At the McDonald’s playground when I was seven, a little boy guarding the ball pit told me girls weren’t allowed to jump in. Disappointed, I returned to my mother who was sitting, reading, and waiting for me to finish running as wildly as my adrenalin would allow. Without a word, I started eating my plain hamburger and confused with my tired spirit, she asked why I wasn’t playing. I informed her of the Keeper of the Ball Pit and because I was a little girl, I had to wait for him to leave.
My mother, a woman who has never let a glass ceiling or any pair of balls stand in her way, asked me if he owned McDonald’s. I replied that I didn’t think he did. She asked if I thought he was better than me because he was a boy and I was not. I replied that I didn’t. Standing up, my mom told me to put my hands on my hips, march up to so-called guard and let him know what I thought.
And so, I did. After putting him in his place, I then pushed him off his perch, and dove into the balls, without looking back.
I didn’t know then my mother was a feminist and it wouldn’t be until college that I claimed the title for myself, but I’ve never been one to discount my value because I’m a woman. I’ve often been amazed by the women who fought (and continue to fight) for social, political, and economic equality, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger, Gloria Steinem, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth. It was an early sociology of women class that sparked my inspiration in historical and modern movements, and eventually led to a minor in sociology, specialized in women’s rights.
My background and my interest led me to start the weekly Confessional with Love Addict on feminism, with Michelle from Washington D.C.You can find her blog here. Below, we chatted about feminism and how it relates to the 20-something of today and dating.
Lindsay: Thanks for submitting such a great idea. Let’s start with the basics. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Michelle: Absolutely! I studied Women’s Studies and worked on The Vagina Monologues all four years of college, and during that time I really realized the power and strength feminism has. Identifying with being a feminist has helped me realize so many things about myself, and it’s so empowering. I feel like I truly began to love myself when I started calling myself a feminist. I don’t understand how being called a feminist can have a negative connotation in some circles, when it’s something that should be celebrated and recognized as an incredible social justice movement.
Michelle: With feminism carrying a somewhat negative connotation at times, do you think being a feminist intimidates men?
Lindsay: I think it intimidates the wrong kind of man, yes. It is surprising to me the lack of guys who accept their positive viewpoints toward women. It is rare – even in progressive cities like New York and Washington D.C., where you live – to meet men and women who step up to the plate and call themselves a feminist. As you said, the word carries the idea of the stereotypical second-wave feminist who burns her bra and condemns men completely. But, if you’ve studied feminist theory, you’d know there are varying degrees and levels of feminism, and calling yourself a feminist in very basic terms just means you believe women should be treated equally to men and given the same opportunities in all areas of life. I think the wrong kind of guys can be scared of a woman who calls themselves a feminist because it means she’ll spark up a heated discussion if he asks her to wash the dishes. But really, that’s feminism in a nutshell – she just needs to be given the choice and not be asked to wash dishes because that’s her role or her place, but if she wants to wash, she can. If she doesn’t, she shouldn’t be told to do so because she has a vagina.
Lindsay: Since we’re talking about dating and feminism, do you claim your feminist values when on a date? Or in a relationship?
Michelle: I think that with my personality, it’s pretty obvious that I am a strong advocate for women’s rights. I definitely don’t mask my feminist beliefs while on a first date, but I don’t preach about them either. Although I am proud to be called a feminist, I don’t want it to be the only thing that defines me. I have never masked my feminist values while dating someone, and I have no problem calling out sexist behavior, but for a lot of people, they have never taken the time to think about women’s issues and the impact they have on our society. This doesn’t make them sexist–it just opens more opportunities for discussion and understanding (hopefully). I think that in a relationship, it’s necessary to talk about all kinds of topics that are important to each other, and for me, some of these topics are women’s issues. I have found that since I have structured my beliefs in those of feminism, I have become a better girlfriend. I care about the men I date, but I always have my values and goals put first–this focus has made me worry about things less, trust my instincts more, and appreciate my partner more. I feel like with my feminist values, I think of relationships less as a “I need my boyfriend! I need him to be happy!” mentality, and more so as “I really respect my boyfriend. I like how we work together to enrich each other’s lives”.
Michelle: Do you think feminism is hurting or helping women in the world of dating?
Lindsay: I don’t think feminism is talked about enough in relation to heterosexual relationships. We all know the marrying age is getting older, divorce rates are at an all-time high, and though we shy away from it in the media, domestic violence is growing too. Young girls are encouraged to believe they can have it all, but are we teaching them to fight for more than it all? To break through ceilings and to start relationships demanding what they want? Do women believe they can be in a relationship and be a feminist and attract a man who is okay with that? Or maybe, even date a feminist themselves? I’m not sure – it isn’t something my friends and I talk about consistently or something I write about, and I’m thinking needs more conversation. It doesn’t hurt the world of dating to be a feminist, but it means you’ll attract a different – and in my opinion, better – standard of men. I personally, will no longer date a man who doesn’t call himself a feminist.
Lindsay: I know I have dated a man who is the opposite of a feminist, though not for very long. What about you?
Michelle: I have actually been totally fortunate to have been in relationships with men that are respectful and supportive of feminism. This isn’t to say that I haven’t heard them say something derogatory or inappropriate about women, however. The best way to counteract that is to, of course, not ignore it. If someone you’re dating says or does something sexist, it’s important to point out their behavior and why it offends you. If you let something slip once, your partner won’t know it bothers you, and it could happen again. Honesty and respect is vital in all facts of relationship, not just when it comes to gender equality. Luckily, my boyfriends have always understood that I am a woman first, and their girlfriend second. I don’t think I could ever date someone who didn’t celebrate my fierce, independent, womanly self.
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