My Coming Out as a Feminist

I won a $1,000 ticket to a Ms. magazine fundraiser luncheon featuring Gloria Steinem last week.  With only thirty women in attendance it was a coveted win.

Gloria Steinem with me on the left and my friend Ayesha on the right. Photo credit: Margot Duane

Feminism: a word I didn’t like

I’m slowly waking up to feminism.

Half of my readers will be appalled that I feel a need to use the word feminism at all, and the other half of you are probably rolling your eyes that I ever had any hesitation around word.

I was raised in the eighties when the women’s movement experienced its backlash after all the progress of the sixties and seventies. To say the least, the word feminist didn’t hold positive correlation for me for most of my life, it wasn’t something you wanted to be.  I’d repeatedly heard women start sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but…”, modeling for me that we wanted to distance ourselves from some scary picture of women burning bra’s, hating men, and causing a ruckus.

Adding to the distance I created between me and feminism was the fact that being a girl often proved to be an advantage to me.  I liked being a girl. (shows how much I misunderstood the feminism message!) More than a sense of oppression, I actually felt singled out, rewarded, and applauded.  Being among the first females running for Student Association president in college was an honor, attending seminary with less than ten women in my program felt pioneering, and serving as many people’s first female pastor felt like a privilege. It wasn’t without gratitude that I recognized that I had those opportunities because of women who had fought the good fight before me, but I didn’t see the need to keep fighting.  I wasn’t one of them. I thought we had made it.  Or, at least that there was enough momentum to keep us on our way.

I look back now with a twinge of regret that I cared more about being likable, agreeable, and your all-around-good-girl, than I did about being an advocate for women.  But I either didn’t see the need or assumed the cause was doing fine without me waving the banner.

My own feminist awakening

Feminism is a loaded word. A word that few of us would disagree with in definition: “the advocacy of supporting women’s rights as equal to men.” In words alone, who among us isn’t a feminist?

But as soon as the word is uttered– we sometimes back away because we don’t sense the urgency, don’t relate to those in the media who represent the word, or don’t necessarily feel like there is anything we can do, or want to do. I’ve had an entire career distancing myself from a word while still believing in the concept. Being a naturally positive person has more-or-less allowed me to look away from numbers as I argue that change takes time; choosing to feel encouraged by how many amazing women I knew who were doing so much.

And yet. Positivity shouldn’t include denial.

Women still make up only 3% of creative directors, less than 5% of movie directors (that number dropped in 2011!), only 14% of Hollywood writers, and are shown as protagonists in only 17% of films. These numbers aren’t all that different from a decade ago. Only 6 of our 50 state governors are women, and of the 535 seats of Congress, only 90 of them are women.  While we celebrate that we hold 22.1% of all statewide elected offices, that number was 22.2% in 1993 so the last twenty years hasn’t shown tremendous strides there either.  I can keep going… reminding you that only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women, that we are still earning double-digits less than our male counterparts, and that even though we own somewhere around 30% of businesses we still receive less than 10% of the funding.

So this last year I’d say I’m having a bit of an awakening. An awakening where I realize that we women still need to consciously play bigger games, speak out more, and offer our best in this world.  This has nothing to do with what choices you make–to get married or not, stay home with kids or work outside the home, wear stilettos or reject fashion–it has to do with being honored completely in whatever choice we do make. Not just for our sakes, but because the problems in our world need us.  The ways we engage, make decisions, and nurture those around us is being called out.  The challenges around us need us.

Like Katie Couric said in the documentary Miss Representation: If women spent 10% less time worrying about our weight and appearance, and instead applied that energy to others, she’s pretty sure we could solve all the worlds problems in a matter of months.

We can do that.

Feminism in Friendship

I’ve always wanted to live up to my best.  And I was always told I could.  In that sense I have always been a feminist.

But it hasn’t been until this last year that I’m getting more comfortable with the word and my belief that I need to contribute to what that word stands for. I’d say that one of the forces that has transitioned me into the passion I feel for the cause were my relationships with other women.

When you experience women cheering for you– supporting you, believing in you, thanking you, and helping you– you realize how much more powerful you feel.  And you want everyone else to have that.

Whether it was Ayesha (who is pictured with me and Gloria above, who invited me to participate in an entrepreneurs group of women who were committed to helping each other) or Christine Bronstein from A Band of Wives who gifted me the ticket to attend the luncheon and has done nothing but cheer me on in our shared passion for women– these two women are fabulous examples of women who have modeled their willingness to promote other women.

And when you have been given to, you want to give back.

The word feminism is still an awkward word on my tongue.  But the concept has taken root in my heart.  I hope that those of us reading this can keep living it out in our interactions with each other– being constant reminders of each others value and potential. That as women who value friends– we know that we are empowering each other in ways no one else can do. We can hold up mirrors to each other that remind us of our inherent worth.

In that sense, what we are doing in GirlFriendCircles is sacred work.  On the surface it would be easy to think it’s just networking and social events.  But it’s women showing up ready to commit to each other, willing to invest in the forming of bonds, honoring the fact that friendships with others are important enough to us to do something about it.  That’s feminism.  Saying we matter.  Putting actions behind our words. We’re ensuring that we don’t do this journey of life without a local community, cheerleaders, allies, and friends.

Upon meeting Gloria Steinem– I thanked her for the path she helped pave for so many of us.  Her response was “the hardest part is still ahead.”

Good thing we have each other.

————

p.s. a couple of good resources:

  1. Find a screening in your area for Miss Representation or plan to order the DVD when it’s available late February.
  2. Subscribe to Ms. magazine which is like supporting the cause since it’s a non-profit magazine that seeks to tell inspiring stories about women and highlight issues and challenges facing them.

