My mother raised me to respect myself. To know the names of my body parts. To let her know when I wanted to get on birth control. To stand up for myself when being cat called. She even bought me my first vibrator. Mom raised me to know that I had control over my choices. She taught empowering values without using the “f” word: feminism.
I never thought of the way my mother raised me as political. Now I see how politics are involved in almost everything. I’ve been confused about politics for much of my life. At age 14 (year 2000) I wrote for my home town’s newspaper, the Waco Tribune Herald, in their Teen section. I covered controversial issues like gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, abortion, and how Hollywood’s projection of perfection was negatively affecting women. Writing about these topics in conservative Waco, Texas made me a target. I received both fan mail and hate mail. It felt good to know that my words meant something to someone, even if it pissed them off.
The following 15 years I went back and forth politically. Sometimes I was a hippie handing flowers to conservative protesters at Michael Moore’s screening of Fahrenheit 911 in Bush’s hometown of Crawford (about 20 miles east of Waco). Sometimes I was passionately supporting Mitt Romney and bashing Obama. Then I moved to New York City at age 29 (year 2015) to pursue my passion for writing. That’s where I unintentionally discovered my true political identity and passion for social issues.
Moving to New York City was a significant sociopolitical culture shock. I went from being around conservative folks who rarely talked politics to being surrounded by liberals who wore their politics on their sleeve - both figuratively and literally. I was an intimidated Republican with hot pink hair who proudly declared that I wasn’t a feminist. I was often challenged, “Why aren’t you a feminist?”. I really didn’t know. Nobody had ever asked me that. So I asked people why they were feminists. Their replies were on a different intellect than I could comprehend. I had no idea what they were saying, I just knew they had a level of self-awareness and political knowledge that I strived for. Their questions inspired me think. That thinking inspired me to do research. That research inspired me to ask more questions. I realized that these woke New Yorkers weren’t trying to get me to think like them, they were trying to get me to think like me. A concept I’d yet to consistently apply to my political identity.
Feminism in populated, urban areas like New York City is extremely progressive. Especially in Trump era. It’s packed with an overwhelming amount of jargon. Words like micro-aggression, macro-aggression, mansplain, patriarchy, misogyny, misandry, toxic masculinity, cisgender, privilege, and so much more. I pretended to understand these words when I heard them in a conversation, then I Googled them as soon as I could.
I noticed that women who proudly identified as feminists, though intellectually stimulating, often came across as angry. Their words seemed to come from such a bitter place. A place that I didn’t want to be. I don’t want to be an angry feminist! Feminists hate men! I love men! I’m a humanist!
A few months into NYC life, I was discussing my confusion with feminism with my friend, Megan. “I’m not a feminist”, I told her. “Sure you are. You like voting. You like the idea of equal pay. You don’t want to be treated differently just because you’re a woman” she said. “Yea, but I’m not anti-man”, I replied. “Neither am I. I personally prefer traditional gender roles in relationships and that’s OK. Feminism is also about choice”. That simple explanation changed everything for me. The skies parted. Birds were singing. Flowers were blooming. I understood feminism. It’s. About. Choice.
Understanding the empowerment behind choice let me shake off my other issues with the “f” word. I watched videos of women like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kiran Gandhi, and Gloria Steinem. I learned how certain things that I just accepted as part of being a woman were simply wrong. Cat-calling is sexual harrassment. Society’s pressure to hide the fact that I menstruate is a form of oppression. Despite what the beauty industry says, “looking my best” is actually not my job as a woman. I got angry, too.
Though I understood fundamental feminist concepts, I still felt like feminism was anti-man. What about men that are raped? What about minority men that don’t receive the same treatment as white men? This curiosity led me to do more research, eventually learning about Kimberlé Crenshaw and Intersectional Feminism. Seeing famous men like Matt McGorry, Will Smith, and John Legend identify as feminists helped me learned that it’s not just for women. It’s about equality. Standing up against racism, homophobia, toxic masculinity, and gender discrimination are all part of the modern Intersectional Feminist agenda. To me, saying I’m a feminist simply means that I stand for equality and choice.
Feminism isn’t what I thought it was. It isn’t victim blaming; it’s giving the victim a voice. Feminism isn’t anti-man; it discusses how damaging toxic masculinity can be. Feminism isn’t a pity party; it’s shining a light on injustice.
Mom raised me with the power of choice. Megan simply reminded me that I had it all along.
. . .
Tawny Lara is a writer in New York City. She is the music editor for NY Yoga + Life Magazine and the founder of SobrieTea Party. She writes about being sober in New York City and hosts sober socializing events. When she's not writing, she's eating tacos or doing yoga. Sometimes simultaneously.