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Purses, Dinosaurs, and a note on Feminism

I was at Goodwill the other day (JCrew tweed trousers for $4.99? Done). As I was internally congratulating myself in the check-out line on how awesome I was for finding such a steal, I saw these big blue eyes staring up at me. This sweet little lady, age four or five, was holding a tiny black purse up for me to examine. “I like your purse!” I said more enthusiastically than I intended. Her grandmother turned around and said, “It’s her very first purse.” I told her my first purse looked exactly like hers (it did). “Are you excited to have a purse?” I asked. “Yeah. They didn’t have any dinosaurs, so I got a purse instead.”

“Yeah. They didn’t have any dinosaurs, so I got a purse instead.”

She said it so matter-of-factly that I almost started laughing. The rest of the ladies in line chuckled and this little girl looked delighted to have said something so clever.
When I got to my car I thought about when I was that age. I was completely obsessed with Starwars. Like, it was serious. Sure, I played with baby dolls and tea sets. But Starwars was my passion. There was actually a time when my mom had to say the words, “Jordan, we do not tie our bodies to tables.” In Episode XI, Princess Leia was tied up and she was awesome, so, naturally, tying myself to a Little Tykes table made perfect sense. My poor mother. I might have picked dinosaurs, too.

When my grandmother was that age, a girl would not have been allowed so many choices. Teacher, nurse, secretary, and/or mother: these were the options to choose from. The toys aligned with the possible destinies. My grandmother chose to be a teacher/mom. Although, it was important not to be both at the same time.

At her school, as with most, if a teacher was visibly pregnant she was sent on unpaid leave. This so that children would not be tempted to ask questions regarding the female anatomy and “where-do-babies-come-from” inquiries would be kept at bay. Grandma tells a story about a woman who could not afford to be on unpaid leave for such a long stretch of time. She had several other children and no options. She successfully hid her pregnancy from the (all male) administration and even most of the teachers! Many other teachers would try the same technique, fail, and be “released” from work; a sometimes devastating blow to their families financially.

Friends, this was only fifty years ago.

Many of you, I would guess, get an unpleasant sensation when I use the word “feminism.” I talked with a man recently who said feminism was the worst thing that ever happened to America. True story. In fact, I have had lots of conversations about feminism recently: all of them tinged with bitterness and FOXNews style arguments (“You’re wrong, I’m right, shut up”). I was curious, why does feminism make people so angry?

Emily Shire wrote an enlightening article last year that offered some answers. She wrote,

An April 2013 poll found just 16 percent of men and 23 percent of women in America identify as feminists…However, that same poll found 82 percent of all Americans agree with the statement “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” That’s the simplest and most accurate definition of feminism, but the movement has come to be seen as anti-men, liberal, radical, pro-choice, and many other things that it is not.

These things are not, I repeat NOT, inherently tied to feminism. Hear me out on this one. You’re an intelligent person. You know that media tends to cover the extremes of an issue. To say that feminism is a man-hating, liberal, dirty-hippy’s movement would be like saying that the Westborough Baptist Church is a good representation of Christianity. It is not the whole picture, but the squeaky wheel gets the media.

It is easy to forget the good things that have come from a desire for gender equality when all we hear deeply biased. I like voting. I like that if my husband dies, I get to keep our house. I like that I could pursue a degree in just about any field. I like that I can get to the C-Suite. I like that I don’t have to publish under a false, male name. I like that I could grow up watching Starwars without being labeled as an unmarrible freak. I like that I got a great education. I like that someday, when I am pregnant, I won’t have to hide my growing baby from my boss for fear of not being able to feed my family.

Guess what. Those statements? They make me a feminist.

But you want to know what else makes me a feminist? I like that there may come a time when my husband isn’t seen as a weakling if he wants to stay home with our kids. I like that he is as likely to take a sick day for them as I am. I like that he stands up for women when they’re not present. I like that being a strong man doesn’t have to mean being a misogynistic jerk. I like that my sons might someday be able to be caring, kind, gentlemen without being labeled as “gay.”

I do not think that women are better than men, or vice versa.

I think it is possible to be equal and different at the same time.

I think that boys and men need gender equality just as much as girls and women do.

In the Emily Shire article mentioned above, she also says this:

People do not realize you can be a feminist and pro-life. You can be a feminist and a stay-at-home mom. You can be a feminist and disagree with the birth control mandate of Obamacare (Affordable Healthcare Act). You can be a feminist and not advocate drinking your own menstrual blood.

So, before you decide you “hate” feminism, remember the little girl at Goodwill. In 2015, we have a culture where she could have picked a dinosaur toy or chosen to stay with the purse without fear of ridicule or penalty. This is a gift from generations of women before us who believed that we are valuable and worthy of the battle.

I understand why we wouldn’t want to label ourselves as feminist. I really do. The perception is too far from what we actually believe. And perception is a powerful thing. We have two options: we can find a new term (i.e. gender equality, the woman wars…we can be creative!) or we can decide that we will not allow the media to decide how we are perceived (a fight that women have always been up against, no matter the topic). There is, of course, the non-option: which, is to do nothing. That would be to take advantage of the benefits we have been given without acknowledging where they came from. My girl crush, Brene Brown says it this way in her book The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting:

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”

The choice is ours. Let’s decide to notice when we are judging other women based on what is a “norm” for our gender. Men, stand up for the woman not in the room. We can bring our purses, our dinosaurs, our husbands, our conservative values, and our love of Starwars to “feminism.”

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