 

 

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17 Responses to My Coming Out as a Feminist

  1. Susan says:

    Love this!!! Crazy I am ready this now because a few of us are hosting a screening for Miss Representation tomorrow. I can relate with Feminism being an uncomfortable word to use. I’ve been called a feminist since I’ve started Identity and I’ve initially felt attacked. I know better now not to take anything personally, but even more sore, feminism isn’t a bad word. I respect women who are feminist and I look forward to learning more about their goals, concerns, thoughts, ideas, etc.

    Thank for a great post Shasta!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Oh Susan thanks for all you do for women…. when I read about Gloria Steinem on a bio.com it said:

      “Steinem found herself the subject of media scrutiny with her 1992 book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. To some feminists, the book’s focus on personal development to be a retreat from social activism. Steinem was surprised by the backlash, believing that a strong self-image to be crucial to creating change. “We need to be long-distance runners to make a real social revolution. And you can’t be a long-distance runner unless you have some inner strength,” she explained to People magazine.”

      Crazy to think that anyone would have a problem with women having a self-esteem?!?!? But she considers that some of her best contributions– so you’re in good company! Thanks for all you do to help women accept themselves and love themselves!

  2. Loren says:

    Good for you! I think it’s really important for us to take back the word feminist. As you say, it just means that women should have the same rights that men do. Who doesn’t want a world where little girls have the same opportunities as little boys? I wish it didn’t seem so threatening to people, but the best way for us to change that is for all sorts of women from different walks of life to start representing themselves as feminists. I do, and I’m glad you do, too.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Well said Loren… you’re right, of course! If enough of us claim the words and live it out differently– then we will keep expanding the stereotype! Thanks for posting!

  3. Kat Gordon says:

    So glad you got to meet this living legend, Shasta! Gloria Steinem also made an appearance in Menlo Park where she talked about the injustice of having men creating ads for women, despite the fact that women rule the consumer marketplace. A great vote of confidence for the conference I am organizing. The hardest part is still ahead and I, for one, am ready.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      And I couldn’t be more proud of you for spearheading that endeavor! Do you have a date set? The depressing thing that Gloria said is that we have had that purchasing power her entire life– it’s nothing new– and yet we still haven’t harnessed it! I’m so glad you’re out there trying to give voice to the changes that are possible with awareness!

  4. Great post Shasta & congrats on your Feminism! Interestingly enough, us women should be so proud to embody the female qualities that only she knows how – its unique, enticing, sacred and so spectacular that the others simply don’t comprehend or would love to experience. Yes, there should be more of us talking, sharing and loving the Feminist in all of us – so, lets CELEBRATE to more girlfriends, wives, mothers and daughters living Life! Cheers!

  5. April Shipowick says:

    This is great, Shasta! I love reading about other women’s journey and their own struggles with being a woman in a day when we have equal rights but still face some real discrimination. In government and corporate sector jobs, women only make up 15-20% and often times those women are doing the same job for less pay. I feel privileged to be in a medical school with 50% female attendance but I still wonder about the challenges I will face later in my career. If you haven’t already seen Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk, I would highly recommend it.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

  6. Georgi says:

    So glad to hear you’re embracing the word Shasta. I wish more women today would. I often times think how far some of the younger women today are setting the Women’s Movement back. Growing up in NYC I was a part of the movement of the 60’s although I didn’t go as far as burning my bra. I fought for women getting the respect, receiving equal pay and equal opportunity, with reforms against sexual harassment, domestic violence, etc…all the basic human rights. Sadly, some women with a different agenda used the feminist movement and turned it into a “women against men” hate crusade that I came to distance myself from along with many other women. As with all groups and campaigns there will also be the extremists – and that’s what left the bad taste in so many mouths for the word. I hope this is something that catches on again today because like Gloria Steinem, I wholeheartedly agree that “the hardest part is still ahead,” but that could also mean that the best is yet to come!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Georgi– thank you for posting! And, thank you for sharing some of your experiences with us– both the reform you helped make happen (THANK YOU!) and the reminder to not throw the bath water out with the baby. You’re so right… every movement has people that will do it differently and represent it in various ways but that can’t diminish from the importance of the cause. And I love your last line! :)

  7. Lenden Webb says:

    Under that definition, I’m a feminist! :-D loved reading a bit about your journey Shasta!

  8. Pamela says:

    I’m so glad to learn of younger women finally understand­ing the need to be a feminist! The word was corrupted long ago to mean man-hater, bitter, scary, angry woman who could not be satisfied by being man’s helpmate.

    Feminism was never that. It was always about allowing half the world’s population to make the same kind of contributi­ons to the world that men could. It was about knowing that our minds are as valuable as men’s and our bodies as useful as men’s and for more than procreatio­n.

    Today, more than ever, women need to ask themselves who they want to be, how they want to contribute to their communitie­s. Do we really want to accept that we are the “bitches” portrayed in popular culture -having meaning only in how men relate to us?

    The word “bitch” has become the new “N word”. Nothing is more insulting than for one man to say to another – “you’re my bitch”. We women need to remind ourselves and men that we are strong, capable and creative beings in our own right.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Thanks Pamela for your encouragement! I think I saw that you left a comment on my Huffington Post piece, too. THANK YOU! That was generating quite the mean spirit– you were sweet to chime in and leave a sane voice. :) I second your call to be on guard against accepting the modeling given to us through catty female relationships. The problem with that kind of portrayal as we start accepting that as normal and more wide-spread than it is. Indeed I hope more and more of us show up as the “strong, capable, and creative beings” that we are.

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