There to Here: 10 Possible Roots of My Feminism
Posted on January 1, 2013
The question of how I got from there (fundamentalist, evangelical Christian childhood) to here (big ol’ heathen-ish liberal) is one I turn over in my mind often.
I’ve pinpointed a few possible roots to my feminism.
I am four. My brother Phil (called Philip back then, when I was Elizabeth) and our neighbor have built a treehouse. In the branches of the maple is a platform. There is no ladder; to get to the platform, I need help. “You can get up here,” Philip says, “when you get into the club.”
“How do I get into the club?”
“You peel the seeds out of those seed pods.” A pile of honey locust seed pods lies nearby.
I peel the seeds. The sticky black innards of the pods stains my little fingers and shorts and neon green t-shirt, but after an hour I accomplish the task. “Look! I did it! I peeled your seeds! Help me up there!”
“Sorry!” Philip tsks from his perch in the maple. “It’s a boys-only club now. No girls allowed.”
I weep like only a four-year-old can.
I watch Jeopardy! as a child. When one of the contestants is a woman, I root for her no matter what. Sometimes I am so sad if she loses.
I travel to Nepal as a teenager. While a friend and I talk to a woman holding a little baby in a rural village, she reaches for a string on the side of her blouse, unties it, and reveals her right breast. She cradles the baby, who latches on to its mother and nurses. The American boy with me blushes and finds an awkward way to leave the conversation, but I kind of love the fact that she is doing this so nonchalantly. No one in the village square is staring or ogling. No one seems to mind at all.
I sit in Bib Lit I, a required course for all freshman at the Christian university where I get my undergraduate degree. A guest speaker has written CHRISTIAN FEMINISM in blue dry-erase marker on the white board. “Do you know what this means?” she asks. “Do you feel uncomfortable when you see these words together?” The words don’t make me uncomfortable–but she’s right that I have never thought to pair them together. “These are not oxymoronic terms, folks. There is nothing about the belief that men and women are equal that is incompatible with the Christian faith.”
During my junior year, a classmate who seems like a perfectly normal, reasonable young man tells me that he would never vote for a woman to be president because, “She won’t be respected in the international community,” and “Women like to gossip,” and “Women aren’t supposed to lead men.” I am horrified. I also can’t figure out for the life of me why the people at my church hate Hillary Clinton so much.
When I am 18, my brother and I watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch in an art theater in Sevilla, Spain. When I leave the theater, I no longer believe that gender is male or female, masculine or feminine.
As a history minor, I take a class called Women in American History. My professor is a middle-aged white man, but the authors of the texts he assigns are women, and they begin to open my eyes to the institutionalization of prejudice against women. I begin to realize that those in power disenfranchise those without it.
My literature professor introduces me to a simple question: Is there a woman in this text?
When I am 22, my dad comes out of the closet to our family.
I read. I read books and the internet and magazines and a lot of memoirs. I also watch things, like television shows and movies and music videos. I go to art museums and travel as much as I can. I travel alone, with my family, or with friends.
I am a woman. I am a wife. I have a husband. I am a mother to a daughter. I am a daughter, and I have a mother and a father. I have sisters and brothers. I exist in relationship with other people.