My Path To Understanding — And Owning — My Feminism

And I’m taking the term back.
03/14/2017 06:04 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2017
Jake Dietrich

By: Madeline Kelley

I grew up in what most people now refer to as a “blended family;” I have an older brother and an older stepbrother who are the same age, an older stepsister, and a stepsister who happens to be my same age. We’re basically the Brady Bunch… but modernized… a Modern Family, if you will. 

Anyone who has grown up with multiple siblings can likely attest to the fact that competition runs rampant in your blood in both a biological and metaphorical way. As a child, I competed against my siblings for our parents’ attention, praise, and love. I quickly realized that my sisters and I had the most in common so unfortunately, they unknowingly became my fiercest competition.

As I got older, this competitiveness towards females never left me; I competed with other girls in sports, at school, for boys’ attention, and most certainly on looks (although, puberty doesn’t look particularly good on anyone). Then, it became a competition against girls to get into colleges, and for internships, and finally for jobs.

I’ve been competing my entire life against other women and it took me a lot of years to recognize that while I was competing against these women, and constantly looking for ways to get ahead of them, I was at the same time systematically preventing my own success. If every woman was to compete against every other woman, there would be a limited pinnacle of success as we would all be working to tear each other down so as to individually get ahead. But alternatively, if women started ​helping one another and lifting each other up, our advancement as a gender would grow at an exponential rate, and in direct correlation, so too would our society.

Another misconception I had when growing up was about the words “feminism” and “feminist.” I believed that feminism was a radical theory supported solely by “crazy feminists” (women who dressed in Birkenstocks and t-shirts with Georgia O’Keeffe paintings on them, probably). And, these “crazy feminists” could be found in vegan cafes arguing over a bowl of quinoa and a cold pressed juice about which corporations would be the next to take down (very evil!!!). And this is all very ironic because I HAVE owned Birkenstocks, I WAS a vegan, and I DO love green juice, but I digress. The words “feminism” and “feminist” have been demonized in our society; I viewed both as dirty and derogatory. But as it turns out, all along the dirty word was another one altogether.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “feminism,” as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” That certainly isn’t dirty.. The much dirtier word is “patriarchy.” What is Merriam-Webster’s definition of patriarchy, you may ask? “Social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Now THAT is a dirty word, and yet somehow “feminism” is the term that can make grown men blush and squirm in their seats.

So, granted, it took me a few years to get here, but I’ve made it to this place where I now view other women as my greatest allies and closest confidants. A place where I feel my own power as a woman with countless others lifting me up to reach a higher potential. A place where I no longer let my peers, nor those above me, dictate the terms and meaning of feminism. A place where I fight against the patriarchy, not to bring men down but to bring women up, and to make them equals. This place I’ve finally reached is called feminism. And I’m taking the term back.

In the words of Queen B: “We’re smart enough to make these millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business.” 

Madeline Kelley is a Business Development Associate at Ellevate Network, working to ​create partnerships with companies to help them attract, retain, and develop their female employees. She believes that by providing companies the opportunity to partner with Ellevate in concurrence with their internal women’s groups, or in lieu of, they will be able to help increase the number of female leaders in the workforce.

Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.

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