Saturday, June 8, 2013


Feminism, by many, is considered a dirty word. Until fairly recently I didn't really understand what it meant. I chose to not learn too much about it, preferring to remain in the dark rather than have to make a decision for myself as to what I really thought about feminism and where I stood on the issue.

But then I met my husband and, as an ardent and self-proclaimed feminist, it wasn't long before I was thrown into the world of the Bell Jar and discussions about first-, second-, and third-wave feminism. As we talked and I learned I was a little shocked to realize that I'd been a feminist for quite some time.

Through various forums I've been slowly learning about "man-splaining" (when a man talks down to a woman who actually knows more about a subject than he does, but assumes—either consciously or unconsciously—that because he is a man and she is a woman he really does know more than she does) and how the system is really not set up for women (when women are assertive they are "bitchy" where as men are "bosses") and how there are subtle jabs sometimes disguised as compliments ("so glad we can all be rational about this and not get emotional" as if emotions and reason are clearly defined and separate from one another, not decision-making choices that are deeply intertwined in all of us and that to be "rational" is better while being "emotional" is a weakness). 

I've been fortunate to be working in various environments where my co-workers and superiors are mostly women, something that has been enormously strengthening to me as I continue to decide what kind of woman—what kind of person—I want to be. And helped me recognize the diversity in women and become proud of my own womanhood.

Image via.

All of this discussion and rumination came together for me recently as I was driving downtown. I was going down a hill and I drove past a group of cyclists in full cycling gear riding as a pack in the lane beside mine. As I got closer I realized all the cyclists were women and it struck me as really strange. I wasn't sure why, but as I thought about it I could not remember ever seeing a group of women biking together in this way before. I wondered if it was a special women's cycling group and if it was, if a man would be allowed to join because it wouldn't be fair if he wasn't. 

As I continued to drive I mentally reasoned why women-only groups shouldn't exist and that just because women have been excluded in the past doesn't mean that it's okay for them to exclude others moving forward; that two wrongs don't make a right.

But then I thought about all the hundreds of thousands of years when women had wanted to join groups of men in public life and how they had not been allowed. And, because of this perpetuated misogyny, there were no groups where there were only women, while the world was ruled by groups of men. And that seemed really unfair to me.

And it was as if a light bulb switched on in my mind. I realized how vital and rare and precious women's spaces are. And how these spaces may have to be purposely and, perhaps arbitrarily at times, created to allow women room to grow as a group and find our voices in a way that hasn't been possible before. And this, I realized, is what feminism can do.

And, at least for me, it's what feminism has done. It's helped me find my voice as a woman, learn things from other women, and learn about being a woman in a very biological and real sense and in a way I never have had the opportunity to do before.

And for that I am grateful.

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