I’ve always called myself a feminist and frankly, I can’t understand any woman who wouldn’t.
Each of us women have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence. Each of us has been exposed to unfair treatment because of our sex.
We’re all in this together so don’t tell me that you’re not a feminist.
When I was a young girl I never felt that I was less than the boys around me. My girlfriends and I knew that we were smart even though there were more boys in the science labs and we didn’t even have our own soccer team.
But we knew ourselves and we knew it was our brains that would take us where we wanted to go.
We knew about Gloria Steinhem, we read Our Bodies Ourselves and Free to Be You and Me, and the poetry of Alice Walker.
And growing up, my father was my example. I believed that men were kind and respectful to women.
It seemed like a more respectful time: for the environment and for one another.
But there were some guys, even in high school, who were abusive. Some cool jocks who made crude jokes when you walked down the hallways. They travelled in packs and they felt powerful and dangerous. When they walked by, you shrank just a little, felt demeaned in some unknowable way.
On the weekends I usually avoided the keg parties, but the few I did go to didn’t go well. Guys prowled around the living rooms scoping out girls to take advantage of. My best friend J and I would go together, keep an eye out on each other, and leave as soon as we could.
It was at one of those basement parties that I was pulled into a dark corner and groped by one of the popular guys, he was head of the student council and a star athlete. I’d always felt swoony around him, he was so good-looking and a senior to my sophomore.
I was crushed, powerless to understand how someone I thought was so perfect could look right through me and not see me at all.
Afterwards I couldn’t go back to school for a week. The shame of seeing him in the halls burned through my body even though I’d done nothing wrong.
Why did boys have the power to take what wasn’t theirs?
All these years later and I still haven’t found an answer to that question.
I really believe though, that women are smarter than men in fundamental ways, ways that help us endure.
We will survive. We will never be kept down.
Anyway, after high school I went off to college and Reagan was elected and a deep chill fell over the country and over the women’s movement. It felt like we were largely ignored despite Roe v. Wade and despite the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court.
My friends and I went to fraternity parties where it was crystal clear that the houses were hunting grounds and we were the ones being hunted. The men used alcohol to disable us so they could do what they wanted, and later to prove that we were complicit.
Who were these men?
But these were the years of Clarence Thomas and the Bush administrations and the chipping away of Planned Parenthood and healthcare for women and children.
It’s never been a great time to be a woman but I do know that my coming of age felt like it held a lot more promise than how it is for the young women today.
Today misogyny saturates the popular culture and sexism is sensationalized in the voyeuristic media.
For every young woman who fights for justice and equality, there’s another taking off her clothes and proclaiming the feminist word to be a dirty one.
But I truly believe that the current wave of indictments of these men who have sexually assaulted women will prove to be the catalyst for turning the tide.
Because women are refusing to stay silent. And we sisters will always come together to support the fallen.
And once the light is shone into the dark recesses where these men hide, we won’t let them hide, we won’t go back to the darkness.
I often think back to my childhood, the way my father treated my mom, and how he was the solid template for my reality of men.
He showed me how real men acted, that real men were never violent or emotionally abusive.
It was a gift, but also a birthright, I believe.
My husband always asks me “what can we do?” and I say, it starts with you. Men are the problem and only men can solve it.
But in the end, I believe that leading by example is how we will rewrite the story. It has always been the best way to teach our children, we shape their attitudes by simply embodying our feminist values.
It is each of our duty and responsibility to promote a feminist example within the family and within our community.
And the only way forward in liberating both of the sexes is with an unwavering eye on what we women essentially need, and what we women innately deserve – the recognition of who we, as women, fundamentally are – in order for all of us to be free.