My Feminist Journey
Pre Gender Paradise
I’m a little kid with no awareness of what gender is or that it even exists. I’m just pure beingness, oblivious to my gender assignment, living life to the fullest as I know it, going for whatever I want, being however I am. I roll, run, ride, and ram myself headfirst into every interesting thing, and spend a ton of time reading, running, climbing, singing, dancing, fishing, and swimming.
Not long after school starts I get a nasty surprise; I’m a girl and in many ways girls are looked down upon. They’re expected to behave differently from boys in ways I don’t understand and which seem unnatural to me. I am furious that I got arbitrarily put in a “lesser class” to which I don’t feel I belong, and pissed off that the kids don’t really let me play with the boys, who seem to be doing all the fun things. I struggle with questions about why my preferences and urges do not seem to align with the expectations from females. I decide to practice moving in a feminine way, since I can’t stand to wear fussy delicate clothing and jewelry I can’t climb trees in.
I move through shades of internalized misogyny; I weed out signs of ornamental or emotional femininity in myself and take on negative cultural baggage about how women are jealous, untrustworthy, backstabbing, shallow, vain, useless, cowardly, overly emotional, unintelligent, etc. I say things like “Most of my friends are guys. I don’t know why, but I just don’t get along as well with girls. I don’t get their humor, and who cares about clothes and crap?”
I notice women are othered, objectified, degraded, fetishized, and misportrayed systematically throughout human experience. As I read and get to know women and ponder my experiences, I’m surprised that actual females are human individuals, the same way I am, the same way men are – yet those of us assigned female are routinely treated as lesser beings that can be understood through the broadest and most demeaning generalizations. I see in pop culture the word feminist held up as toxic, and I witness hateful threads in the extreme feminist fringe. I look for ways to align with the struggle for equality but not identify as a feminist.
I discover the Humanist school of thought and this is good enough for me for a while. The Humanist branch of Psychology has much to offer us all, and the philosophical and ethical stances it takes are important. I think human life is incredibly valuable generally, and it is exactly my drive for personal agency that lit the fires of my feminist rage long before I knew the word feminist or realized exactly what I was so angry about. Even so, I realize humanism in the wrong hands used to negate the need to consciously create more equal opportunity for women and girls globally in the face of systemic oppression is not something I can be served by.
This is where a lot of white women land after Humanism. For people without experience that somehow puts them in direct persistent, cooperative contact with diverse people, White Feminism seems to be the only feminism until we chance upon a fortunate conversation. I’m lucky in my misfortune: born poor, to a single alcoholic mother of low income, my childhood exposes me to a variety of people and illustrates our shared humanity, and I meet a brilliant Latinx social justice warrior at an impressionable moment.
From people of many backgrounds and ethnicities in many parts of the United States I learn how much culture can shift from one block to the next, much less another state. I witness systematic barriers multiply when someone has more than one oppressed identity. Sociological studies tell us even the “best” of us are unconsciously biased, and our underlying attitudes can only be quickly reversed by putting ourselves on teams with people we’re biased against, where the stakes are important and the outcome depends on performance from everyone.
If we’re not all free, no one is free – and no one is free when all three branches of government are partisan tools. The conservative guardians of the corporate status quo assessed the demographic changes in the US and drew up plans decades ago to compensate for their declining numbers. Liberals – in the true classic sense of people who believe in democracy and human rights – need to stand proud for our values, accept our differences, and come together in a strategic alliance with clear cut goals: fight hard but clean for democracy with immediate tactical responses and long term campaigns. Rock the vote, take the House, take the Senate, and sure, let’s take back the White House. But never forget for the rest of our lives we have to keep local and state offices saturated with progressives, re-enfranchise the people, fight gerrymandering, and stuff the courts.