I’ve spent most of my life not thinking or caring about feminism. For the bulk of that time I didn’t know much about it aside from the standard references to suffragettes and bra burning, and my academic interests led more toward war history than feminism. Even after a few rounds with Simone de Beauvoir and gender theory in a philosophy class, it was still an easy thing to dismiss and kick to the side for one key reason:
I had the privilege of never needing it.
At the time I never acknowledged it as a privilege. It was merely a subconscious sluffing aside of something that had no relevance in my life. I’d never been discriminated against because of my gender and the old boys club tended to welcome me with open arms. For the most part, my gender had never come up as an issue in anything.
That’s a hell of a thing to be able to say, and it was only recently that I realized just how rare it is.
Growing up I came from a family of very strong women, none of whom ever identified as feminists. They were just smart and independent females who went after and got what they wanted with tenacity and hard work. My grandmother is the most fear-inspiring person I’ve ever met, and after watching equally headstrong alpha-male men routinely jump to her command, (she’s the matriarch of the family in every sense of the word) it never occurred to me that women would ever be perceived as anything other than equals.
My grandfather, while being a stereotypical throwback to the old southern gentleman, may prescribe in theory to chauvinistic tendencies, but he taught all three of his daughters the exact same skills he did his son. They’re all ball busters who can hunt, fish, farm and have some scary survival skills. He also crows over his badass granddaughters and has spent most of our time together teaching and discussing history, warfare, and politics with us. You know, all those topics that the menfolk usually pondered over while the women were in the kitchen back in the day.
My father has been outnumbered with two extraordinary vocal daughters, and while he may like to grumble about it, his go-to bragging is about how “no man will ever shock his daughters,” and how “they know how to keep me in line, they’re the first to call me out for acting like an asshole.” Mom raised us to be tough, to fight our own battles, fix our own machinery, and not have to rely on anyone but ourselves. We can cook a delicious meal and be a perfect host, and tell the mechanic exactly what’s wrong with our cars, and neither of those things were ever taught with any reference to gender.
Whether it was vocalized or not, my sister and I were raised as equals—to men, to our elders, and anyone we may encounter. So again after being exposed to it I wondered, what did we need feminism for?
Throughout school and even once I got into the workplace, it was much the same. Despite going to Catholic schools, routinely known as a solid bastion of sexism, I largely escaped it. Most of my female teachers had either master’s degrees or doctorates, the head disciplinarian was a woman, the SGA was dominated by girls, and our female sports teams were so good they were being sent overseas to compete.
In college I majored in a typically male-dominated field of international relations and political philosophy, but routinely had more women in my classes than men, and when questions arose about war and diplomacy, my former military-men professors sought out my opinion specifically. At work I fell into a marketing career, a profession in which I generally have 90 percent female coworkers, and have had just as many female bosses as I have men, with just as mixed results in leadership.
I’ve never been able to relate to tales of sexism in the streets or in the boardroom, of old boys clubs dismissing my work, of making less than my male coworkers, or not having my medical needs served. At every checklist of why we need feminism my life has said, “no, you really don’t,” and that’s shocking. That’s a level of privilege that is so off the scale unheard of it’s nearly to the level of unbelievable.
And nothing has taught me that more than running a website for women.
Every day someone writes in or an article pops up about one more way we need feminism. Countless writers turned friends share tales of domestic abuse, date rape, growing up shamed by their sexuality, dismissed by even their female bosses for showing weakness. Stories of wanting to start a family but working for a company that doesn’t offer maternity leave; of being blamed by authorities for being assaulted because they had a skirt on after 10 p.m.; of parents who financially threaten their student daughters to keep them chaste; of being told you’re too pretty for print journalism. Not to mention our near daily debate on how to cover the latest political attack against women. Every day I learn how fortunate I have been, how shockingly privileged, and how much my own life experiences have been the outlier, and all I’ve had to do is talk to other women.
Stories are finally being told and shared globally and information is readily available to women just like me. We see it shouted from the front pages of Jezebel and Salon, all the way to having a Beyoncé dance routine in front of the word in marquis lights. The word is finally be spread, but it also means the more it’s heard, the harder it’s fought against.
That hasn’t always been true. I may not have known or cared about feminism growing up, but the subtle effects of it were very much felt during my impressionable years in the mid-90s – early 2000s. I was surrounded by one thing: Girl Power. From the Spice Girls to Gwen Stefani to Lilith Fair, female artists were everywhere. On TV, female-dominated shows weren’t the exception to the rule and we had shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Ally McBeal,” “Charmed,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Sex and the City,” “Xena,” “Roseanne,” and the list just goes on and on. Whenever I turned on my radio or TV there were women reinforcing what I’d learned at home.
Since then we’ve had strong women leaders like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and vocal women’s rights activists in Hollywood like Lena Dunham and Angelina Jolie, but we still can barely get a blockbuster movie to pass the Bechdel test. We have politicians simultaneously pandering and slandering us. The Internet is filled with discussion about body and sex shaming ad nauseum, but we still have women’s magazines, websites, and a populace who think we’re nothing but one issue.
So do I think I need feminism now? Yes, because every one else in the world needs feminism too, regardless their gender or sexual orientation. If the feminism diagram is true, “Do you believe in equality? Yes, ergo you are a feminist,” then we need feminism so that perhaps we can finally get to the point where women are more than a checkmark, more than our vaginas, and where fights over what it means to be a feminist, a good feminist, or a bad feminists will cease to exist. If we finally accept that what we want is equality, period, then the labels and identifications we apply to ourselves won’t be quite as critical.
I need feminism just so that one day, maybe I won’t be the statistical anomaly to have had privilege of not needing it.