My first (conscious) awareness of feminism was probably while watching Legally Blonde. The character Enid Wexler is supposed to be this exceedingly feminist, soap-box-preaching, pretentious lesbian. This character always seemed like she was angry with Elle, the protagonist, for no reason. The character felt judgmental and rude. So I guess for a while I thought of feminists as being the same way. My family didn’t really talk about feminism; they never said anything negative about it either. Something about the word “feminist” just seemed taboo in conversation.
Later I didn’t really think of feminists as rude lesbians, but rather as heavier vocal women. Even thought characters like Enid were skinny, I thought that feminists were much more likely to be fat or ugly than women who were not feminists. I thought that these women were not only feminists because they wanted equality but also because they couldn’t use things like “charm” or “beauty” to further themselves or find a boyfriend. I thought that these women were feminists because they couldn’t be anything better. So my perception was more media based than reality based and ultimately untrue.
I think the weirdest thing is that my mom is almost as feminist as you can get in most of her philosophies. She believes that women should get the same education as men, that women are just as capable as men in almost any job, she has worked her way to the top of her company, crashed through the glass ceiling and become our family’s bread winner. In heterosexual marriage she believes that men and women are partners, that one is not automatically subservient to the others. She encouraged me to pursue anything that I wanted to pursue, with no limitations because of my gender.
My family is not the “ideal” patriarchal nuclear family. My mom and dad both make large decisions, neither persons word carries more weight than the other ( ok…well sometimes my mom’s word carries more weight.) I think that overall she espouses many ideals from the feminist and women’s movement.
I would not have called myself a feminist until college, but looking back I think my first traces of feminism lead back to middle school youth group. Every Wednesday night we would have youth group with different messages and stories from the bible. This week we were studying Moses and his leadership through the desert. When our youth pastor called for volunteers for someone to play Moses I was the only person who raised my hand. But our pastor said “ Moses was a guy. In the Presbyterian church men are the pastors, leaders, and deacons. You can be Moses’ wife.” I don’t remember if Moses was even married, but I sure as hell was not going to be a wife in this skit. She didn’t even have any lines. So they found some guys to play Moses and his cronies and some girls ( not me) to stand beside them, silent, as their wives. There was just something about that evening I thought was unfair. I would have made a much better Moses that stupid Josh and he didn’t even want to be up there. Why would men make better leaders in the church? Why can’t women be preachers or pastors? I didn’t see the logic.
In college I took Gender and Communication. That class opened up my world, my view of women and gender. I saw feminism in a clearer light. It was also a class full of self proclaimed feminists and tons of women. It was cool to be a feminist. They had what seemed like an enlightened outlook and fun t-shirts ( I will join just about anything for a t-shirt…especially if it’s a long sleeve t-shirt). I started to notice some of the things we talked about in class, especially “chilly climate.” I happen to think that I am fairly stimulating to teach, I talk easily and joke often. But I was in a fight class that semester, and I felt like there was a definite gender bias ( weather intentional or unintentional). The boys could get away with murder and the girls got in trouble for wearing the wrong shoes. There would be days when our professor wouldn’t acknowledge my presence.
I feel like part of that switch in thinking about feminism was party because of how much I read and learned in communications classes and partly because being a feminist ( or a democrat) is the cool thing to do in college. So in this setting I feel perfectly open and secure in my feelings about feminism. I will proudly call myself a feminist in any college setting.
But I think the media plays a big part in our perception of feminism. I think that unless taught about actual feminist belief, that most people will continue to think of feminists as bra-burning, man eating, falling off the left, angry, dirty, fat women. How many images do we really see to the contrary? I just don’t think Enid Wexler is the best example of feminism. Even if there are characters that identify with feminist ideal and are portrayed in a positive light, very rarely are they actually labeled feminist.
My view of feminism has definately changed. I think that people will learn to grow out of misconceptions and move closer to the truth. At least I hope so.