The summer of 2011 was one of the most simultaneously difficult and fun summers of my life. It was one of the first times that I ever fully grasped how resilient true friendships can be. It was the first time that I ever did something difficult justbecause it was good for me even though it hurt. It was the first time I saw myself falling into love and realizing that “falling” is the absolute perfect word.
I was a few months out of a not-a-real-break-up* with someone that I wasn’t-dating** for the past four and a half years of my life. I was tender but I was recovering. *sure did wreck me like a real break up.
**Fell into that tragically, typical millennial thing where we decided we “didn’t need or want labels” as if that keeps you from really feeling anything. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. It just makes you feel like you’re not allowed to be as gutted as you are when it ends. Which is a really unhealthy place to land.
This is the first in 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 share with different people each Friday. To kick it off, I’ll share only the very beginning of my story about how I came to feminism and what it means to me right now. Next week I’ll share an interview with a brilliant woman and a wonderful friend of mine which will, hopefully, bring different insights.
When I was young, “Feminist” was a dirty word. In fact, more often than not that word was actually never used, “Feminazi” was the preferred term. Feminists were angry and they hated men and wanted everyone else to hate men, too, and they were going to take over and ruin everything that God held dear. And I believed it, too. In the mid-late 90’s, there was a fair amount of Rush Limbaugh in our house but it wasn’t like it was just our house. Nearly every person that I know grew up similarly.
This is the point in the story where I’m supposed to say, “I saw boys building stuff and playing Football and I wondered why I couldn’t do it to!” But really that’s not the case at all. I loved traditionally girly things. I loved cooking and doing my makeup and looking through catalogs with my sister and I felt bad that boys had to get stuck doing boring things that I didn’t like doing.
Born and raised in a pretty religious house, I went to church thrice weekly and then when I was 19, I moved to a very religious college. The main theme that I heard all along was that men were the head of the household and women were the submissive ones. Men made the rules and women followed them. Men went to work and women made the meatloaf. Men want to have sex and women are in charge of making sure that they don’t get it (until they’re married—by then the men have been subduing their natural urges long enough and as wives, we’ll never keep it from the men any longer).
This may come as a complete shock to some but when I went to my religious college, I went to join the ministry program. Now, I knew that Pastoral Ministry was Man Work so I’d never attempt that. But I thought that I was possibly called by God to be a missionary or maybe a professional Sunday School teacher or something like that? In reality I couldn’t justify the price of a private, religious education unless I was receiving a degree in religious studies. And I wanted to go here. So this is why I went for my ministry degree.
My adviser’s office was in this little chapel building and at our first meeting, he came in late with a big box of donuts. He sat it down on the edge of his desk and we talked a little bit about which classes I’d need to take in the coming semester but he didn’t really seem that invested—pretty aloof. Didn’t really make me feel very welcome, even though I was a brand new, nervous student. He didn’t even offer me a doughnut. Another student walked in—the same grade as me, it was his first time meeting this adviser, too. This student was a boy, though, and my adviser lit up. He became engaged. He said “nice to meet you”, he offered him a doughnut and when the student said, “I’m sorry, I’ll come back later,” my adviser said, “Oh, naw, we’re done here!” And then he waved me off and said, “See ya later Lindsay”. I walked to the registrar’s office to change my major because I obviously didn’t belong in the ministry department. Eventually I settled on “English” and I’m glad that I did because I thrived in that department and made wonderful friends. And I think we all know that Libby’s Ministry degree would be far more useless than even Libby’s English degree. But that’s not really the point. I didn’t leave his office in a huff. I didn’t leave his office thinking that I’d been discriminated against because I was a woman. I left his office suddenly remembering that the ministry program was not a place for women and I was silly to have even considered giving it a shot. He didn’t make me feel that I was less than the men in his program; he gently reminded me that I was less than the men in his program.
And in my current seat of retrospect, that’s really fucked up.
Growing up I never really had guy-friends at all. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had opportunities to actually meet these men that I’d heard so much about. As I got to know them, I learned something that blew my mind.
These men were just like me.
They were confused and trying to figure it all out just like I was. Some of them were really excited to jump into their role of being the “head of the household” and others were kind of stressed out about it. Still others weren’t thinking about girls or dating or marriage or sex at all. I met lots of guys who did not have sex on their immediate radar whatsoever. I didn’t know they existed but they do and they’re actually pretty prevalent. I’d been told, for so long, that men were one way and women were another and I was well into my twenties before I realized that the truth is that we’re all individuals. We all have points of interest and skills and ideas and experiences that are valid and unique to each of us as people—not as a group.
Which seems like a pretty crucial bit of information to just kind of stumble upon as an adult. Of all of the teachers, Sunday school volunteers, coaches, general adults that I encountered in my life, why was the concept of individuality never explored? My world had simply been separated into Boys and their stuff and Girls and their stuff. I knew that I was a complex and deeply rooted human but—and I say this knowing how arrogant it sounds but it’s the truth so I have to say it—I thought I was the only one. I thought I was the only complicated person who was confused sometimes and was excited by things that didn’t fit my category and thought about stuff that no one was talking about. I thought that I was the only one. And that felt lonely. I felt like everyone else had their groups to fall back on but no one would ever understand me and I was going to be alone forever. I am so grateful that eventually I learned that wasn’t true at all.
Uniqueness, individuality, honesty, this is the base layer of feminism to me in my life. Because we are all unique—none of us is better than the other one. We are all unique. We all have skills and knowledge and experience to bring to the table and we all have equal rights.
And it sounds really simple but I’m finding that it’s not. Because while it’s pretty common for everyone to say that we all have equal rights—it’s a lot more difficult for all of us to get access to those rights.
I feel like there is so much to say on this subject so that’s why I’m going to stop right now. Because if I don’t govern myself, I’ll literally never stop. There is so much to say and so many different aspects to explore and learn about. This is why this is going to be a regular feature on this here blog. You’ll learn more about me and my journey but you’re going to learn more about other people who are all on this journey as well. People from different faiths and different genders, different experiences and different passions.
Thanks for joining us on this adventure,