Am I a Feminist?

Challenging what feminism means to me, and everyone who claims its ideals.

Disclaimer: Often in this article I use the term “woman” in a way that implies sex more than it does gender. I am female by sex, and cisgender at that, and my experiences as a woman are informed as much by my sex as by my gender. I apologize if my language offends or alienates anyone whose experience as “woman” or “female” differs from my own.

There’s no way for me to talk about feminism without acknowledging how, for the majority of my life, I have been an active participant of the systemic injustice that the movement endeavors to combat.

I could lie and say that I was a feminist from a young age. Had one had asked teenage Jordyn whether or not she believed women deserved the same respect, safety, and agency as men, she would undoubtedly have said yes.

My younger self knew her brain to be her most powerful tool. She posited that she would never marry for fear that being emotionally dependent on a man would limit her freedom. It was her keen ambition to be acknowledged for more than whichever male demonstrated, or did not demonstrate, interest in her body.

Nonetheless, there were sides of that girl, and there remain aspects of the woman I have become, that restrict my ability to point to her and say “that’s a feminist, that’s where she got her start.”

I was nineteen when two high school friends, I suspect, assaulted a girl at a party where I was in attendance. It was a small gathering; there were fewer than fifteen of us there. We played drinking games for a couple of hours until she went upstairs and passed out. My two friends soon followed her. Later one returned to the lower level boasting of the three-way that he and his friend had had with the girl.

I recall thinking “that doesn’t sound consensual.” But I also remember not challenging them, hoping he was lying to inflate his ego. Most of all, I remember thinking that the girl in question was known to be promiscuous. I was quick to shame her into being responsible for crimes perpetrated upon her body. To this day I have not made inquiry as to whether what my friend said was true. I do not know if the young woman consented, and have assumed (for my own peace of mind) that she did. I have only this to say: no matter how consensual the incident may have been, I failed women that night by not speaking up.

Is it possible to refer to that version of me, that willfully complicit and ignorant girl, a feminist? I’ve ruminated on this for some time and no, I am certain that I cannot. Younger me was devoutly pro-life. She supposed that feminism was antiquated; that women had achieved equality. She did not question when sexual educators professed that women whom had had sex were “like a half-eaten box of candy”. She even felt a sense of pride at the thought that she was not used, and was not therefore, less whole. I look back on that girl not so much with shame, nor with resentment, but with pity.

I see the above as a failure of my education, by the way. I attended an all girls’ school and not once was I informed of the importance and relevance of the feminist agenda. Girls were punished at my school for coloring their hair, condemned for homosexual exploration, and taught to emulate white norms of beauty. I wish to emphasize that we are failing women every day when we enforce these standards. We are letting men rape them. We are letting other women rape them. We inform them that their genius and their strength come third and fourth to their physical appearance and the specious notion of their virginity.

We make brilliant black women all but invisible. We make men incapable of vulnerability. We deprive bright young girls, all around the world, of a complete education because they are disgraced from attending school during menstruation. Not one of these factors typifies a macrocosm that we should aspire to sustain.

If you asked me today if I think that women deserve the same respect, safety and agency as men I would, of course, reply in the affirmative. However, I would also stress that we are nowhere near to having achieved it. I admit that I have not demanded these things for myself, or other women, as often as I ought. For that I am sorry. I owe apology: to the woman whom I allowed my friends to assault, to the many women in my lifetime whom I have silenced, overlooked, or victimized.

The thing about gender is that you don’t have to be pro-man in order to not be anti-man. But you have to be vehemently pro-woman in order to not be anti-woman.

Whenever we fail to demand that feminist ideals become reality, whenever we tell women how to avoid being raped instead of telling men not to perform rape, whenever we erase women of color from our histories, or insist that women should not have the authority to make decisions about their own bodies, we are proclaiming ourselves to be anti-women.

It’s a fallacy that all you have to do to be a feminist is believe that women and men are equal. We are not. Not yet. But we ought to be. What is required of you to call yourself a feminist is to challenge, every day, the notion that we should remain unequal, as well as complicit in the subjection of the female sex.

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