how did you become interested in feminism?
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Thank you for this group! I joined because I liked your description, it dovetails so nicely with my own interests (and book collection).
Bij way of introduction: I'm a Dutchwoman - english is not my native language, so please forgive me my errors in grammar etc - and I grew up in the south of my country. A very Catholic place, so women were supposed to scrub the floor of the church while male priests could lecture and hold sermons, and nobody asked questions or thought this was not right.
There is not much in my background to account for my interest in feminist theory: ordinary family, male breadwinner, everything was as it was supposed to be. Yet here I am, a self declared feminist, negative images nitwithstandig (see earlier thread about those images of manhating hairy women etc).
How did this happen? I think the cause is reading. I stumbled upon a work by a Dutch feminist, Joke Smit. She wrote an analysis of the situation in Holland, translated the title would be something like 'There exists a country were women would like to live'. Also Virginia Woolf influenced me a lot. Especially her work a room of one's own. Those books made me question a lot of things I took for granted, and by the time I turned 17 I was having heated discussions about women's equality with the boys at school. So here goes...
How did you become interested in feminist theory? Which books influenced you?
Thanks for sharing!
Here's my answer to your interesting question: I've been married to a freelance musician for forty years, and since musicians are often one of the most powerless and exploited groups in our society, I knew something about powerlessness and exploitation, but it wasn't until my first daughter went to college that I began to think about feminism. My daughter brought home A Room of One's Own from school and said, "I think you should read this mom." It was years later and having withstood some pretty drastic losses when I remembered her words and Virginia Woolf. From there, I went on to read Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and that sent me right back to college after many years in search of a degree in women's studies. Then followed a little book called Critical Practice by Catherine Belsey and my identification with the writings of Carolyn Heilbrun, most importantly Writing a Woman's Life. This was the beginning of a certain consciousness of not only inequalities but also of the silence imposed on women. I've been digging up women's literature and history ever since. I like to think I don't bash men so much as champion women and their long history of being ignored. Enough said!!
Interesting stories. I think mine was reading, too - The Women's Room and A Room of One's Own fueled my interests aged 16/17, also started reading and collecting Virago Books, and then I went to do an English degree at University - this was in 1989 so it wasn't as radical as it had been, but I took courses and read a lot of theory (didn't understand Iriguay in English, tried to read her in French, gosh I was so earnest!) although I remember championing the one boy in my Women and Literature In the Twentieth Century (taught by Margaret Reynolds when the other women in the group were mean to him for, well, being a man (I was never separatist. Some of the same women berated me for having male friends). Peggy Reynolds was big on reclaiming women writers and I got very keen on that, herstory and all that.
I have remained a self-labelled feminist ever since, although I haven't really kept up with theory.
Great topic :)
For me it wasn't so much about the literature as some experiences at school or with other children. My parents were fairly liberal. They mostly stuck to traditional roles - my mom would do most of the cooking and cleaning for example - but there wasn't much insistence that this was how it had to be. If my sister and I wanted to play with boys' toys, or wanted to enter a 'male' profession, my parents were fine with that, never suggesting it was strange.
At school or among other children though, there was more gender labeling. I remember going to a school bazaar when I was in grade 1 and wanting to buy a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles puzzle. The woman at the table said 'but you're a girl! Don't you want one of these dolls?" I often encountered similar replies, and it frustrated me. I wasn't a tomboy, I simply had a few preferences perceived as boyish or masculine. It annoyed me that I couldn't just be, I had to act in accordance with my gender, and if not I was weird. It also bugged me that you couldn't have a close friendship with a boy without the other kids assuming there was some kind of romance.
