Since I started calling myself a feminist, I’ve experienced a fickle kind of insecurity, a heightened sensitivity to the way people perceive me, a persistent urge to launch a comprehensive reputation damage control campaign complete with regular Facebook links to articles about princesses and a Pinterest board devoted exclusively to cutely designed General Conference quotes. At times, my paranoia has been so overwhelming I’ve found myself debating whether or not I should put postage stamps that say “Equality” on birthday cards to certain friends and relatives. “They’ll read into it,” I tell myself. “It’ll solidify in their minds that I’m a crazy extremist who burns bras and hates men and turns every conversation into a soapbox.” So I cower and go with something more benign like “Liberty” and trudge along to the mailbox.
My great-grandmother was named “Man of the Year” in Utah in 1956 for her work with the National School Board Association and later served as the Dean of Women at Brigham Young University. My grandmother was one of Utah’s first female nurse practitioners. My parents raised their daughters to pursue educational goals that would do more than give us a back-up plan if something happened to our husbands. They wanted us to make ourselves useful to the world and find personal fulfillment in doing so. They wanted us to feel free to make choices that were right for us. I come from a long line of feminists. And yet, I’m not sure all of them would accept this label. “What do you think a feminist is?” I wonder. Something tainted, it seems, something that oversteps its bounds.
But to me, and I believe to a growing number of women all over the world, the definition of a feminist is simple and inclusive. Feminists are people who believe in equality and empowerment of the human spirit. Feminism, my feminism, doesn’t demand that you subscribe to a specific set of desired outcomes or conform to a predetermined agenda. It doesn’t ask that you reject a traditionally feminine lifestyle if that’s what feels right to you. It doesn’t even require that you know exactly what you think about every issue just yet. It makes room for every person to live out their feminism the human way—in complexity and contradiction—without litmus test or lashing. It simply asks that you come to the table with an open mind, united in your desire for positive change, ready to talk, to try and to make mistakes if necessary. And sometimes, it’s necessary.
But feminism is still a hazardous label, loaded with different meanings to different people. I recognize this reality, although I don’t care for it much. I’m sure there are feminists who would tell me that, based on my beliefs, I don’t belong to them, and Mormons who would say the same. But, in my humble opinion, that’s an ugly way to do business. That’s the kind of thing that leads earnest people to disassociate themselves with words like “equality” when equality is nothing to shy away from. It’s a beautiful principle—eternal, essential—and it’s stamp is found on all of God’s children, even the paranoid cowards like me.
Listening to: Cat Stevens, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”