I was picking something up at the mall after work. It was winter so I was wearing a coat and scarf and long pants - skinny style khakis, but not crazy skinny. Aside from wearing a hat, I was as covered proportionally skin wise as anyone could expect a person to be in the Middle East, much less Orem, Utah. I was putting my purchase and purse in the car when a middle-aged man driving by leaned out his opened window and cat called at me. "Heeeeey, sexy!" he cooed, clearly entertained.
I was standing in line at Ulta and saw a display for Fifty Shades of Grey inspired nail polish. There are shades named things like "Romantically Involved" and "My Silk Tie", and the more disturbing "Dark Side of the Mood", "Shine For Me" and "Cement the Deal". Apparently bondage and dominance and sadism and masochism are glamorous now.
My facebook feed has been full of articles on leggings lately. Apparently leggings (aka. yoga pants sometimes) are the latest hot button topic when it comes to what women should do with their clothing choices. "They're too tight and too inappropriate in public," says one side. "Just wear them at home! In public they are an inappropriate temptation."
"Who cares about my clothing choices?!" says the other side. "They're comfortable, and they're good for working out, and you should care more about your own clothes than you do mine."
Growing up I had an aversion to the idea of feminism. Culturally, it was the world I was raised in. A world that told me that, while wanting women to vote was a good thing and equal pay was alright, in general we wanted women to raise children and men to work, and that was the right way to go. That men and women were equal already and anyone still pursuing the movement were bra-burning nuts who were beating a dead horse and just making a fuss.
Now, to be clear, I don't ever remember anyone in my childhood demonstrating anything that would make me believe otherwise. My father and mother are amazing examples of mutual love and respect. My grandparents and aunts and uncles are kind and generous to each other. I think that because I was raised around such wonderful people, I believed that everyone was that lucky. That I would spend my life treated that way, that my friends would too, and that was the beautiful post 80s world that I lived in.
Then, of course, things didn't turn out all Mrs. Cleaver for me. I haven't really dated in ages. (I haven't enjoyed dating, maybe, ever.) I found a job that I love. (That I don't want to give up.) I found myself in that awkward older single life that used to be really unique but is growing in popularity. (CNN says that five years ago, 43% of the population over 18 in the US was single.)
Being in that world shakes up the expected status quo a bit, and I started noticing some things that bothered me that I hadn't seen before:
1. Twilight culture: A story based on a girl who literally cannot function without her undead boyfriend. I love a good Disney story as much as anyone else, and I'm not without twitterpated feels over gallant men saving their pretty women when they really need saving - but something about this Twilight thing felt different. Those damsel in distress stories were often set in a time when women couldn't save themselves entirely. But the 21st Century? Really? And people liked it?
2. A few years ago a student at BYU left a rather passive aggressive note to another student chiding her for wearing clothing that he deemed as having a "negative effect" on men. The whole thing felt sour to me. In the time it took for that boy to notice the girl, get attracted to her, and then get mad at her for being attracted to her enough to write her a note, leave it with her, and walk away - he could have just moved on. She later posted a picture of what she was wearing. It was cute. She looked nice. She didn't look (what I would deem) sexy or alluring or inappropriate. I've worn things like that to teach in.
3. I started hearing stories of friends who would go jogging on bike trails by the University taking mace or pepper spray with them. I found out that between 2011 and 2012, instances of rape in Utah went up by 44%. I thought about all the times I would walk home from class with my keys in my fist, ready to hit at anyone who tried anything on me, tucking my ponytail into a hat or scarf because having long hair alone made me more vulnerable. Realized that at a University that should, arguably, be one of the safest in the world, I was still scared.
And then the 50 Shades. And the leggings. And the cat-calling.
So this is why I'm a feminist.
I'm a feminist because being cat-called out of a car or in the store or anywhere at all by a random person is not flattering or kind or appropriate.
I'm a feminist because I don't want my sister or my niece or my students or any of the girls I know to think for one second that the only way they are going to get a man is by allowing him to hurt them, physically, mentally, or emotionally. I don't want them to feel afraid that if they don't let the man do what he wants, he will be less of a man. I want them to be brave enough to say "No, I don't want that" whether the "that" is a date they aren't interested in, a kiss they don't want, a cereal they don't like, or something much worse.
I'm a feminist because I have respect for the choices of others. If a person wants to work, stay at home, have ten children, have two children, marry, not marry, wear pajama pants to Walmart, wear a Speedo to Walmart, wear a suit and top hat to Walmart, wear a ballgown to Walmart - doggonit it is their business. It is a choice between them and God and if I try and throw myself into that conversation, then I am the one who needs to check my thinking.
I'm a feminist because I believe that in being strong, I help elevate everyone. I teach boys that strong women are not intimidating or scary, they are interesting. They are exciting. They are helpful. They help lift the burden so often placed on men to be responsible for everything. They want men to feel welcome in spheres that they were practically banned from a century ago. Because when women are strong, and men are strong, those strengths do not cancel each other out or forbid each other, they elevate.
I'm a feminist because I was raised to believe that I have divine nature, individual worth, choices that I am accountable for, the responsibility to do good works, to have integrity, faith, (and virtue - thought that was technically added after my time. But whatever. It's still good.)
I'm a feminist because although my world may not be all that horribly oppressive (I may get cat called but I can vote and I own my own house and have sole control of the remote and everything!) there are women in the world who are not as blessed as I am. Women who have no rights, are abused, are abandoned, are mistreated. It is my responsibility to help make the world better for them. They are my sisters.
I'm a feminist because I am a human being who believes that all human beings, regardless of gender, deserve to be treated with dignity. Which means, really, that the term feminist is only half accurate. What it really means is humanist. Or personist. Or justtreateveryonekindlydoggonitist. Whatever word you want to put there so that you can get the image of bra burning out of your head because I am not burning a bra of mine any time soon.
Oh - and to that guy who cat called at me tonight?