I went to a fairly conservative high school where most of the students were Muslim. I once said I didn't know how to cook without a recipe and wasn't really interested in cooking. One of my friends was shocked, and said "but how are you going to cook for your husband one day?!" Why should I be the one cooking, and why should I have to learn how in advance, for someone else's benefit? Why was it assumed that I would get married? Why did I have to wear a dress when I was more comfortable in pants, especially when boys talked about how they liked to stare at our legs and thought it was funny to lift up our skirts? These things made me angry, not only because I felt it imposed unfair limitations on me, but also because the girls and boys I knew where so unwittingly, complacently trapped in their gender roles, and because women were made inferior by them. I think patriarchy is bad for both men and women because it cages them in false ideas of who they should be, and what they can do, and who is superior.
I studied some feminism at varsity, often through novels, and feminist science fiction in particular. I've been in a very egalitarian heterosexual relationship for several years now, and what I love about it is never having to worry about being a 'woman' I can just be me, and gender roles are only there as a source of amusement.
ummmm.... sometimes I think I was born a feminist (back in 1948 yet!). My mother had been a nurse in WWII and with the Occupation in Japan, but after she married my father and got pregnant with me, she became a stay-at-home mom with 8 kids. The advice she repeated over and over to me as we baked dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies or loaves of bread was, "be sure you can support yourself before you get married and have kids." She was certainly happily married and happily having children, and my father was a very involved Daddy -- teaching us to play backyard baseball, sledding, skating, playing Monopoly, waterskiing -- but he died of cancer at 37. I was 16; my youngest brother was 2. Luckily there was insurance to pay off the mortgage, and Social Security to get us through until my mother went back to work as a visiting nurse when all the kids were in school. We all went to college (mostly on scholarships, and it WAS much cheaper back then), have careers, and most of us got married and had kids of our own (but nobody had more than 3).
Theoretically and literarily, I was always drawn to books with strong female protagonists -- Mary Lennox in THE SECRET GARDEN, Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, Rose in Alcott's EIGHT COUSINS and ROSE IN BLOOM and, of course, Anne of Green Gables. When I was in fourth grade, our elementary school library had a collection of biographies of famous American women, and I read all of them -- from Dolly Madison to Clara Barton to Louisa May Alcott to Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Blackwell. I knew women could become writers and astronomers and doctors, because these women had almost 100 years ago. When I was in confirmation class (a Lutheran church), I became incensed that women couldn't be ordained as pastors, and my pastor had no good reason for the prohibition.
As a literature major in college, very few women writers were assigned -- a bit of Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott (oddly enough), a novel by Edith Wharton, and then a course in contemporary poetry with Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich -- a revelation! And of course, there were Joan Baez and Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell and, and.... I read Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and swore I would never become a suburban housewife. Sisters, I did. But not until I had a Masters degree and almost a PhD and a 3 year old son, and a teaching position at a community college.
I read all the second wave Anglo-American feminist outpourings, and some of the French, most notably Beauvoir. I pissed off my graduate school professors -- the males and some of the insecure females -- by almost always focusing on gender issues in my papers. I've always loved men, especially my husband and son (and my father), and honestly, while I feel women have been oppressed through history and in many places today, I have been blessed to be born in a time and place where women have found their voices and their places. Which behooves those of us who are so lucky to continue to advocate and struggle for those who are not.
Good to share this and thank you for all those thoughtful posts... Thinking back on it, what you wrote, Janeajones, did ring a bell: ''be sure you can support yourself''. That is something my parents insisted on. Also, they placed a strong emphasis on going to school and recieving a good education. I never supposed my life would revolve around finding a man and being supported by him - I was raised to become independent. So now that you mention it, I think this was a reason why those books by Joke Smit and Virginia Woolf resonated with me and 'gave me all kinds of ideas'.
What cought my attention is that almost all of you mention the problem of being seen as someone who doesn't like men, or being accused of all kinds of things because you have male friends. I also have this experience. I think one of the problems is that feminism is so personal. You can never just discuss an abstract idea, instead it is always connected with personal experiences, relationships or developments at work. In Holland this is called 'the personal is political' - and it really is a problem. Sometimes people feel as if you attack them when you mention some general fact from a scientific study - like in Holland, 92% of lavatories get cleaned by women. You could regard this as a far-from-home fact, but then all of a sudden people react offended, it becomes personal. Women start defending their men: 'my husband cleans our toilet' or men get irritated, 'as if I force women to do this' etc. Before you know it your branded as a manhater. There is hardly any margin for error or a less tactful remark. Over the years I have learned to remain calm and think before I say anything, and it is better now then when I was 17 and had just 'seen the light'.
