Becoming an angry feminist

Angry FeministI’ve considered myself a feminist for a long time . . . . . but I was never one of those feminists. You know the ones I’m talking about . . . . the classic trope . . . . butch haircut, perpetual scowl, black tank tops and combat boots. I didn’t hate men. And I needed men to know that. I needed men to know that I wasn’t one of them.

Because I was young and naïve and the world had been subliminally (and sometimes not-so-subliminally) telling me from birth that my primary objective was to make sure boys liked me.

When I was 10 years and a little overweight, my mother assured me that I’d grow up and thin out, and someday the boys would be knocking down my door. I took comfort in that. Until I didn’t “thin out” and the boys never came knocking. I spent my childhood wishing to be a beautiful teenager and my teen years wishing to be a beautiful woman, never appreciating myself for who I was.

And then I had a daughter. This incredible little person grew inside of me for 9 months, and when I looked in her eyes for the first time, I felt a love deeper than anything I could have ever imagined.

The programming began almost immediately. “Wow! Such beautiful eyes! I hope they stay that blue!” “You should look into modeling for her. She’s perfect.” Ya know, as long as she kept those bright blue eyes.

My daughter was and is beautiful. She was beautiful when she smiled at me for the first time and when she began nursing after two months of bottled breastmilk and when she learned to roll across the room just to plop herself in my lap and when she’d walk through the apartment with me, barely grasping my pinky, then fall to the floor the second I slipped it away.

And my daughter was and is so much more than beautiful, so many more important things than pretty.

It wasn’t too long before I became that angry feminist I swore I never was . . . . when I realized it had nothing to do with hating men and everything to do with valuing myself and my daughter as female and not objects of someone else’s stare.

I’m angry because I’ve already had to teach my daughter that she should not excuse a boy’s harassing behavior because “it probably means he likes you.”

I’m angry because I’ve already had to work to undo the damage of other people telling my daughter what she will and will not be able to do with her body when she grows up. Joke or not, just fucking no.

I’m angry because my daughter has already witnessed me being harassed by strange men on the street, and I don’t always know how to talk to her about it . . . . . and it terrifies me and pisses me off that it won’t be much longer before she’s experiencing it herself. From boys at school to men old enough to be her grandfather.

I’m angry because I don’t want to teach my daughter to be afraid, but that’s so difficult to do when I’m so afraid. Do I teach her to stand up for herself? To just tell those strangers to back off and that she’s not interested? Do I do that and run the risk of one of them attacking her? Do I teach her to always wear headphones when walking down the street by herself, like I do? Do I teach her to always make sure to mention a boyfriend early on, whether she has one or not, like I do? Do I teach her to smile when she doesn’t want to . . . . even if her dog just died or her best friend is moving away or she’s on her way to visit a sick relative . . . . because it’s easier to just smile than risk the potential assault when you don’t?

I watch my daughter as she grows up, watch her become this absolutely amazing person – clever and creative, silly and geeky, compassionate and thoughtful . . . . and yes, beautiful. Do I tell her that it doesn’t matter how attractive she is? That whether she’s thin or chubby, has crooked teeth or straight, pimples or a clear face, is dressed in the tightest outfit she owns or in a sweat suit head to toe, wears make-up or puts her hair in a bun and doesn’t bother . . . . . she will still be harassed? Her body will become the focus of commentary wherever she goes. How do I teach her to block them out? How do I teach her that her worth is not determined by the sum of catcalls hurled in her direction? How do I teach her to value herself while reminding her that a “Hey! Nice ass!” from the douchebag driving by is NOT a compliment?

So yeah. I’m an angry feminist. No, I’m fucking livid. Because I would much rather sit back and enjoy an episode of Doctor Who with my daughter or a round of Phase 10 without constantly wondering if it’s a good time to slip in a conversation about bodily autonomy and how to respond to those who don’t think she has any.

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