To anyone who publicly identifies as a feminist:
I’d first like to apologize if you’ve ever gotten a sideways glare from me, or a look that possibly resembled disapproval. I’m sorry if I’ve ever made you feel uncomfortable or uneasy. I’m sorry if you’ve ever tried to discuss women’s issues with me and were met with timid silence or an awkward subject-change.
I get an involuntary pit-in-stomach feeling when I see feminism being worn proudly. Photos of the women’s march make me anxious – all of the signs being held by strong-willed women and men; mothers and daughters, husbands and friends coming together in support. When I see social media posts aimed to empower and educate, my gut reaction isn’t to “like” – it’s to look away. And it’s not because I disagree with the movement’s message – I don’t. I understand and see firsthand how gender plays a huge role in the workplace. I don’t hold antiquated head-of-household beliefs. I’m vehemently against discriminatory hiring, the gender wage-gap, and sexual objectification. But to discuss it publicly – to draw attention to it – makes me cringe; and cringing at women’s rights makes me feel broken and inadequate and fucked up.
I’ve only just begun to deconstruct what makes me feel this way, but I think it’s an important thing to explore – and furthermore, to share. I can’t be the only one hurt and conflicted by their feelings on the subject. And I’d like to try to explain why, so that maybe you can see it from a different perspective.
From early on, I’ve been aware of my sexuality – like most women, I’m sure. I remember being very young when a man approached my mother and I at the mall. He got close to me and muttered some absurdities, and my mom quickly shuffled me away and explained how dangerous the mall can be for girls. I remember being a little older – maybe 11 or 12 – when my brother’s friends started noticing me in a different way, commenting on my clothes and body. I was 15 when I lost my virginity to rape – something I still struggle to talk about. I was 17 when I briefly landed myself in an abusive relationship. I was 20 when I learned I was pregnant at a Planned Parenthood. I was 25 when I filed a sexual harassment claim at work against a supervisor for unzipping his pants in front of me – a man who still holds his managerial position and was essentially just given a slap on the wrist. I have been groped by a stranger, followed in a parking lot, and catcalled more times than I can count. I am no stranger to the challenges that face women. In fact, I’d venture to say I’m well-versed in women’s struggles.
But still, I can’t get behind feminism, and I think I’ve finally tapped into why it makes me so wildly uncomfortable. It’s a horribly fucked up thing to admit, but: I’m ashamed to be a woman. And not because I think women are inferior or weak or incapable or anything of the sort, but because every major problem I’ve had in life has stemmed from having a vagina. If I wasn’t a woman, I wouldn’t have been objectified the way I was. I wouldn’t have been raped in that basement. I wouldn’t have been harassed at work. My body wouldn’t be covered in stretch marks from growing a human inside it, yet still given dehumanizing nicknames like “MILF.” If I was man,” I’ve always told myself, “life would be so much simpler.” And so I, unintentionally, planted seeds of shame in my soul that grew every time being a woman got me unwanted attention.
Because of the things I experienced, I’ve spent my entire life concealing my femininity like it’s some secret I have to hide. I’m always conscious of what I’m wearing, how much makeup I have on, and how I’m presenting myself. I try hard not to look provocative or be noticed. And every time it fails and hardship finds me anyway, I grow more ashamed, hurt, and frustrated. Clearly my logic is flawed, but it’s been a huge personal epiphany for me to recognize this negative feedback loop. To realize that I’m holding onto shame and fear. To understand that my past is largely why those feelings exist in me. Why being a woman has always felt like a burden I have to carry – one I never asked for.
Every time I see woman speak out about her experiences, I am riddled with anxiety and panic. Because I can picture myself in her shoes so easily. I can feel her vulnerability in my stomach and her sorrow in my bones. I am scared for her – that she’s in the midst of such turmoil. Such noise. Such pain. I am ashamed that I can’t overcome it and speak out myself. It becomes too much, and I have to look away. Because to not only acknowledge my femininity – but to also embrace it, nurture it, and fight with it is something I can’t fathom doing.
I’m not writing this letter for sympathy or to right the wrongs of my own logic – that’s on me to do. I mostly just want to feel understood. So I hope you can understand why I’m not on board just yet. Why the thought of “freeing the nipple” on Instagram makes me want to have an anxiety attack. Why your #MeToo posts hit way too close to home to read and “like”. I hope you understand why I choke on silence every time there’s a conversation about workplace harassment or sexual assault. I hope you think of this next time you meet someone doesn’t overtly share your feminist views. Remember that our silence or lack of enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t agree – it’s just that it’s a really difficult subject, for a lot of complicated reasons. Remember that some of us are scared. Some of us are damaged, or embarrassed, or ashamed. Some of us have messy pasts full of knots we still haven’t untangled.
Lastly – I want to say thank you. From the bottom of my heart and the deepest parts of my soul – than you, so much. I think the most beautiful thing about you, feminists, is that you fight for us anyway. Us quiet ones on the sidelines who aren’t participating – you still care about us. You debate for our rights, and our voices, and our bodies. I wish I could convey how much that means to me. As a woman who’s never felt like she’s had a voice – thank you for being mine. Thank you for speaking on my behalf when I’m too afraid. Thank you for being loud, for drawing attention to so many problems that have been ignored for so long. Thank you for navigating the rugged, unmarked terrain that we’re traveling. Thank you for being leaders that I feel safe to follow. Most importantly, thank you for being an advocate for the next generation of humans – for making the world a little better for my daughter and her peers.
Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to see you at a rally, or march alongside you for change – but for now, just know that I love you – and I appreciate your passion and dedication more than you’ll ever know.
Not A Feminist