When I hear a young woman, or even a woman from Generation X say, “I’m not a feminist, but…” I cringe. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh and his disparaging term “femi-nazi,” I think many women feel shame when they think they might be a feminist. OR, shame could arise if you buy into stereotypical ideas of what a feminist is–a man-hating lesbian who refuses to eat meat and never shaves her legs. God forbid!
I am a feminist. I’m not gay (not that there’s anything wrong with it). I’ve been married three times (widowed once). I do shave (when I remember). And I am proud to call myself a feminist despite the sometimes negative and erroneous baggage that comes with the term. From my point of view, a feminist is a person who believes in fluid gender boundaries. That means equal pay for equal work, sharing household duties, and supporting each other no matter what through life’s ups and downs.
I was raised by my father, a second-generation Italian immigrant. My mother was not part of my life until I was in my 20s. She was born in Europe, went to college instead of raising her two babies, and lives a hoity-toity life in Rhode Island. My stepmother had a tenth- grade education, was hostile and short tempered, and favored my brothers over me. From a young age, I lived and despised injustice.
When I was three, my father took my older brother and me to Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton, New York. It was sweltering that day, and I had ratty brown hair that hung past my shoulders making the heat worse. At home, my father let me run around in my underwear and no shirt. And since I wore my brother’s hand me downs, I’m not sure if I knew I was a “girl.”
As the summer heat and humidity became more unbearable that day, I asked my father if I could take my shirt off. He said, “No.” I’d emerged from the womb asking “Why?” so I asked him, “Why?” He said, “You just can’t.” I stomped my foot. “But, Daddy. Why?” He stopped answering. I remember thinking, “I’ll fix him.” I pulled my shirt up and over my melon belly. He snapped this photo.
When I look at this, I see a feminist in the making. It’s more than the shirt pulled up. It’s more than the wad of gum in my open mouth. Truly, it’s my expression. Sure, the sun was in my eyes, and yet, if you really look, you can see that I’m, as one friend describes me, “indignant.” You can see I’m “feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.” That’s me in a nutshell.
Feminism can bring out anger and annoyance. Any woman who’s been cut off in conversation during a business meeting, telling a joke, or simply chatting knows what I mean. I dislike injustice. And if you’re telling me I’m not equal to you simply because I have a uterus, then I’m going to remain indignant and fight for my right to party.