I’m not sure when I first described myself as a feminist.
In high school, my wonderful French teacher mentioned in passing that I was the class’ resident feminist thinker and I felt so very proud of myself. I read Chopin’s The Awakening, and I put it down on the table afterwards, nodded that Edna Pontellier had the right view of the world, and went off to get a calming glass of red wine. For my second theology course, I signed up for a feminist theology course in a heartbeat, even if it was egregiously early in the morning.
Sometime in there, I decided that I was a feminist. I liked being a woman, I especially reveled in being free to make whatever decisions I wanted, and I wanted all women to have the same freedom. It was that simple for me. Unfortunately, the simplicity of that definition doesn’t quite fit into the aging societal paradigm of what constitutes feminism.
I’m not sure what there is about the word ‘feminist’, but it is so utterly polarizing. People throw around the word “feminist” like it’s an insult. It’s on par with calling President Obama a “socialist”. It’s something to be sneered at, ridiculed, made into a farce. I’m positive I’ve heard Fox News use them both together. But, it’s no double-whammy. Our generation simply doesn’t care about an out-dated conception.
I have never lived a day of my life during the Cold War, and an epithet like socialist means nothing negative to me, it’s merely a system of government that I think is impractical. For my parents’ generation, who became adults in the Reagan years, the word means something a little more malevolent. For Joseph McCarthy, it meant the devil incarnate. But what held true for the baby boomers half a century ago isn’t the case today, and those who cling to old definitions are about to be left in the past.
We are no longer in an omnipresent global struggle against the communist Russians, and we are no longer in an era of scorn for feminists. It is time to realize that there is a generation of teens and college students who read Caitlin Moran and learned quite a few new curse words with a touch of feminism on the side. There is a new generation of American women who have never known a world where there wasn’t the choice of birth control, Plan B, condoms, or access to legal abortions if they so desire. There have been generations of women who are doctors, lawyers, groundbreaking researchers, and some of the most powerful people in the world. These are things that are now ingrained into the very fabric of our lives, and they’re here to stay.
At twenty years old, I see the world ahead of me and know that I can do anything I set my heart on. I know that as I enter the professional world, I deserve to work in an atmosphere free from strangling sexism. I know that as a woman, I deserve to live in a world where there exists true and constant condemnation for sexual assault from all quarters, across geographic borders and generational gaps. I know that as a young woman in college, I deserve to have access to contraceptives, abortions, and whatever reproductive medical care I might ever need. I know what I deserve, and it’s about damn time that what I—and all women—deserve is not denigrated as feminist folly but is respected as a permanent truth.
Feminism is a permanent fixture in the minds of a generation of young women. It imbues us with hope, and steels our nerves against obstacles thrown in our path. At once a unique perception and a supportive togetherness, being a feminist is no longer an epithet. It is something in which our generation should be proud.
I can’t be sure the exact time I knew I was a feminist, but I sure as hell am one now. And I’m proud of it.