A Ranger reporter asked to speak with me to discuss matters involving feminism.
I am not sure if I was specifically chosen, but the fact that I am an unapologetic feminist (a poorly kept secret) may have had something to do with it.
The interview began initially focusing on what I would consider the origin and overarching issues commonly associated with the women’s movement.
We talked about the FCRA, Fair Credit Reporting Act, even Nixon’s veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act.
I provided anecdotal stories of my mother juxtaposed to my life experiences, and that was easy enough.
Without dredging up pre-1960s ‘first wave’ issues, I was perfectly content to begin the discussion with the second wave and the seminal American work authored by Betty Friedan, “The Feminine Mystique”.
The questions the reporter asked could be considered quite appropriate for a young woman of the Millennial generation.
After all, the opportunities young women are afforded today seem light years from what they would have been half a century ago.
Upon reflection, most of us would acknowledge the fact that “We’ve come a long way, baby,” but with that said, we still have a long way to go, so I often wonder why young women today eschew the label feminist? I wonder that all the time.
Just when I think I’ve covered the standard fare about choices and run the gamut of the philosophical underpinnings of the “third wave” and figure the interview is wrapping up, the young reporter decides apparently that the softball questions are over – “When did you know you were a feminist?” OK — didn’t see that one coming.
I had to pause and reflect.
It caused some momentary discomfort as I trekked back in my mind to the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) hints that I was not like most of the girls I knew.
I was the eldest of two daughters, and my sister and I could not have been less alike.
I am not sure if it was the fact that I was the eldest or it was the realization that my dad harbored some ‘just under the flesh’ resentment about having two girls, neither of whom would carry on his family name, but I was keenly aware of the reality that I was being raised differently than my sister and, for that matter, most other little girls I knew.
Although, like many girls my age, I owned and played with dolls and my mother’s high heels, but I was also taken on fishing and hunting trips and could skin a catfish or a squirrel alongside any of my male cousins.
Back then, girls like me were simply called “tomboys” and that was OK because moms everywhere upon reassurance that these errant daughters would grow out of this phase, breathed a collective sigh of relief and simply shook their heads and rolled their eyes at our atypical proclivities and preferences.
I never really understood the expectations my sister embraced that she would one day find “the perfect man” and get married and have 2.2 children and a dog named Muffin or Spot. I didn’t want to be “taken care of.”
I wanted to be able to take care of myself and if I chose to get married or have children (and to me, these things could certainly be mutually exclusive of one another although that certainly placed me out of step with “mainstream” moral viewpoints of my day) it would be just that: my choice.
My father may not have known how to articulate feminist ideas to me, and certainly not in academic parlance, but he clearly explained, in his Virginia hillbilly way that under no circumstances should I ever, and he did mean ever, allow myself to be put in a position wherein I would be beholden to anyone for my upkeep or support.
I suppose, if I had to give anyone credit for turning me into a feminist, it was my own father, and I am pretty sure that wasn’t his intention.
He taught me to be bold and be the best I could be. To work hard and be proud of the work I produced.
To never allow the ideas of some who might expect girls to get married and make babies throw shade on the expectations I had for myself.
Most important, to never feel guilty for taking risks.
I wish I had some moment of clarity or some epiphany that I could share so that young women reading this might recognize it if they had it, too. Maybe they wouldn’t be afraid to call themselves feminists because they just want to be outside any other expectations society or their family might have for them. The fact is, it happens differently and at different times for everyone.
For Betty Friedan, it was a gradual unfolding of events over the course of her marriage that made her realize something was missing though she couldn’t put her finger on it. For me, it was growing up and wondering why men on commercials didn’t do laundry or go to the grocery store.
It was watching young women exploring their sexuality and being called sluts for doing so while their male counterparts were given high-fives.
It was sitting in my college classrooms among my male peers who thought women had no place in political science.
It was trying to understand why women got paid less because they had to leave the workforce to raise children and attempt to explain away the “gaps in employment” that men wouldn’t.
I guess like Betty, my recognition that I was a feminist was a function of a protracted series of events, and while it may have taken longer for me, we both wound up in the same place.
I celebrate women and their accomplishments. Often in the face of adversity and continued discrimination, we can do amazing things.
As far as what made me a feminist, I don’t know that any specific thing or event was the impetus, and I am not sure how to articulate what feminism means to me, so I will leave you with the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”
Never be afraid to just be.
Christy Woodward Kaupert is a political science professor at this college.