I remember walking into an HMV as a high school student, past all the disc covers of Goo Goo Dolls and Gin Blossoms, and asking an employee for help. He took me to a back wall, and after some minutes of flipping through CD covers, pulled up their sole copy of what I was looking for. Staring back at me, with her strong face before a red background, was Helen Reddy and I Am Woman. I planned to use this iconic song during a class presentation, allowing verse after verse to support the hypothesis of whatever point I was trying to make. I was probably reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the time.
But I also remember, around the same time, a friend declaring to me that she was not a feminisit, and me thinking, Sure, I’m probably not, either. Except that my friend, at the time, was an adolescent discovering the art of sexual prowess. And I was just naive. I didn’t know that you could be both sexually appealing and a feminist. I really didn’t know anything. If you’d asked me, I would have said that I had never, ever experienced misogyny in my life.
But, then there was that time, on the day of my grandfather’s funeral, that I got a call from a man telling me that he was holding my parents at gunpoint, and that the only way to save them was to undress over the telephone. There was that time, when walking to work, that a gust of wind blew up my skirt and a car screeched to a halt behind me. That time, when finishing my shift at work, that a client (who considered himself a suitor) sat parked in a car beside my own, waiting for me, and followed me home in the dark.
No, I probably wasn’t a feminist, except that I knew, as I was researching universities, that I didn’t agree with my mom’s opinion that it was more important for me to learn how to cook; probably wasn’t a feminist when, at university, I distinctly understood that the speeches about not walking alone on campus after dark were directed especially at the girls.
I was naive, you see. Because I was small, I was shy, I wasn’t a knockout looker or even all that confident. I didn’t have a large chest and, despite that, went out of my way to avoid attention. By hiding myself, it was easy to remain naive.
But there was that time I went dancing with friends, and that guy who wanted to buy me a drink… and that house party, and that guy that kept trying to kiss me… and my friend saw what was happening, and came to get me… and that other guy, my roommate’s friend, who wouldn’t leave my bedroom…
Maya Angelou called me a Phenomenal Woman, it’s true, but the paradox came too. The more I displayed my feathers, the more attention I got. The more attention I got, the less naive I could be.
So even as I found my voice as a woman, as I grew into my confidence; even as I came to learn the depth of my own feminine strength, I knew, also, that I had to pay attention. There was still that time a male friend, someone I considered a brother, tried to seduce me. Or that time that I was set up on a date, my friend knowing that he was setting me up with someone who expected to be let in at the end of the night. That this expectation even existed, that all a guy should have to do to get into my pants was buy me a bowl of poutine — yeah, I had to learn to not be naive anymore.
And then came the boss story. Don’t we all have a boss story? The boss that told me that I couldn’t do certain things “because I’m a woman.” The boss that liked me well and good until he realized how capable I was. The boss that wanted me to stay in my lane and mind my place. The boss that got fired for being sexist. That boss, he made me a feminist.
Motherhood made me a feminist.
Having learned my own strength, I could handle stupid comments. Like from the truck driver who saw me pulling a pallet jack at work and felt it was his place to tell me that I should be at home making babies… Shut up, guy. And fuck off while you’re at it.
But that I had a daughter that I’d have to teach to stand up for herself, that I’d have to teach to not be naive, that I’d have to warn about how she might be treated out there in the world — that pissed me right off. That pisses me right off, daily.
That truck driver, he made me a feminist.
Donald Trump, he’s made me a feminist.
Anyone who feels like they have the right to comment on choices I make for my own body, they’ve made me a feminist.
Anyone who feels like they have the right to comment on how I should be raising my children have made me feminist.
Anyone who has tried to keep me small, tried to keep me quiet, tried to make assumptions on my behalf has made me feminist.
This is not a victim post. I am not a victim of womanhood. And I am not interested in rhetoric. This is about how enough is enough. This post is about education. Malala education. Greta education. RBG education. Power education. Strength education. Feminism education.
When the suffragettes were striking at the gates, with their children being torn from their arms as they asked for the merest of requests — to be treated as equals — did they envision that 100 years later, the very essence of their fight would still need to be fought?
The thing about gates, however, is that sometimes they keep people out, but sometimes they let people in. Whether they are opened, climbed over, or broken the fuck down, they are not impenetrable. It only takes one “angry woman” to invoke change. Imagine what could happen to the gates when we are many,
I’m not a victim of womanhood. But I’m done being treated as one. And I’m here. I’m here at the gates.