Being brought up in a family with very liberal ideas and politics helped to lay foundations, though our High Anglican Church might have undone all those good influences, had it not been the 1960s with all the radical politics around then.
Then it was the 1970s and university education : people who weren't around at the time just don't comprehend how radicalising that experience was, unlike just about any period before or since - well it seems that way now, and nothing I've read about other eras suggests otherwise. I followed the leading feminist activists of the day including Germaine Greer and Caroline Coon (at least in Britain), and the 70s punk scene was among the greatest of feminist liberation movements I have ever experienced.
Finally, coming into contact with the Quakers, one of the few religious movements where women have true and total equality, rounded off my journey and education, though there is no reason why this should stop.
Sadly, society and Western culture doesn't reflect my life journey (much) and I realise how much further we still have to go. Now that 60s radicalism is emerging slowly again into the light of day and economic depression, we may see new shoots of feminism. We can only hope.
Bravo Tid! I second the motion: that we see new shoots of feminism. Glad to know you are there "on the other side of the pond."
Hi Tid, sounds like you made a terrific journey... I also hope we see new shoots of feminism. Here in Holland I am very interested in what is called the third wave of feminism. It is coming from islamic women of the second or third generation. The first generation were mostly men from countries like Marocco or Turkey. They came here to work, make some money, and thought after that they would return home. Some did, but the majority stayed and married and had kids - the second and third generation, born in Holland and growing up in the Dutch culture outside the home, and their own culture inside the home. Most women are Islamic and they now try to find their own way - reinterpreting the coran / q'uran?, finding new ways to live the life they wish to live. I believe they are the ones carrying on the job of thinking about gender and engaging in activism to improve the situation of women.
Is there a sort of third wave in your countries as well? What does it look like and where does it come from?
Hey, there Ingrid!
Your English is fine!
Feminism always fascinated me since I was young. I was brought up in Catholicism, but while my parents were moderate, and were only religious speciaifcally on Easter and Christmas, I still learned from an early age sexism; that supposedly Eve was second to Adam, as well as the fact that Lillith was turned away from Paradise for being smarter than Adam. Something that always bothered me for such a long time.
From there, I learned of feminism. And Agnosticism ;)
While I am not formally a member of this group -
I only became even aware of the concept of feminism when I found out (in high school or college) that there were people who actually, really, truly, "in this day and age" subscribed to the tenets of sexism! To me, that seemed like something out of distant history - like slavery in America - not something that was current and relevant to many (most?) women throughout the world.
That not everyone was raised with an underlying axiom that people were individuals with personal strengths and weaknesses and that someone felt they could pre-suppose another person's capabilities solely on the (seemingly random) basis of their gender was really an eye-opener for me!
Now, decades later, I wonder - had my father ever had a son, instead of 3 daughters, would my experience have been different? (My spouse teasingly refers to me as "your father's oldest son" - since, apparently, I took on whatever role that was supposed to occupy.) (My mother's viewpoint I don't question to this day...)
I realized, relatively late to the game, that this created a relatively privileged upbringing that I didn't appreciate until much later.
(White, middle-class, USAian - if that wasn't obvious.)
For me, my first experience with feminism struck me when I was still at primary school, I grew up in a suffocatingly middle-class town and the girls there hated me, so I was a tomboy, hanging about in a group of around ten to fourteen boys made me realise the differences in our sex.
The things that affected them and the things that affected girls at their age seemed so different, society had taught me that all men thought about was sex, drink etc., and that all women thought about were fashion, love etc, when I became disillusioned to this I steadily began to grow opinions about gender liberation, for both men and women.
