What My Catholic School Experience Taught Me About Feminism

Joseph Barrientos
Joseph Barrientos

I’m a Feminist. Anyone who has ever had a conversation with me about my views on just about anything can probably gather this fact quite quickly.

My experience as a woman is shaped by the unique circumstances of my life during which I have been reminded of my womanhood. For any human who identifies as female, these will vary immensely.

Based on my own experience, a topic I can comfortably speak on is the powerful nature of single-gender education. I attended all-girls Catholic school, a place with an enormous potential for the instilling of female empowerment. From these four years of my life, I gained confidence, a certain sense of self-acceptance, and a belief that all women should be told: we can achieve the things that others say we cannot.

However, the religious aspect of this (and many other) institutions also instilled an indescribable sense of shame regarding my own, female body. My single-sex education taught me that my self-worth and respect should be rooted in modesty and discretion…and nothing else. That the way in which I present my body to others is crucial. So yes, I could achieve whatever I set my mind to…as long as I went about that process with the grace & class of being a “young lady.” (A young lady being defined by a figure who is compliant with certain tenets of the church.)

When it came to our bodies – our delicate vessels – conservatism was the ultimate goal. Sex? Never before marriage. Masturbation? Merely a sinful temptation that we must stray away from in order to keep ourselves pure. Reproductive rights? Don’t even get me started. Sins, undoubtedly.

And while many young women gain self-confidence during their adolescent years (many through the experience of a specialized, single-gender learning environment) the lessons imparted by religion have an undeniable mandating of suppression. These years are formative – women should be built up, not being told to stay down. And as women, that is what we were told, whether we understood it or not. We had to suppress our body, our sexuality, our desires, and thus ultimately – ourselves.

The words “sex positive” and “slut shaming” are common terms to any informed Feminist, and while this vernacular is often dismissed as nonsensical, liberal gibberish, they have important implications for women everywhere.

Being “sex positive” means exactly what it sounds like – you don’t see sex as some dirty, raunchy, or wrong act. Rather, you see it as a natural and normal activity that can or cannot be participated in based on each individual’s personal discretion. In turn, you don’t “slut shame” – meaning that just because a person enjoys sleeping with others as they so please doesn’t make them a whore.

In the same way, just because someone may be more reserved about sex doesn’t mean that they should be called a loser or a prude.

Frankly, sex is really fucking personal. And it’s nobody’s business to put labels and box people in based on the frequency of their participation in this act. Especially because these labels tend to, more than often, fall onto the women.

We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, honoring women not only in regards to issues that exist in the social sphere (i.e. those I just addressed) but also in the political & economic realms. There’s a plethora of things that could be said about this, especially during an election year where the United States has a female as a top contender for the Democratic nomination to the presidency. And of course, women have progressed from merely spinsters and milk maids, existing for the sole purpose of acting as an accessory to a male.

Today, there are more single women in America than married women – and that in itself says a lot! That has never been the case before. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done (especially in countries across the globe where gender equality is far from even existing at the forefront) but one this is true: Women are strong, informed, independent, badass creatures – defying the norms of submissive “young ladies” and carving paths all their own.

I’m proud to be one. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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