to make a distinction between man-haters and feminists, and I will do so in the following chapters. The term has been turned into an F-word, when it is simply a plea for recognition and equality. So, ladies, gentlemen, and all others out there who consider yourselves intellectuals, listen up. I’m not only going to tell you the importance of feminism, (especially in a Christian context, which is what a majority of North American’s consider themselves, whether or not they visit a church regularly). I am also going to supplement your knowledge with the ability to speak kindly to those who just don’t seem to get it any other way.
I have a career in customer service, and often I hear the familiar words of patriarchy ringing in my ear. Does my appearance serve any purpose towards my ability to perform my job? No. Does my blond hair or chosen shade of lipstick make me less intelligent? No. Do I want someone to call me “good girl” when I do something right? No. I am a young adult who happens to be a female. I am not a dog doing a trick. I have a degree from a University for English Literature. I read books from every genre of science, faith, science-fiction, biography, and even history. I have deep and intellectual thoughts. I have a sense of humour. I hate cooking and love baking. I am a huge Trekkie, and I also like wearing makeup and having nice clothes. I know all the words to all three Lord of the Rings movies. I played a sport once and didn’t die from it. I am married to an astrophysicist who is also a feminist (and a male). I have a cat, and he is perfectly indifferent to all aspects of life. What does all this mean? It means I’m a three-dimensional human being with a variety of characteristics which are ever changing and evolving to make me into the person I am today. So please, sit down with me and hear me out, loud and clear: Women are people. Men are people. Transgender’s are people. Homosexual, heterosexual, transsexual, pan-sexual, and all the rest. We are all people.
So, let’s all get over ourselves and open our minds to the idea that the bible is a cultural text, paternity-leave exists and is not shameful, women get raped more often than men, and some women prefer to be stay-at-home moms and that’s okay. We all need to be a little nicer on this tiny blue planet we call Earth. We need to look out for each other. Because we are all in this struggle together, and there’s no sense in leaving anyone behind. #Humanism.