I'm in High School now (I'm fifteen), and it saddens me deeply when I get someone asking me "What's feminism?"
Like janeajones, I, too, think I was born a feminist (back in 1952). My parents certainly encouraged me to be (using the early terminology) liberated. I was expected to pursue a career; and I was discouraged from pursuing marriage and parenthood because of its inherent limitations on independence (which may explain two divorces - but two great sons - under my belt). My family was Finnish-American and there seemed to be a more feminist understanding of the role of women within the subculture than in the mainstream culture. In fact, my mother was one of nine children and her parents decided that the family resources would be used to support the educational pursuits of their daughters instead of the sons. As my grandmother explained it, society would help her son’s achieve but would limit her daughters’ opportunities. She wanted her daughters to have a full range of life choices and that’s where she would put her dollars.
I first became cognizant of feminism during the late 60s when, as a teen, I was engaged in the anti-war (Vietnam) movement, the draft resistance, and the civil rights movement. Feminism just fell into place as part of that consciousness of social justice. I also was in the first class of girls in a boys prep school (an eye-opener) and subsequently majored in women’s studies in college (when women’s studies was a newly-emerging field of study). I have often said that Women’s Studies 101 was the first time that my education seemed to be speaking directly to me. Mygoddess… the books I discovered – layer upon layer of literature, of polemics, of herstory, of poetry, of theory. One book leading to another and on to another. And all those wonderful feminist periodicals – from the slick Ms magazine to all those little hand-cranked local newsletters (one of which I produced). I’m still chin-deep in reading material and wishing I had at least another whole lifetime to read it all.
How could I even begin to imagine how my life would have been diminished had I not discovered Adrienne Rich, Tillie Olsen, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Marilyn French, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Emma Goldman, Susan Brownmiller, Shulamith Firestone, Carolyn Heilbrun…. the list could go on for pages. And what would have happened to all of us without Our Bodies, Ourselves. Or for that matter, Nancy Drew.
I’ve been a professional feminist ever since college – including many years with a state Commission on the Status of Women, a university women’s center and over a decade as a Girl Scout executive (from which I’ve recently retired). But my career path is merely reflective and born of all the great women who dared to think, write and speak out for decades, for centuries and gave me access to the power of their words. I am grateful to every one of them.
# 12 - brilliant - how lovely to see a younger person embracing feminism and questioning the gender roles supplied to her - so often it's hard to see this is still going on. Congratulations on your thoughtfulness and intelligence!
# 13 - wonderful post. I bought a book of articles from Spare Rib when I was in Hay on Wye last weekend, and am very much looking forward to plunging into them!
12> Hang in there, SuzieD! Hardly anyone under 30 in my literature classes will admit to being a feminist -- but believe me, most of them hold feminist ambitions and have benefitted greatly from feminist gains. And interestingly enough, my first class to fill EVERY semester is Women and Lit. Things improve vastly in college when the HS cliques melt away. Your recent readings indicate that you're interested in serious fiction by women -- you might want to check out the Virago group: http://www.librarything.com/groups/viragomodernclassics#forums and/or Girlybooks: http://www.librarything.com/groups/girlybooks (not what you'd expect from the name).
13> you bring back lots of memories! My family is Swedish-American on both sides -- I wonder if there's something in the Scandinavian gestalt that encourages independent women??
When I first read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I was 16 the first time I read it. My uncle gave me a copy and told me to lock myself in my room and not come out till I was done. The book was huge. Since then I introduced Simone de Beauvoir to my mind and it has been fascinating. As for being a feminist, I will definitely admit to that.
I'm very early on in my interests as a feminist, I'm only seventeen years old! I think my interest stems from frustration with rather small happenings, like noticing that there are a whole load more male conductors than there are female conductors, or seeing my friends getting wrapped up in unhealthy relationships with guys who they're only with for the relationship 'drama'. Terrible examples, but you catch my drift.
