Somehow, really without my knowledge or my doing, I became “the feminist” within my high school friend group.
I mean, I suppose since humans are so obsessed with labels it only makes sense that we, the non labeled (or self label? Not sure) labeled within our own group and if I really had the desire I could take the time to label the eight that made up the rest of the Kneesters. It wouldn’t be hard because as I said, labeling is innate for humans. It makes us feel safe but that’s not the point. The point is I remember clearly the day Mira said she had some books that “were just my type” and went on to name what can only be called women’s studies books. It was the year after Panama, my senior year of high school, and I remember being shocked especially since compared to the young woman I had spent the summer with, Rachael, I barely was a feminist. Where had this label come from?
I’m not saying the other Kneesters aren’t feminists-they are, despite shying away from the word as so many unfortunately do (that’s another rant) but somehow women’s rights and issues became my thing so there I was, a seventeen year old juggling college apps and an exchange student and a new label, which like with any label that is true, I grew into quite well.
I went to a women’s college and then transferred to another, I attended a protest or two, I was in the Vagina Monologues twice, I post articles, I wore an “Women for Obama” button in the 2012 election, I became the vice-president of Cottey’s Feminist Majority Foundation, I have a “this is what a feminist looks like shirt”, I’m minoring in women’s studies, I read feminist books, I have educated many women about feminism and watched them take on the label themselves, I drifted away from religion for three and a half years half based on the sexism within my church, I forced people to watch documentaries about home births and to read Half the Sky, I can not count how many arguments I have gotten into over women’s rights and how many times I have said “do you really want to start this?” squishing down the words that would correct and educate. I could go on but my point is that as apprehensive as I was the first time the F word was slapped on me, I have come to not only accept it but embody it, proudly.
So what’s the point? The point is that despite being incredibly proud of being a feminist and wanting to further the movement, that label has also harmed me and I didn’t realize it until recently when one of my best friends got engaged. I was informed by two others that a guess list of who would get married among my Cottey suite mates had been made and that I was at the bottom, dead last. I’ve never been in a serious relationship but neither have some of my other suite mates who beat me on the list and when I discussed this with my mom, expressing my undesired pain, she looked at me. “That’s not it, Meg,” she said “they think that because of your feminist values. They see you as independent and that’s probably why they put you at the bottom-because they don’t see you as needing or wanting a man.”
It hurts when the people who are supposed to know you don’t.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean you don’t need or don’t want to get married. And my friends, my feminist friends, should know that. That’s not what hurts though. What hurts more is that without even knowing they expressed and labeled one of my deepest fears and in a casual way at that. What makes it worse is that it keeps happening-my advice brushed aside, my concerns, my excitement. They aren’t seen as legitimate but rather deemed as selfish, immature, unjustifiable. How can a friend’s concern ever be misplaced?
And so, this label that was given to be by Mira four years ago has come to be part of me, and the people who are part of me have chosen to use it to harm. Perhaps not on purpose but all I have to ask is who is anyone to think themselves above anyone else? Who is anyone to only look upon one aspect of someone they love? We are many pieces in one whole, you and I.