Whether serving as the door holder for my kindergarten classmates or as Vice President of my university’s feminist club, I have always wanted to help people. The specific capacities and iterations have varied throughout my life, but I have never strayed from centering my academic and extracurricular pursuits on improving the lives of those in my community. I attribute a portion of that to my Southern upbringing, thus thanks must be given to my parents. As an only child, I was raised to believe that whatever I dreamed was achievable, if I worked hard enough. A home movie demonstrates I took that message to heart because at the ripe age of four, I declared that I was going to be a veterinarian. Three years later, after decorating the ceiling of my bedroom with glow in the dark dinosaur stickers, I vowed I would travel the world as a paleontologist. By the age of eleven, I knew my proper place was as a forensic anthropologist, solving crime with scientific technology. With loving guidance and sometimes amusement from my parents and teachers, I continued to change career goals throughout the following decade. Of all my wild and assorted plans, becoming a bona fide Professional Feminist never entered the equation.
How did I wind up here, you ask? It was inevitable. For the majority of my life, I did not identify as a feminist. Childhood literary heroes included Scout Finch, Nancy Drew, and Miss Rumphius. American girl dolls and chemistry kits lay scattered side by side on my bedroom floor. Upon discovering my neighbor – a boy one whole year younger than me – had removed his training wheels, I rushed to learn how to my bike without any assistance. I rose to become editor of my middle school newspaper, gaining notoriety for a controversial editorial advocating for the implementation of year round school.
While words like headstrong, opinionated, and ambitious were thrown my way with the sickening sweetness of a backhanded compliment, the label feminist never made the list. Beginning my freshman year of high school, I carried a folder proudly adorned with a Hillary 2008 bumper sticker (since my mother would not let me put it on the family car). I supported a woman’s right to make choices in accordance with her own bodily autonomy, and I argued for the legalization of same-sex marriage. I believed equal work deserved equal pay, and I recognized that out of the forty-four presidents in our country’s history, none were women. I knew the inevitable and incessant anger, sadness, and frustration that results from the lived experience of oppression long before bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, or Audre Lorde gave me the language to express it. I was a feminist, before I knew what feminism was.
Like many young women, college was both my saving grace and that from which I needed saving. The liberal arts experience offered entrance into a buffet of intoxicating intellectual activities; who and what I wanted to be was up to me. While I littered my dorm room with Victoria’s Secret and Maybelline, the thought of becoming a bra-burning, man-hating, hell-raising feminist did not seem like a probable nor positive development. I embodied pink, pearls, and Southern curls: why would I want to join a feminist group? Desperate for friends and weeknight extracurriculars, I attended a campus meeting. Bright, articulate, and passionate women welcomed me into a space built by and for our empowerment. Swiftly and easily I found my place in a world created with the commonalities of womanhood, but that remained mindful and proud of the diversities brought to the discussion by our individual lived experiences. Every day I learned something new; I had a language, a collective, a history – no, herstory – that gave me renewed purpose and direction like nothing before.
Then, just as swiftly, the rose-colored glasses slipped off, only to be crunched underfoot like autumn leaves on brick pathways. Feminism was not fun anymore. Television shows, radio stations, popular novels–even stores in the mall–everything was problematic. Feminism had gone and ruined college for me. How was I supposed to go to a party when all I could think about were rates of sexual assault among freshmen women? Dorm-wide movie nights were out of the question if it failed the Bechdel Test. Was it time to give up on feminism? Had I become the unhappy, hateful, vengeful stereotype I once feared? With love, humor, and support from friends and professors alike, I channeled that anger into action. I protested unjust policies implemented by my campus’s administration and authored petitions aimed at radically reforming Title IX guidance. I spoke out publicly in favor of harsher penalties for perpetrators of sexual violence. I joined blogs, forums, and mailing lists to get connected with like-minded individuals and in the process, renewed my strength by acknowledging the shared burden, responsibility, and privilege of being a feminist.
Since graduating college and earning my bachelor’s degree in Sociology, I still love everything pink and nearly every outfit includes pearls. I have returned to watching blockbuster films (Mad Max!) but through an intersectional, critical lens. I have always wanted to help people, and feminism will always allow me to do so. While I never imagined I would end up here, I am forever grateful that I have.