I would not describe my family as “progressive.” A good majority of my family is from the South and conservative values permeated my childhood experience. However, unbeknownst to them, a few of my family members have had a key role in defining how I identify and perform my feminism. I would like to dedicate today’s post to those family members that emphasized feminist values far before my first “Women and Gender Studies” class. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
My Feminist Father
First, I’d like to discuss my dad. His interest in feminism is zilch to none, but he doesn’t realize the profound impact he has played on mine. His primary role in supporting “my feminism” has been his relentless dedication to my education. From a young age, he emphasized to me the importance of education. There was never any question that I would continue my education to college and he made saving for that a priority. This is not an opportunity I have taken for granted. This emphasis on education never felt like misguided pressure. He instilled in me the importance of education from a young age as a means to independently support myself. He never doubted my ability to excel in classes, regardless of their subject matter, and always encouraged me to do my best. His belief in my abilities helped to cultivate a strong passion and confidence in my academic pursuits.
In addition to this, my dad has always stressed the importance of exercise and sports to me. This may sound annoying initially, but as a result of this, I have learned to appreciate the value in taking care of myself physically and mentally through physical activity. He never discouraged me from doing conventionally “feminine” activities but encouraged a diversity of experiences that I know made me a much more well-rounded person.
Secondly, I’d like to talk about my grandmother and the many ways she shaped my feminism. Before I was born, she supported two children as a single mother, while earning her college degree. As someone currently earning their college degree, I continually admire her tenacity and strength in navigating this challenge. Growing up, I witnessed my grandmother’s thriving career in which she enjoyed a highly respected position in her workplace. She worked with other women that were similarly motivated and I believe witnessing these strong role models gave me confidence in my ability to create a strong career for myself. I have a respect and appreciation for the hard work that it takes to be a woman in the workplace, because of my grandmother.
In addition to helping foster my career goals, my grandmother always supported my uniqueness as an individual. Throughout all my phases of adolescence, she encouraged me to be unapologetically myself and continues to do so to this day. Lastly, my grandmother has always encouraged the practice of self-care. She’s the first person to tell me to go home and rest when I’m feeling overwhelmed. As Bitch Media’s podcast, “Popaganda” points out, self-care is often overlooked among fellow feminists and I’m grateful that the value of self-care was stressed to me from a young age.
My younger sister is nine years younger than me. Despite this, I often find myself astounded by her wisdom. One incident, in particular, has stuck with me. I remember once complaining to her about the mistreatment of a high school boyfriend, something along the lines of, “He ignores me when we’re at school.” To this complaint. she simply responded, “If he’s not nice to you, don’t talk to him.” While this may seem like an inconsequential, maybe even obvious suggestion, it was a crucial reminder that I constantly return to in my life when reflecting on the behavior of my partners. If you feel you are being mistreated, do something to rectify the situation! An important part of my feminism is surrounding myself with people that support and encourage me and her simple advice served as a reminder for that practice. So while it may surprise some, my mantra for self-respect is directly derived from the words of seven-year-old girl.
It doesn’t require a gender-neutral environment to raise a child who values respect for others and themselves. Self-respect, self-care, and diverse experiences should be incorporated into everyone’s lives and I’m grateful for family members who showed me the importance of these practices. I encourage you to reflect on the feminist influences in your own family, and thank those that made you the feminist you are today!