To say I had a feminist a-ha moment or a feminist awakening is to say that there was a time in my life that I wasn’t a feminist, which, for me, simply isn’t true. So many of us come to our understanding of feminism through our understanding of the injustices of the gender norms and tropes so present in our society. We learn to fight for gender equality when we learn about the gender wage gap, the rates of domestic and sexual violence, or how almost every woman we know has had some form of unwanted experience, sexual or otherwise, from a man. But there are those of us, myself included, who learn about the evils of gender inequality much, much earlier on in life. We become feminists, ever-aware of our status as less than human nearly the moment we enter this world.
I became a feminist the day I was born. To a woman 20 years too young to bring a new life into this world. My mother, poor and alone, began the uphill battle of raising a biracial baby in the southern United States. It didn’t help that my birth father, or sperm donor as I have so spitefully referred to him for the past 23 years, was a drug addict and had absolutely no interest in leaving that life to help my mother raise me.
I became a feminist the first time and the second time and the hundredth time I was sexually abused. First, by a long-gone stepfather, my mother thought would pull us out of the poverty we both knew so well. For nearly six years I woke up not knowing if I would greet the daddy I wanted so badly or the cruel, heartless man my daddy became when my mother wasn’t watching. I became a feminist every time he touched me, and every time he made me touch him. I became a feminist when he left, and I had to face the reality, again, of being a poor, fatherless child. I became a feminist the day I learned the term for what he did to me.
I became a feminist every time my mother came home to tell me about another job she no longer had. I became a feminist every time my grandmother paid for my groceries or my grandfather sent us a check to cover rent for the next month. I became a feminist every time I helped my mother scrounge for change around the house to put gas in the car for the week, or every time I held my mother crying as the stress of our vulnerability became too much to handle.
I became a feminist the day my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms began. And the day I was diagnosed with anxiety. And the day I was diagnosed with depression. And anorexia. And premenstrual dysphoric disorder. And pelvic inflammatory disorder. I became a feminist the day my mother was diagnosed with cancer. And I became a feminist the day I realized that all of this was because of a life of stress. A life of knowing that the fight would always be hard. A life of knowing that the fight might, and probably never would, end.
I become a feminist nearly every day of my life. Every day when I realize that the struggle my life has seen thus far has, in large part, been because I am a woman. Because the world views me as less-than. Because the world views those of us with vaginas or penises we never wanted or sexualities and proclivities the world can’t seem to understand or skin that’s too dark or too light or abilities that don’t fit the status quo.
Some of us don’t have to get a degree to learn about the evils of gender inequality. We didn’t have to learn about toxic masculinity from a think piece we saw on Facebook or google a definition of gender-based violence. Some of us, too many of us, become feminists and fighters and activists simply because it is the only choice we have.