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Feminism: How I Finally Came Out as an Advocate for Women

02/08/2012 07:08 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2012
  • Shasta Nelson, M.Div. Friendship Expert, Founder of womens friendship matching site, GirlFriendCircles.com, Author of Friendships Don't Just Happen!

I won a $1,000 ticket to a Ms. magazine fundraiser luncheon featuring Gloria Steinem. With only thirty women in attendance it was a coveted win.
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Photo: Shasta Nelson with Gloria Steinem and Ayesha Mathews-Wadwha

Feminism: A Word I Didn't Like

I'm slowly waking up to feminism.

Half of my readers will be appalled that I feel a need to use the word feminism at all, and the other half of you are probably rolling your eyes that I ever had any hesitation around word.

I was raised in the eighties when the women's movement experienced its backlash after all the progress of the sixties and seventies. To say the least, the word "feminist" didn't hold positive associations for me for most of my life -- it wasn't something you wanted to be. I'd repeatedly heard women start sentences with "I'm not a feminist, but ...," modeling for me that we wanted to distance ourselves from some scary picture of women burning bras, hating men and causing a ruckus.

Adding to the distance I created between myself and feminism was the fact that being a girl often proved to be an advantage to me. I liked being female (shows how much I misunderstood the feminist message!). I didn't feel a sense of oppression about my sex -- I actually felt singled out, rewarded and applauded. Running as one of the first female candidates for Student Association president in college was an honor, attending seminary with less than ten women in my program felt pioneering, and serving as many people's first female pastor felt like a privilege. It wasn't without gratitude that I recognized that I had those opportunities because of women who had fought the good fight before me, but I didn't see the need to keep fighting. I wasn't one of them. I thought we had made it. Or, at least that there was enough momentum to keep us on our way.

I look back now with a twinge of regret that I cared more about being likable, agreeable and your all-around-good-girl than I did about being an advocate for women. But I either didn't see the need or assumed the cause was doing fine without me having to wave its banner.

My Own Feminist Awakening

Feminism is a loaded word. A word that few of us would disagree with in definition: "The advocacy of supporting women's rights as equal to men." In words alone, who among us isn't a feminist?

But as soon as the word is uttered, we sometimes back away, either because we don't sense the urgency of its message, don't relate to those in the media who represent the word to us or don't necessarily feel like there is anything we can do, or want to do -- or some combination of all of these factors. I've spent an entire career distancing myself from a word while still believing in the concept it represents. Being a naturally positive person has more or less allowed me to look away from numbers as I argue that change takes time. I chose instead to feel encouraged by how many amazing women I knew who were doing so much.

And yet positivity shouldn't include denial.

Women still make up only 3 percent of creative directors, less than 5 percent of movie directors (that number dropped in 2011!), only 14 percent of Hollywood writers, and are shown as protagonists in only 17 percent of films. These numbers aren't all that different from a decade ago. Only 6 of our 50 state governors are women, and of the 535 seats of Congress, only 90 of them are women. While we celebrate that we hold 22.1 percent of all statewide elected offices, that number was 22.2 percent in 1993 so the last twenty years hasn't shown tremendous strides there either. I can keep going ... reminding you that only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEO's are women, that we are still earning double-digits less than our male counterparts and that even though we own somewhere around 30 percent of businesses we still receive somewhere between 3-10 percent of the funding.

So this last year I'd say I'm having a bit of an awakening.

An awakening where I realize that we women still need to consciously play bigger games, speak out more, and offer our best in this world. This has nothing to do with what choices you make -- to get married or not, stay home with kids or work outside the home, wear stilettos or reject fashion -- it has to do with being honored completely in whatever choice we do make. Not just for our sakes, but because the problems in our world need us. The ways we engage, make decisions and nurture those around us is being called out. The challenges around us need us.

Feminism in Friendship

I've always wanted to live up to my best. And I was always told I could. In that sense I have always been a feminist.

But it hasn't been until this last year that I'm getting more comfortable with the word and my belief that I need to contribute to what that word stands for. I'd say that one of the forces that has transitioned me into the passion I feel for the cause were my relationships with other women.

When you experience women cheering for you -- supporting you, believing in you, thanking you, and helping you -- you realize how much more powerful you feel. And you want everyone else to have that.

Whether it was Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa (Founder of PixInk Design who helps companies market to women, pictured with me and Gloria Steinem) or Christine Bronstein from A Band of Wives who gifted me the ticket to attend the luncheon-- these two women are fabulous examples of women who have modeled their willingness to promote other women.

And when you have been given to, you want to give back.

The word feminism is still an awkward word on my tongue. But the concept has taken root in my heart. I hope that those of us reading this can keep living it out in our interactions with each other -- being constant reminders of each others value and potential. That as women who value friends -- we know that we are empowering each other in ways no one else can do. We can hold up mirrors to each other that remind us of our inherent worth.

On the surface, it's easy to think that what we do on GirlFriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site, is just networking and social events. But it's women showing up ready to commit to each other, willing to invest in the forming of bonds, honoring the fact that friendships with others are important enough to us to do something about it.

That's feminism. Saying we matter. Putting actions behind our words. We're ensuring that we don't do this journey of life without a local community, cheerleaders, allies and friends.

When I met Gloria Steinem, I thanked her for the path she helped pave for so many of us. Her response was "the hardest part is still ahead."

Good thing we have each other.

p.s.: A shout-out also to all the men who have been feminists long before I was ready to claim the title! Thank you for the voices you've lent the cause!

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This posting was originally posted on Shasta's Friendship Blog where Shasta Nelson posts weekly articles on women's issues as connected to our need of meaningful friendships.