I don’t remember the first time I identified myself as a feminist, but I do remember the first time a friend told another person that “Ashley’s a feminist.” I remember it because the other person hesitated and warned me to be careful of that word.
I was 15, which means that I’ve been a self-declared feminist for at least five years. First, a tentative and ignorant feminist with a shy enthusiasm. Then, a serious and eager feminist who felt enlightened and couldn’t stop reading feminist book after book. Then, an unapologetic and excited feminist who wanted to tell EVERYONE! Then, an overly confident feminist who felt that I learned it all from the books, only to be quickly taken down several notches by my first women/gender/sexuality studies course. Then, a feminist who felt so self-conscious and also appalled at the lack of compassion within the feminist community that I had grown to love, that I almost stopped calling myself one. That’s something I usually don’t talk about. And that brings us to the past year, in which I’ve been a person who is cautiously trying her best to be a feminist that steps up and steps down at the right times.
That’s been my relationship with my feminism….
Though I’ve experienced a mix of emotions from identifying as a feminist, it seems that the rest of my world has as well. Lots of people are sweetly grateful, yet some are so threatened by my unashamed, proud support for females.
And I get it. You’re not supposed to be for the girls. It’s uncomfortable. You’re supposed to be ‘FTB’ or for the boys. In fact, you’re not even supposed to be or act LIKE a girl or throw like a girl or or or else you’ll be called a ‘pussy’ aka a term that once again denotes how awful it is to be feminine. I’m not going to get in depth with this, because I wrote about this a lot in my book Survival of the Prettiest, but the point is, in a world where stereotypical ‘maleness’ is valued above all else (look up studies on gender and leadership in workplace settings if you’d like proof), it’s not desirable to genuinely be for the girls.
However, feminism is supportive of females (in fact, is supportive of everyone! check out bell hooks for more). And because feminism is supportive of females, is twisted and portrayed as something that is just for women who want to be better than men and so on (we’ve all heard the fake narrative and perhaps even perpetuated it).
Since age 15, lots of other people have warned me about calling myself a feminist. And perhaps they’re right to be hesitant - feminism is a controversial, loaded term that can even be dangerous...I mean, I’ve received threats and harassment for calling myself one.
So, why do I persist? Why do I continue to stand up for girls, even when my reputation takes a toll?
Well, I know how absolutely and desperately CRITICAL feminism is.
I know because it’s been imperative in my own life, and I’ve seen the impact it makes in others. I always joke that coffee and girl power fuel me, and there’s truth to it - I crave girl power. It encourages me.
After all, sexism is so discouraging. When a boy on the school bus, much younger than you, declares that you should ‘suck his dick’ to impress his older friend, you feel gross at the inappropriateness of the situation. It’s not the first time a boy you barely know, or know at all, has yelled at you to suck his dick though. And when a multi-million dollar big-shot investor looks you right in the eye and tells you ‘yeeahhhh I never typically invest in women’, you are shocked and later furious - ‘I’M THE ONLY FEMALE IN THIS ENTIRE ROOM FULL OF BOYS AND PROBABLY THE ONLY ONE WITH A SMALL BUSINESS’ you want to SCREAM, you’re so insulted! And when you apologize for not ‘satisfying’ a guy afterwards, despite the fact that it was explicitly and absolutely not consensual and hands down the worst hook up you’ve ever had, you feel guilty to have let him down. Because his needs matter more than yours, right??
Ugh. No. Not at all.
Some days I feel so discouraged, I don’t even know what to do. I’ll get a text from a friend telling me about her recent rape and I’ll just think ‘Dear God, how many of my friends is it going to be?? Every fucking last one??’ and pray my little sisters aren’t next. Or a middle school girl who follows me will reach out, concerned because summer’s coming up aka swimsuit season and that means body shame intensified. And though my heart breaks, I get it - I’ve been there.
And then, I think about my own life, and how encouraging a movement that (at least in theory) supports women has been.
Feminism has encouraged me to actually like my body and has given me the courage to be myself. Feminism has given me the confidence and vocabulary to assert myself in unfortunate sexual situations, even when being pressured. Feminism has shown me the value of supporting other women and so so much more.
I think about how utterly powerful feminism has been in transforming me into a vocal, brave, person who stands up for what she believes to be right. And I want everyone else to have the self-assuredness that feminism has given me.
So here I am - for the girls and proud as ever. Not because I’m against boys (how could I be, when half my best friends are male….like did u think that one thru??) but because this world needs girl power.
At least I do.
And judging off of my experience with MOVE, a lot of you do as well.
That’s why I persist with my feminist beliefs. We don’t really have the option not to, because if we don’t bring the girl power, who’s going to? Our government?? Our President??? You can answer that one yourself.
So, what do I want you to know?
First, that I am on your side and for you even in moments of terrible discouragement.
Second, even though this world may have convinced you that it’s embarrassing to be for the girls, there isn’t shame in sticking up females. In fact, there can be pride.
And I am proud to be for you.
Third, I love you guys. We’re gonna be ok, so long as we keep working together.