The reason I notice these things is because of a local poet Liz Lochhead (Scottish), whose work we studied in my English class. Specifically, we studied a poem called 'Revelation' which details the moment at which Lochhead realised that so many women do not even realise, and so do not protest against their assumed subservience to men, instead busying themselves with trivial pursuits. Since reading that poem I've noticed a change in my perception of the relationships I have, and have become almost painfully aware of the female-male power balance - if that makes sense.
Anyway, I'm rambling, SO I plan to read the 'feminist staples' which this enlightening group has detailed, thank you!
Firstly, I must admit, that growing up, I never really felt that I was in any way held back by being female... my parents always encouraged me and sister to fulfill our potential and to think for ourselves, we both went to a girls' grammar school here in the UK, where the school aimed to make each pupil an intelligent and independent thinking young woman who could achieve any goal they aimed for; my sister and I both went to study top universities within the UK.
However, looking back, I realise that I was a) obviously very fortunate in the education and upbringing I had, and b) despite my achievements, I have in many ways still been impacted and limited by society’s expectations of gender roles and sexism throughout school, within my friendship groups and extra-curricular activies and with . I think that I had always had an innate sense of my rights as a woman and the belief that I should not be in any way disadvantaged because I wasn’t male. My secondary school was very influential in instilling this belief in me, and I would always argue my side if I didn’t feel I had been treated equally to my male peers.
It was only when I started my Women’s Studies Master’s course though that I began to read feminist literature though. We read so much amazing stuff that it is difficult to pinpoint my favourites but my list would have to include A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, A Room of One’s Own, The Second Sex, and The Feminine Mystique. Outside of the course, one of the best books I’ve read is Female Chauvinist Pigs, along with the Beauty Myth and Fat is a Feminist Issue. Although I think I have always been a ‘feminist’, the Women’s Studies course really opened my eyes and I am now incredibly interested in women’s rights worldwide – and I will be the first to argue with anyone who says ‘I think women should be paid the same as men but I am not a feminist – I’m not into burning my bra...’. I’ve given friends books to read in an attempt to open their eyes and show them the battle is not won.
In the words of Rebecca West: ‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments which differentiate me from a doormat’.
#19 - ditto Alison. I found that Church and State tended (subliminally) to partly counteract home and school, where my experiences were much like your own.
It still amazes me how willing so many women are - 40 years on - to adopt the stereotypes that society continues to promote. Not everyone will agree with me, but I rather think that hip hop - especially gangster rap - has had a lot to do with this. Ok, political failures are also to blame, but in my case (and yours?) attitudes formed while still very young, and it's a shame that the images that young girls grow up with now are the posturing pimps of rap music.
I mustn't be over-simplistic about this, but it's something I've thought about quite a lot in recent years.
# 19 ah yes, the girls' grammar is a marvellous thing - although I was made to feel a bit inadequate for wanting to study English and be a Librarian rather than climb mountains or be an engineeer!
We were lucky to have that education though and I would wish it for any daughters I have - luckily I moved from Kent to Birmingham so still in the grammar school world!
I never really thought of myself as a feminist until I took a course at university and really identified with it (Women & Society). After taking a few more courses, I realised that I had enough for a major so I graduated with a double major.
I haven't keep up with a lot of feminist reading per se but find that I am really attracted to books with a strong female protagonist. I especially like ones where women do a little soul searching and re-discover themselves as independent, confident people.
Of all the stuff I read back then, bell hooks was definitely one of my favourites. I found it interesting that it really didn't matter what your background was, you could relate to her on some level.
#3 - I totally agree with you on reverse discrimination against males, feminism is, and should be, about equality. This affects men, too and I think this is a contributing factor to the reason why more men aren't feminists, because they may think that feminists are out for female superiority, deduced by how they may be treated by them.
#23 - I loved the motto from a Chinese fortune cookie :
Confucius he say, "Woman who seeks equality with men, lacks ambition."
I became interested in feminism because I was born female. Some of us just can't stay deaf, blind, and dumb. Or just keep our heads down or stay asleep.
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