I thought I was a feminist.

I’m pretty liberal with my views, but apparently not enough for a millennial. As a 40 something, my college aged son has shamed me countless times with my nonPC thoughts. As he is still on my phone plan, I have a log of how many hours he’s talking on the phone. I asked him if he had met a girl. That would explain why he was on the phone so much. He told me that number was his friend’s, who happened to be a guy. My first response was that guys don’t talk on the phone with each other, at least not for a long time. He remarked, “that’s sexist.”

Growing up, girls were stereotypically on the phone for hours with their girlfriends. If a guy was on the phone for a long time, it was because he was talking to a girl. Mind you, this was way before cell phones. Phones were attached to the wall and if it didn’t have a long cord, sometimes you were stuck talking in front of people, mainly your parents. When my son called me a sexist, I protested and gave my explanations, but as I was making my case, I started asking myself some questions. What about gay men? Did they talk to other boys on the phone for hours when they were growing up? The question itself made me feel extremely ignorant and I wondered if those thoughts were offensive. Then I thought about how expectations on acceptable boy behavior have evolved. My friend is teaching her two boys to put words to their emotions and encouraging them to communicate those feelings. We live in an age of personal growth and development. It’s ok for a man to be sensitive and attuned with his emotions. It’s even desired. I don’t hear the word sissy thrown out there anymore.

What does this have to do with my views on feminism? I guess it’s about understanding gender identity and what’s expected of the gender and now even non-binary gender identities. Honestly, I only knew to google gender neutral because my son corrected me on another occasion as we were talking about sexuality. Feminism is still an issue. When a woman makes less than a man for the same job, there is a clear form of inequality. Beyond feminism, those who don’t fit traditional gender roles struggle even further. The conversation isn’t about how much less an LGBTQ makes, it’s about this person finding a job or even housing. I want to acknowledge the issue, but my topic is specific to a personal development of self-awareness on gender identification and its expected role.

It would be difficult to properly analyze my notions of gender roles without also considering my heritage. I identify myself as a Korean American woman. I was born in the states, but grew up with a heavy dose of Korean culture. There are many contrary ideas between American and Korean social structures. Like many other 2nd generation Americans, I struggled to form a cohesive understanding of this life and how I fit in the world around me. I fought my way through adolescents and young adulthood to find my own voice.

My first act of stepping out of my expected gender role as a good Korean girl was to have a child out of marriage. Nobody in my world did that. That choice had a snowball effect. Initially isolating me from family, friends and the Korean community, it was the first time I questioned my path. Though questions can lead us out of our comfort zone, it triggers growth as we search for answers.

Fast forward 20 years later. I am comfortable and confident with who I am and what I want from this life. I’m still figuring out the details, but I see that as a lifelong journey. A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with my best friend. We were both thinking about going back to school. I would wait until my son finishes college. She has a PhD in writing and was considering an MBA. I have an MFA and not sure what I would study. At first I thought global studies to do mission or nonprofit work. Then I thought maybe therapy, psychology or social work. I want my second career to be service oriented.

As my friend was questioning me about what I’d like to do, she asked if I wanted to be a pastor. I gasped and immediately responded with a strong, “no.” Mind you, she is an atheist and I am a Christian. As she expanded on the idea, she proposed I could do more pastoral care, not necessarily lead a church. Internally, I have been considering Seminary, but my next thought is, “what next?” What do you do after you finish Seminary? Most people become pastors.

I don’t have anything against pastors. My dad is a pastor and has been for almost 40 years. Growing up with one, I see how hard it is. For much of it, it is a thankless job. There’s constant financial struggle. You sacrifice your life and sometimes your family’s lives to help shepherd a flock. As we continued our discussion, I admitted something that was disturbing to me. I said if I were a man, I wouldn’t hesitate to pursue pastoring. What did that mean?

Was it possible that the conditioning of how I was raised as a Korean girl still lingered? Women are supposed to be demure and meek. We aren’t supposed to speak up or be leaders. We aren’t supposed to expose anything personal. Growing up my mom was constantly telling me to keep our family secrets. She even advised that I should never tell my future husband everything. We keep secrets for our own protection. Silence becomes synonymous with stoicism. Men are heads of their households. It’s a patriarchal society. Men have the leading roles and women devotedly support their families. With this thought, I grew up wanting to go into ministry, but the extent of my perceived role was the wife of a missionary or the wife of a pastor. I never even considered I could be the missionary or I could be the pastor.

In my case, religion has definitely affected the process of feminism in my life. Understanding religion begins with the lens we were given in life. Culture is nurtured into each individual and impresses unique perspectives based on its beliefs. When religion is introduced, it is assimilated into the culture and a hybrid develops. It’s hard to challenge one’s cultural upbringing and identity when religion was used to reinforce the same ideology.

It’s not to say I am bound by my cultural heritage or Christian faith, but it has created an added challenge in desiring leadership roles. Anyone who knows me will attest that the description of a demure Asian woman in no way describes me. I am loud. I have a loud voice, I have a loud laugh, I even have a loud walk (according to my husband). I will speak up if someone says something I believe is wrong or untrue. I will engage in debates and hold my ground, for better or worse. I communicate my thoughts and express emotions. I am very opinionated and I’m not shy about it.

Through the years I have learned to temper myself and I am the first to recognize I have a long way to go. My best friend has known me since grade school. She explained why she thought pastoring might be an option. She shared that I have always had a compassionate heart and was the first to show up at a hospital for a friend in need. It’s true. I was born with sincere and deep empathy, and all the struggles I’ve endured through the years have only expanded my heart even more.

I thought I was a feminist in the full sense of the title. I’m beginning to realize that on the sliding scale of feminism, my self perception lags behind my encompassing ideas for all women. The expectations I have of myself are far off from what I expect and want for other women. Without realizing all these years, the cultural and religious morals I was raised with hold me more tightly than I ever expected. I believe I can change the lens through which I see myself, but just like anything else, I have to work at it. The first step was recognizing there might be an issue, and the next was to question why. I guess now I need to contemplate the idea. If I chose not to pursue seminary, it will be because I feel led to a different calling, not because I believe I can’t lead as a woman.