A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.
I am not usually one to make excuses for myself. However, there is a first time for everything, and I am about to give my excuse. I am extremely behind the times when it comes to being a feminist and knowing everything there is to know about feminism.
Why is this, you might be asking? Well, I can think of two reasons. The first is because I am old. It is hard to keep up with the constant evolution of feminism in this day and age when you have had a preconceived notion of feminism instilled into your brain for decades. The second reason, which directly correlates with the first, is because of the circumstances surrounding my early education. I was (un)fortunate to attend a private, catholic school from the time that I was in kindergarten all the way up until my senior year in high school. I was an honored member of my school’s thirteen year club. It felt so prestigious at the time.
During my thirteen year sentence, I can vividly remember taking the ONE class that spent a nanosecond talking about reproductive health. This class, which was mandatory, was not even offered until our junior year in high school. We literally looked at outdated (even for back then) pictures of both the female and male anatomy. This lasted for about the amount of time in which the nervously sweating nun, teaching our class, could utter the phrase, “Abstinence only!” I remember vaguely learning about menstruation, but by that time it was too late, I’d already gotten my own period. And let me tell you the amount of time we spent on contraception, birth control, or even (gasp) abortion. Hold on, wait for it…absolutely none. I guess there was never any thought or consideration put into the fact that half of our class was already having sex. Or maybe the nuns really didn’t know, or they just chose to ignore it.
I tell you all this because my catholic education was the start of my lack of education that I was given in regards to women that had any sort of affiliation with the word feminism. Here’s what I did know about feminism back in the late 1990’s. It basically followed this particular guideline:
- Feminists hate men.
- Feminists are angry.
- Feminists are unattractive and not feminine.
- All feminists are lesbians.
- Feminists are all pro-choice.
- If you are a feminist, you cannot be religious.
- All feminists are career women and do not support stay-at-home moms.
- Feminists are Bra- Burners who hate sex.
- Feminists can only be women.
- Feminists don’t believe in marriage.
I’m being 100% serious…this is what I thought. This is what my girlfriends thought. The idea that feminists were man hating, hairy arm pitted, bull-dykes was the epitome of the picture that came to mind if or when I ever even remotely thought about feminism. Do you hear the problem in that last sentence?? There was a period in my life where I never even thought about feminism! Now, you are probably thinking that this Gender and Women’s Studies double major who works at the Women’s center at UMBC, (which is centered around women and their experiences, stories, and potential) has been, since the late 90s, immersing herself in feminist theory and the constant evolution of feminism. I am here to tell you that this has not been the case. Until recently.
I started UMBC in fall of 2014. My intention was to get in and to get out of school. I am 38 years old (I did it, I aged myself) and a single parent to two young, adorable children. Going back to school was supposed to be the big catalyst that advanced my earning potential as a social worker. It was not supposed to be this eye-opening journey down the ins and outs of a society in which there is an ever present need for the fight for equality and equity amongst genders, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, the LGBTQ community, etc.
But that is exactly what happened! I came here as a Social Work (SOWK) major with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST). To be completely honest, I was required as a SOWK major to have a minor. I thought that GWST was going to be my “easy out.” Little did I know that it would literally change the way I thought, parented, lived, and experienced my day to day life. I’m leaving here this coming May with a double major and a greater appreciation for the word feminism and all that it represents. I owe it all to this school, in particular the Women’s Center and the Gender and Women’s Studies program.
Summer session of 2015 was my first experience with GWST classes. I took two “obligatory” online classes in order to expedite my graduation status. The two classes seemed simple enough: Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies and Gender and Sitcoms. I mean, how hard could it be to watch TV and write papers about the differences between Lucille Ball and Roseanne Arnold? As for Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies?? I am a woman, duh. That class was a “no brainer.” Except neither of them turned out to be what I expected.
I wanted more. I needed to have interactions with “real” people. Discussion boards were not enough. I was dying to have feminist theories explained to me, (which I later regretted wishing as I was knee deep into Feminist Theory!) I hated that I had boring gen ed requirements that I had to take because they took the place of GWST classes. I began to LEARN what feminism meant, not only from my own personal perspective, but from a broader point of view.
I have been so fortunate to have had some of the best teachers along the way who have challenged me, excited me, frustrated me, and really pushed me to think outside the box. (Thank you Dr. Kate, Dr. Bhatt, and Dr. McCann…you all have changed me!!) In addition to these amazing classes, I started meeting people who LIVED this way of life both inside and outside of the classroom. These theories were ways of life and not just classroom rhetoric. I learned about activism, and feminism on a global level. I learned what feminism is, and most importantly, what feminism is not.
AND…. I found the Women’s Center. I found a home on this campus that incorporated everything that I was learning, and smooshed it all into a cozy center with amazing bean-bag chairs (seriously, come check them out, you won’t regret it) and a loving, safe, and colorful space. I became part of a community that, as a non-traditional student, I struggled to fit into. Not only that, but I could talk and ask questions about everything that I was learning or struggling to comprehend with people who wanted to engage in this type of conversation.
Basically, what I am trying to say with all of this, is that coming to UMBC and having the engagement with the Women’s Center and the GWST program that I have been fortunate to have, has changed my perspective and my outlook on life. I am now profoundly committed to being a better feminist on a daily basis. I am passionate about carrying my knowledge outside of this institution and making a change in the world…or at least trying to. I am confident in my ability to speak about feminism and am open and willing to expand my knowledge. I am lucky to have learned what I have, even though it is considered to be “late in the game.” Feminism is an ever evolving concept, and I know that there is so much in this world that I still need to learn, and so much more that I am going to have to know how to teach…. Especially to the two little girls at home that call me “mama.”