It has taken me almost a year to write this. My love, my passion, my very identity has always been wrapped neatly into one singular, hopeful word: writer. Yet, when asked to write about feminism, a topic also innately within me, I froze.
I never really understood what the word feminism meant until I was unfairly treated in a workplace at my first post-college job. I never realized that I had grown up sheltered — not from the traditional themes of racial and cultural diversity, but from understanding that my anatomy automatically put me at a disadvantage. I had a mother who worked a full day and yet still had dinner on the table every night. My parents equally attended my numerous ballet, softball, and after-school functions. As I grew older, they continued to slowly climb both career and class ladders, and I truly thought that no matter who you were, hard work always paid off. Feminism always seemed like much ado about nothing.
As I progressed in college, I began to see the cracks of inequity. Hand in the air, my arm would ache as boys in the classroom were always called upon first; an older (re: old-fashioned) female professor called me difficult for disagreeing with her about misogynistic undertones in an assigned text; suggestive comments and propositions from male professors who would get a little too close during office hours came with more frequency. Yet I always demurred, unaware of the societal conditioning that all my life had primed me for these occasions, where a smirk, a giggle, or an unneeded “I’m sorry” reflexively flowed from my mouth.
In my senior year, as graduation (and life) loomed, I began to panic. The fear, uncertainty, and doubt that I had been conditioned to shoulder without wincing, began to manifest physically. Heart racing, hands shaking, I would break into a cold sweat when confronted with simple tasks like going to the grocery store. Other days, I wouldn’t leave bed, unable to gain any forward momentum. Looking back at my childhood, I know now that I wasn’t a “nervous kid” or “dramatic” or “difficult”, I was undiagnosed. When my grandfather, my last living grandparent, died that summer, I had reached a breaking point. I was paralyzed by an unknown gravity, feeling like I was fighting my way through a JELLO mold with no edges. After seeking help, I finally had something I could hold on to: generalized anxiety disorder.
Everyone living with anxiety is different — their own little puzzle with custom pieces that fit just so. For me, I had to really look inward. Self-actualization resulted in my understanding that perfectionism plays a huge role in my mental health.
Women are expected to be contradictions — both strong and vulnerable — yet are admonished for being, well, difficult. I had to reconcile the fact that it’s ok to be both, or one, or none at all. Feminism isn’t a dirty word describing man-hating, bra-burning radicals whose goal is to undo society. Feminism is an acceptance of self, and other women, for who we are, and understanding that cultural standards currently in place unnecessarily divide men and women. While each country has its own intricacies of female societal stature, these differences between the sexes across the world are stark–women are almost always expected to do more, with less. As I came to terms with my own battles, I more clearly saw those of my sisters, who were openly waging wars against inequity that I had ignored in my laser-focus toward self-perfection. Anxiety forced me to open my eyes, and myself, to the beautiful strength and vulnerability that exists within a feminist.
In a way it hasn’t taken me almost a year to write this — it has taken 27. Each year, as I slowly grasped the bits of myself that would one day result in the comfort of completeness, I found the final piece to my identity puzzle: feminist.