Confessions of a Closet Feminist
Today, on International Women’s Day, I reflect on what it means to be a woman. I most certainly am a biological woman. But that doesn't make me inherently feminine. In fact, many times I don't feel feminine at all. My best friend, who is quite a sensitive guy, often jokes that I am more of a man than he is.
I play sports with men. I get dirty and sweaty and bruised and knocked down, and sometimes I don’t take a shower after. My soccer bag smells worse than our goalkeeper’s gloves.
My closest friends jokingly call me “Mom” because I’m always the one to plan our outings and show up over-prepared with gourmet food, healthy snacks, extra water, sunscreen and jackets. I admit, I do love taking care of the people I love.
When I suit up to hit the surf, I’m more worried about not catching that perfect right break than I am of overhead waves, cold water or shark attacks. Not to mention that the man to woman ratio in the surf is around 30:1 on a good day.
Generally speaking, I don’t like romantic comedies, and I rarely cry.
Every so often, I love spending an hour or longer getting ready for a night out, painting my nails, doing my makeup, dancing to Britney in front of my mirror, and putting on my cutest party dress and heels.
I could give hundreds more counterbalancing examples. Scholars of gender communication would simply say that my expression of gender identity is contextually based. In some environments I act more feminine, and in other situations I occupy more masculine roles.
More interesting than my varying expressions along the masculine-feminine gender continuum, however, is the fact that every day people verbalize their amazement at my seemingly masculine behavior. We have come a long way since women’s suffrage in 1920, but even in 2013, stereotypes about men and women still remain.
We live in a society where one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. A society where the median annual earnings for women is $36,931 compared to men’s $47,715. Where 54% of sexual assaults go unreported.
It’s at this point in this post that if I were you, the reader, I would roll my eyes and grumble, “Not another feminist ranting about how the world is unfair for women…”
The word “feminism” has always rubbed me the wrong way. In impassioned debates about gendered movements, I have certainly been accused of being a feminist, much to my distaste. But why does it bother me so much?
To start, I have a general aversion to being categorized as belonging to any particular group. Sure, we’re humans, and we make sense of things by categorizing them and build connections through shared interests. No harm in that. Except when those in- and out-group associations promote prejudice and injustice.
But to be dubbed feminist is particularly off-putting. It's not that I don't agree with gender equity. Quite the opposite, actually. It's more that the mediated image of feminism as a bunch of angry, aggressive women shunning men and demanding equal pay just because we're women makes me cringe. That said, I do get angry when men on my soccer team make sexist comments about how I should mark the other woman on the field because “you can’t keep up with that guy.”
I wish I didn’t have such a knee-jerk negative reaction to a term born from a movement of passionate and dedicated women who have paved the way for so many of the rights that we enjoy today. Perhaps I should feel proud that people see me as an activist for gender equity, even if I don’t want to admit it.
So today, in honor of International Women’s Day, I am putting my sensitivities to language and categories aside as I proudly proclaim: “I am a (closet) feminist!” I will continue to be bold, genuine, adventurous, ballsy, compassionate, assertive and kind.
The path to optimum wellness requires that we love ourselves for who we truly are, and be brave enough to share our true essence with the world, no matter the people we shock or the names we get called. Together, as power women and men who occupy all spaces along the gender spectrum, we can continue to break down stereotypes that limit our ability to live free and love.
We cannot overcome these barriers alone. So today I give thanks to everyone who inspires me to continue to push the boundaries of masculine and feminine me.
To my brother who reminds me that it’s okay to let a man carry my groceries every once in a while. To my gay friends who own their feminine ferocity in all its hunty glory. To my mentors who show me that it is possible to be both a phenomenal mom and a revered executive. To my guy friends aren’t afraid to cry on my shoulder and do the dishes after I cook. Thank you.
And especially, to all the women
- who stand up for what they believe in
- who don't take no for an answer
- who love people hard
- who know how to cook a kick ass meal and change a tire
- who pay their own bills
- who follow up 5-day backpacking trips with sexy nights in heels
- who aren't afraid to ask someone out
- who are changing the world with their work
- who play sports and paint their nails
- who carry themselves with dignity and poise
- who speak up for themselves and their beliefs
- who own their beauty, charm and sexuality with confidence and grace
- who wake up every morning ready to conquer the world
- who remind people every day that they are a beautiful force to be reckoned with
You make me proud to be a woman. I give you my utmost honor and respect.