This is part of a long series of posts which will be known as Feminist Fridays. Because individuality is at the heart of feminism, I’m going to open up this space to different people each week to share with us a little portion of their unique journey.
The day that I met Katelin, I was briefly intimidated by her beautiful hair, her easy, brilliant vocabulary and her ass-kicking boots that she wears nearly everywhere she goes (I say “briefly” because I quickly learned that she is an ally and not an enemy to me or anyone else). She’s a vision of strength and vulnerability—comfort and bravery. In the past few years as our friendship has grown I have grown as well. She knows how to hold other people up and she knows how to hold herself up as well—and when she needs help, she’s not afraid to ask for it.
One particularly rough day, Katelin reached out via-Facebook to a few of her favorite women. I was lucky enough to be on that list. We all communicated on that message thread for a few days before it was decided to start a group and that’s where our Facebook Feminist group began. Through this group, I have learned the importance of validation and affirmation and I’m generous with it, now. All that to say, I have a lot of thanks to offer to Katelin for some of my most favorite things about my life and personality. So here we go–hold onto your hats.
So, Katelin! Wanna tell us a little about yourself? Alrighttttt, so I’m Katelin. Libby and I have the same middle name. I go to school at Wichita state, and I’m a bartender. So I study psychology both academically and professionally. I live with my rabbit named Spock and I’m not doing justice to him if I don’t include a picture of him. He’s the fucking cutest. I’m learning the cello, I’m learning Turkish, I like to read, and I do a movie podcast with my friends that can be found by searching Hivemind on the iTunes podcast library, or here.
How long have you known that you were a feminist? Did you have any misgivings about adopting that label? I came into my own as a feminist around the time that I started college. I went to an incredibly conservative, Baptist school for my first couple of years and that conservatism manifested itself in ways that I didn’t yet understand but made me uncomfortable. For instance, on one of my first nights in the dorms, my RA told me that I had to attend a secret event, and that all she could tell me was that I needed to “look as cute as possible, maybe wear a skirt.” All of the freshman women were lined up on the lawn while the boys from other dorms paraded by with flowers, serenading us and giving flowers to the one’s they liked best. Despite the protests of my RA, I left the event and went back to my dorm and just cried. (I just want to interject, here and say that an almost identical situation happened to me in my first week of college at a similar type of school! I thought it was weird at the time but now I’m just very hopeful that it’s not, like, standard procedure on Christian campuses? Hoping it was just two very specific flukes. Ok, go on, Katelin. Sorry to interrupt.)
Luckily, I was involved in college debate, a notoriously academic and liberal subculture, that helped me put words to the things I was seeing around me; sexism. It also helped me realize that I am a feminist (even as the activity and some of the people involved perpetuated sexist tropes common in a community dominated by white men). I had no misgivings about adopting the label of feminist; I’ve always been a kind of all-or-nothing person. And when I am something, I try to embody it. When I want something, I needed it fifteen minutes ago (sometime I’ll tell you about how I got Spock).
I’ll bet you were AWESOME at debate–how did it help you to recognize and put words to the sexism around you? Debate is an awesome activity, and I think that it’s a good idea for a lot of young women to participate in it. It’s an academic activity, so it involves a lot of research about the topic. But you can talk about whatever you want in debate, including feminism. I was reading all of these empirical examples of sexism with commentary by people smarter than me- like Toni Morrison, Judith Butler, Gloria Steinem- and they were putting terms to what I was feeling. At the same time, debate has some problems. There are quite a few more men in the activity than women. Have you ever felt like you said the same thing as a man, and it was the man that was heard? That’s how debate felt.
Do you think that it’s important to claim the label of “feminist”? This is a tough question. In some ways I think it is important to own the label of feminist because when people deny the term, it casts a negative light on what we are, what we are trying to accomplish. Shunning the word makes it a dirty one, and that’s just not what feminism looks like today. Contemporary scholars and activists agree that feminism looks like the belief that women and men should be socially, politically, and economically equal. Nothing more or less than this- and whatever else you believe, if rooted in this basic notion, is still feminist. So part of me thinks that if you live your life toward this end, and your actions reflect that, then it’s not necessary to adopt the term. At the same time, I think the population we live in is nuanced enough to realize that language has an effect on reality, and the way we interpret the world around us is affected by the words that we use. Therefore, if we as feminists don’t own the word, what is that saying about our movement? What about it do we deny? Personally, I believe that men and women should be politically, socially, and economically treated equally- so for me I don’t want to shun any aspect of that.
