Notes From a Background Feminist

Happy International Women’s Day.

Happy National Day Without Women.

I am a proud, feminist woman, but I will not be going on strike today. I own my own businesses, and the only person hurt if I don’t go to work today is me. That does not seem to be in the spirit of the undertaking. Further, as the chair of an otherwise all-male city commission, if I skip my meeting tonight to make a point, the only result is that a group of men will make important decisions with no input from any women. This also seems to miss the point.

So today, I will work on a list of tasks that is long and contains some rather unpleasant items. I do not want to face down a room full of people and lead the discussion that will ultimately result in some parties feeling angry and disappointed. I do not want to look through the list of applicants who want employment with me and decide which ones to call back and tell “better luck next time.”

But I will do these things anyway, because I have taken on these responsibilities, and seeing them through – even to their unpleasant conclusions – is one of the ways I can act out my feminism today.

The other thing I’m doing today is spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of feminism. What is it and how should it apply to me, to the women in my life, to the men in my life, and all other people around the world? We all know the stereotypes about feminists – everything from the rabid man-haters who blame men for all the world’s wrongs to the non-leg-shaving feminazis who just want to see the patriarchy burn. These wild stereotypes often utterly miss the point, but there are other stereotypes that I find more troubling, and more troubling yet because I myself am often guilty of indulging in them.

By nature, I am not an aggressive person. Given my druthers, I would happily stay at home, do the cooking and cleaning, mind the cats, wear pretty dresses, read fluffy novels, and never EVER get into a situation where I’d have to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. I am an introverted, conflict-averse homebody who enjoys indulging in past times associated with traditional femininity. For these reasons, I often catch myself feeling like a bad feminist.

I am writing this today to convince both myself and you that such a thought is unfair and straight-up wrong.

In my life, I am fortunate to be surrounded by an astonishing group of women. They are scientists, mothers, teachers, artists, activists, wives, businesswomen, professors, politicians, engineers, lovers, and dreamers. They believe in causes and they fight for those causes. They state their opinions boldly and look for ways to rally others to the call. They expose injustice and uphold truth and righteousness. If it isn’t already apparent, I’ll say it clearly: these women are superheros.

And me? I am one of the tiny faces in the background, cheering them on. I am not leading any charges; by nature I am inclined toward following. I’m not recruiting others to the cause; given recent life experiences, I feel a strong aversion toward suggesting that other people should believe as I do. Worse yet, I find myself reluctant to join their marches, call their senators, or copy their protests onto my Facebook wall. My reasons for this range from the sensible (a small business owner living in a red, red state must take very calculated social risks) to the cowardly (what if I offend great uncle Ted and he won’t talk to me at the next family reunion?).

If I feel cowardly and don’t like that about myself, perhaps I should do some things to address that aspect of my personality. But here, I think, is the more important thing I need to change about this pattern of thinking:

There is no wrong way to be a feminist. Despite what some men might believe, there is no Feminist Card that will get revoked if I stay home from the marches, keep my political opinions to myself, or cook my husband dinner. Feminism is not about adhering to a prescribed set of social behaviors and actions, it is about women everywhere being able to live their lives on their own terms, without anyone – not men, and not other women – telling them they can’t or shouldn’t. Feminism is the very reason I should feel great about each decision I make for myself in a given day. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who support and celebrate my decisions, from my frivolous choice of reading material all the way up to decisions as serious as whether or not I will have children.

I am supported, and I am loved for exactly who I am and what I do. Extending that same support and love to the other women in my life is something I can do without reserve. Perhaps I could work a little on boldness, on finding ways to use my strong position and my privilege to help other women gain political ground. But until I figure that out, I can celebrate the ways in which I can and do support the feminist ideals. I own two businesses and employ three other women. I attend my Historic Preservation Commission meetings every week, where my voice is heard and my opinions are carefully weighed in halls that have traditionally echoed only with male input. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a friend, and I strive to be the best of each of those things that I can be. I am also a complex mix of archaeologist, writer, actor, singer, cook, teacher, runner, gardener, and dreamer. If I worry that no one of those identities takes a dominant enough place in my life, that’s fine – entertaining that worry is my right – but it doesn’t make me a lesser or greater person, nor a lesser or greater feminist.

I will support and embrace myself today. I will support and embrace all of you, my magnificent feminist friends. This is not too much to ask, and it is not too little.

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