I have a tendency to let my enthusiastic heart lead me towards paths that my brain would, at minimum, approach with signification caution…if not outright trepidation.
Such is the case when it comes to agreeing to write a Feminist Friday post for the WISA blog. My heart said, “Oooh, oooh, pick me, pick me!” to which my head replied, “What did you just get me into?!” My stomach remarked, “I think queso should be its own food group” but I digress.
You see, I am still coming to terms with my identity as a feminist. It’s not that I don’t embrace the ideals of gender equity. I wholeheartedly do, but as I have come to more fully understand the complexity of my identity and my associated privileges, there have been certain labels that have been easier to accept than others.
I can speak with ease about my identity as a white, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied male as well as the privileges that society affords me because of those aspects of my identity. I have moved beyond guilt and gladly work to find my own opportunities to challenge the status quo and support those who don’t share my same privilege. I proudly wear the “ally” moniker in my daily work and personal life in hopes that oppression, discrimination, and hate will one day become a thing of the past. (A person can dream, right?)
And so, my hesitation to embrace my feminist identity is not founded in any incongruous personal value or belief but rather a lingering sense of whether I’m worthy to be called as such.
There was a time in my life in which I reveled in the spoils that privilege provided me. It wasn’t that I was outwardly hateful, discriminatory, or sexist. I was simply unaware. And while I have been quicker to forgive my mistakes of youth as it related to other aspects of my identity—be it sexual orientation, race, class, religion, etc., I have been far more reluctant to find peace with gender-based missteps.
In my younger years, I gave the masculine ideal far too much credence. In hindsight, the power I granted this social construct is almost comical as I bore very little resemblance to its traits. I’m sure there is a psychological reason for this unhealthy attachment, and 22-year-old “me” would have a field day picking that dynamic apart with his freshly awarded B.A. in Psychology, but that is between me…and the younger, apparently more judgmental, less like-able me.
As I embraced what society was teaching me about masculinity, it stood to reason that I also bought into gender norms for women; hence, the aforementioned missteps.
This past week, I was reflecting with my wife about this post and what I hoped to convey in its message. I shared my personal insecurities as it related to the task and what the root cause might be. She’s been my partner for almost twelve years, having gotten married just out of college. We often joke that it’s fortunate the adults we grew into still like each other as we are dramatically different people than we were on our wedding day. But to reframe that, I think the reason our partnership works is because we have enabled each other to become our true selves. Back then, we tried to be who we thought others expected and society taught us to be. Today, she’s a strong, independent woman who I respect, admire, and adore…and she’s thinks I’m pretty okay, too. More importantly, we are equal partners in this relationship.
I share that because as I began to reject the masculine ideal and embark on a more authentic exploration of self, I began to recognize the other strong, amazing women in my life—family members, colleagues, friends.
Women whose identities were so much more than any restrictive social construct and whose stories enriched the world around them.
Women who made it safe for me to dabble in the waters of feminism even when I was reticent to fully let go of old zeitgeists.
Women who chose to educate rather than write me off as a lost cause.
Women who extended grace when I fell short despite my best intentions.
Women who saw my heart even when I was blind to my own dissonance.
Women who gave me the strength to share this aspect of my story despite my personal misgivings.
Now, when confronted with sexism or really any form of injustice, I find that I am much too quick to jump on the pedestal of self-righteousness and ignore my own checkered past with privilege. Had others confronted my own missteps in such a manner, my developmental path could have taken a much different, far less productive turn. Patience, compassion, hope, persistence—these were the tools that won me to the cause.
And one day they will allow me to fully embrace my identity as a feminist.
Thanks for allowing me to share.