You answered that so awesomely that I feel like I never have to ask anyone that question ever again and any time someone asks me—which is often, I’ll just link them to this conversation.
Can you think of a situation that really stood out as a defining moment regarding feminism in your life? Rather than one moment that kind of stood out as a feminist turning point, for me I see it as a slow accumulation of events and experiences over time. Eventually, I got to the point where I was so fed up, fed up with apologizing.
Things I’ve earnestly apologized for in my life: being taller than a guy, not having sex because I’m on my period, having an opinion that wasn’t the same as a guy, I’ve apologized for demanding to be heard when I was interrupted.
I’ve become so fucking tired of apologizing, and did the men in those situations MAKE me apologize? Of course not, but we as Midwestern women were raised to atone for the sin of being a Midwestern woman. I suspect it is similar in other parts of the country, but I can only speak the narrative I’ve known and heard in the Midwest. The prairie is beautiful, the plains are bathed in sunlight, we as Midwesterners, have a real relationship with the land–but goddamnit if I wasn’t also raised to fear my sexuality, to think that my innocence was going to be forcibly taken from me at every turn. In Kansas schools, you don’t learn what sex is, you learn not to get into cars with strangers, that men WILL try to date rape you, that you should fear your sexuality because you don’t understand it (and you don’t understand it because they didn’t tell you). And does it protect us? We all know the answer to that.
What does Feminism look like in your practical, day-to-day life? On a daily basis, feminism looks like community to me. It looks like our Facebook group, and validation. I think we live in a culture that glorifies work and stress and busyness, so Jenny Blackburn and I exclaim loudly, to each other and everyone, that we aren’t ashamed to say we’re doing awesome. We aren’t tired! We’ve had the best day! We aren’t afraid to say we’re killing it, that we’re going to be loud and take what we want out of this life.
Feminism for me (at this point in my life) looks like not ceding my desires for the desires of others. I get to put myself first and most importantly, I don’t apologize to anyone for that. I can’t hang out with you because I’m taking up the cello? I can’t fulfill the expectation you placed on me without my consent because I’m doing a podcast with my friends? Or I just don’t want to because I’m reading a book? I’m. Not. Sorry. And I surround myself with people that appreciate that in me.
Also, reinforcement and validation– online, in real life, at work, at school, with others, with yourself, all the time. I am surrounded by the best women in the world, and I’m at spot in my life where I place high priority on cultivating those relationships. It takes active love to undo what we are taught–that women are competition, that they are dramatic, that they are catty or dumb, that they should even be labeled in those broad-strokes terms. These days, when people do linguistic violence to women, by saying they are “guy’s girls” because women are “too dramatic,” I’m willing to engage in that discourse, to try to have a more complex discussion about the insidiousness of those comments.This is a topic I could go on and on about. But kind of leads into the next question:
If you could say one thing about feminism to a large group of people, what would you choose to say? Be kind to yourself. If you wouldn’t let a mean person talk to one of your friends that way, don’t talk to yourself that way.
As long as you aren’t harming others, do what you like without apology. Often in our Facebook group, people say “don’t take any bullshit!” And what that means to me is that I don’t have to live up to the expectations others set for me without my consent. I used to feel riddled with guilt every time I didn’t do what someone else wanted me to do. I imagine a lot of women feel this way. Now think about how often you felt guilty (is it always? Imagine how easy it is to constantly apologize in this paradigm.) Now think about if you felt guilty regarding something you had no control over- your height, your period, your obligations. Is it silly to apologize for those things? Yes. Do we all do it? Yes. Think of how much free time and energy you’ll have when you aren’t chasing the blurry and elusive expectations of others. So free yourself to live up to your own expectations. I think that might be that turning point that we discussed earlier.
Feminism is active. But it’s fulfilling and worth it and the best call to obligation I’ve ever known.
Everyone—thank you for reading!
If you have any questions or thoughts or would like to be interviewed yourself, either include them in the comments section or email me: libby(at)xoxolib.com.