So I guess I’m not really a feminist. I’m a respectivist. No, it’s not a real word, but it should be. The world should have men respecting women for their ability to keep a family together. Women respecting men for being natural protectors. Women respecting women for making whatever decision feels right: to stay at home to raise a family or to pursue the high-powered career they have always dreamed of, or anything in between. Men respecting men for supporting their wives, sisters, mothers, cousins, friends, colleagues, or rivals in making that very decision.
It’s late on a weekend night. Sitting curled up in our living room, my roommate and one of my oldest college friends and I are having one of our typical life chats. Suddenly, she asks me, “Are you a feminist?”
“UGH, no…actually, I don’t really know.”
A few weeks later, at the senior Political Science Banquet, my thesis advisor and the man I consider to be my biggest mentor from college makes a similar remark “Well of course you think that, you’re a feminist.”
My initial response in both of these instances was shock mixed with incredulity. Me, a feminist?! Why does that feel like such a dirty word to have branded upon my reputation? But then I really started to think about. Now, I’m no bra-burning woman who refuses to shave her legs (ew). But I do believe that women all too often fall victim to what men want them to do, losing sight of their values and individuality in the process. I believe that any romantic relationship between a man and a woman should be an equal partnership, not a mismatched pairing of domineering patriarch and helpless maiden. But at the same time, I expect men to respect women – to be a little chivalrous and open a door, offer to carry something heavy, or give up a seat on the T.
I think part of people seeing me as a feminist has to do with my desire to enter the ranks of intellectuals, but there is some difficulty with this (beyond the practical challenge of having the time and money to get a Ph.D.): female intellectuals are scarce. Ok, maybe there is a slight exagerration in that, but when you look at my twin fields of history and poltiical science, there simply is not comparable scholarship done by women. In my personal experience, history tends to be a bit more gender-balanced (although I am currently one of two female history faculty members among seven men), but political science is a very male-dominated area. And, sadly, I gave into these pressures of not feeling smart enough or qualified enough because I was a women in a male-dominated field. I doubted my abilities and my potential to add to the conversation, and instead often chose silence in class rather than participation.
Call me a masochist or confused, but I ultimately decided to complete my senior honors thesis in the political science department. There was one professor who during my junior year motivated me to make my own mark and remove myself from the sidelines of the discussion and instead become a leader in the discussion. This professor agreed to become my advisor for the project, and through it all I finally came to acknowledge and respect my contributions to the field.
So by the end of my studies, maybe I did have a bit of a “girl-power” attitude in my approach to certain aspects of my life. But I had come to learn through experience that I was capable of anything, regardless of whether or not I was in the majority.
Maybe I am a feminist, but to me that term means a woman who demands nothing less than respect, who is empowered enough to chase down her dreams, and who, at the end of the day, knows that the biggest obstacle she has to overcome is the voice in the back of her head that is anything but encouraging. So baby, you can stamp that title ALL over me – I can take it.