Feminist Roots – How I Became A Radical

I am a radical feminist.

And I always hear the sounds of a happy parade when I read that sentence, complete with fireworks and elephants trunks blasting towards the sky. I really LOVE being a feminist!parade

I doubt any of this surprises those of you who have been reading my blogs for three semesters, but for all of the newcomers, I feel like I owe a bit of an explanation. I jumped right into writing about some really intense subjects like enlightened sexism and natural childbirth this semester, with no explanation of where I was coming from or where I am going. Obviously I wasn’t born with a copy of bell hooks in my hands, and some of you may be wondering, how did I get like this? What are my feminist roots?

addyIf I take it all the way back, I guess my first feminist seeds were planted when I was about seven years old and obsessed with the American girl series. Addy, Samantha, Kirsten, Felicity – was there anything they couldn’t do? I mean, Samantha hid orphans of the Industrialization Era in her attic, fed them, took care of them, and then convinced her own rich family to adopt them! Addy and her mother escape slavery in book one, then proceeded to seek education and employment in the North. They were two black women on their own with no money and no education, but through hard work and determination, both made it. “Wow!” thought seven year old me. “Women can do anything!”

It was quite a different message then what I was witnessing firsthand.busy mom The women in my life weren’t empowered – they were too busy raising children and working dead-end jobs. I knew I wanted something different, but I thought I must be weird for wanting a life of my own. I didn’t yet know that the gendered responsibilities I disdained were actually part of a larger patriarchal system.

Fast forward ten years – I am graduating high school and, at this point, I am a little weird. And angry. Really angry in fact. Here are some things I was angry at in 2005:

  1. That gay people couldn’t get married, when most straight marriage I knew ended in divorce. What kind of experts were we?
  2. That my step-dad worked 40 hours a week and was “too tired” to help around the house, while my stay at home mom put in 80+ hours a week of unpaid domestic labor and no one even said thank you.
  3. That sexual harassment from customers, co-workers, AND my boss was a daily threat at my coffee shop job.
  4. That parents, educators, and youth pastors preached abstinence to my friends instead of contraception, even though EVERYONE (including the pastor’s own daughter) was having sex – as a result, my friends started getting pregnant and giving up their dreams of college.
  5. That street harassment was an every day occurrence, even though I lived in a small, “safe” town.
  6. That John Kerry didn’t win the 2004 elections and that I had baked a celebratory blueberry pie in enthusiastic anticipation of the Democrats sweeping the nation. I still ate it, but the sweet, succulent berries had been ruined by defeat and mass ignorance.

I really wish someone had handed me an Audre Lorde book at this time or posted a link to feministing.com on my myspace (RIP), but it didn’t happen that way. Even though I believed in feminist ideals and had feminist concerns, I would never have known how to put a name to what I felt. I thought that each issue I upset about was separate from the others, because no one had ever told me about double binds or the intersectionalities of oppression. I had to way to combat, or even to talk about any of the problems I was facing – it’s hard to know now whether I was more mad or confused, or mad at being confused.Lost and Confused Signpost

It was in this haze that I took Queer Literature at JMU in spring 2011. To be completely honest, I thought the class might afford me the chance to meet some more bi-sexual girls on campus and talk about the issues I had with my own bi-sexuality, which it did. But it also completely changed my life. I realized for the first time that there were a lot of women in the world who had the same concerns as me – they were called feminists. I eagerly began exploring the movement, but after the class ended and summer began, my new-found interest was cut short by a series of events that eventually molded me into the woman I am today. This next part is a little depressing, but, four years after the fact, I am not afraid to write about it, and you should not be afraid to read it.

That summer, extenuating circumstances forced me to deal with a past sexual assault, one that had taken place over the course of seven years and done a lot of unrealized damage to my self-esteem and psyche. I found the courage to stand up and face my assailant, but soon realized that justice, both in the legal system and society, did not exist for victims like me. Even members of my own family had been so tainted by false views of rape and victim blaming that they chose to take my attackers side rather than mine.

I, excuse my language, lost my fucking shit. I felt that I had no where to go and no one to turn to. I couldn’t believe that in America, land of the free and home of the brave, the system worked against victims of sexual assault, women who are VERY BRAVE and trying to LIVE A FREE LIFE. To matters worse, others noticed my extremely vulnerable state at this time and used the opportunity to enact harm upon an already damaged person. It was definitely the worst summer ever, and that’s putting it lightly.

I went back to school in the fall, but with no idea of  how I was going to hold it together and actually make it to class every day. With so little support in my life, I decided that I was only going to surround myself with people that I thought would be supportive, so I enrolled almost entirely in Women’s Studies classes. I also joined Sister Speak, a feminist ‘zine on campus, and met an amazing group of students and one of my favorite professors ever, Dr. Mary Thompson. I told them what had happened and they had my back 110% – if Dr. T hadn’t been a safe haven for talking through tears and near panic attacks, I don’t know how I would have gotten through that year! I don’t want to get too off-track, but I can I just say kudos to JMU professors for going outside of their job descriptions to make sure students succeed?! ❤dont rape

I also found a sexual assault support group on campus and met six girls I will never forget. Together we leaned on each other for support, told our stories, listened, and found out that ALL of us were in sadly similar situations – no justice in the court system and a lack of familial understanding.

By the end of these experiences, I was empowered,  ready to fight against a system that DOES NOT WORK and IS NOT FAIR. I dedicated myself to women’s studies, the personal is political, and eradicating all system of gender oppression. I realize now that all of the things I have been “angry” about in my life are connected to the same patriarchal roots, which narrows my battle, but doesn’t make it any easier. After my experiences as a sexual assault survivor, I don’t believe that institutional reform will work – the legal system, as I learned firsthand, was built by (mainly white) men, who didn’t have women as equals in mind when they wrote laws. Clearly, a whole new system needs to be built, and this is true of many institutions in our country, a fact I am exploring in my new series this semester called “Imposed Cultures.”

So, that’s my story. These are my feminist roots, the reason I say it loud and I say it proud – I am a radical feminist!!

5 thoughts on “Feminist Roots – How I Became A Radical

  1. As a new member to the blog, I am very happy to know your background. I personally think you need to know someone’s feminist background to understand where people are coming from in their opinions and posts. I love how confident you are and you are definitely an inspiration.

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    1. Thanks! It has taken time to get to this place, but while it can be hard to talk about it, I have to remember that 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual assualt – it’s so common and I try to combat that by making it a common topic – people need to be aware and talking about it, not only so that laws can change, but also societal problems like victim blaming.

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  2. I understand all that you wrote, but I don’t understand the difference between a :”feminist” and a “radical feminist.” The former, it seems to me, implies the latter.

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  3. Arnie, I didn’t understand the difference either until I learned about reformative versus radical feminism in my philosophy of feminism class this semester – a reformative feminist believes that equality for women can come by changing current institutions, such as the institution of law that I discuss. A radical feminist believes that the whole new system must be implemented. Furthermore, I have been hearing a lot of troubling talk lately about “lifestyle feminism” – basically what this entails is taking parts of the movement that you like (say equality in the workplace), but rejecting others (such as women’s freedom of reproductive choice). This is troubling to me because I think it dilutes the power of feminism, which for me rests on the assumption that the personal is political – that is why I take an effort in this blog to distingush myself as a proud “radical.”

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