Perhaps you have all seen the pictures floating around, “I need feminism because (fill in blank),” in which men and women alike hold up hand-written signs explaining why feminism is important to them. Or maybe you’ve seen the Facebook page, “Who Needs Feminism?” If not, check it out. This is great campaign designed to inspire open dialog about the need for and importance of feminism. I just discovered it myself a few days ago and I love it. Mostly because it pleases me to see how many people, both male and female, understand that there is a real and urgent need for feminism; but also because it got me thinking about why I need it.
Honestly, I never really considered myself a feminist until I moved out on my own and had to start making my own way in the world. I was raised, for the most part, by my Dad. In my home, household duties were not relegated to only the women, my Dad did much of it (mostly because my mother was inebriated most of the time, but I digress). He did laundry, and dishes, and ran the vacuum cleaner. He helped with homework, tucked in we girls at night, and played nursemaid when we were ill. He played dolls with us and taught us to throw a football and a baseball. Most importantly, he never raised us to believe that there was anything we could not do. No matter what aspiration for a future career floated into my childish mind, and I had some really off-the-wall ones believe me, my Dad never once said to me, “Girls can’t do that.”
I didn’t grow up believing that being a girl had limits. I could throw a ball as well as most of the boys I knew, and I could out run most of them well into high school (it was my freakishly long legs). I was always at the top of my class; reading, writing, history, science, I excelled or did very well in nearly everything. On the rare occasions someone told me I couldn’t do something, my Dad was there to remind me that the only people who cannot do things are those who never try.
It wasn’t until I began to grow up that I noticed that the world was backward and twisted, and that there were certain things I couldn’t do; not because I lacked the capabilities or the intelligence to do them, but because society had drawn little lines in the sand around things that it did not want women to do. My first lesson in this came in high-school when my then boyfriend thought it would be fun to tell everyone he’d had sex with me. I was barely fourteen, I hadn’t even had my first real kiss yet and now, suddenly, I had supposedly had sex. Luckily I had a strong circle of friends and a Dad who was not above threatening the little prick, so the rumor never had a chance to spread, thus sparing me from the extreme slut-shaming with which so many other girls are forced to contend. That is not to say that I didn’t have to deny his story or defend myself against comments his own friends made, but my reputation was not irrevocably ruined by his lies. I was lucky, but this was my first lesson in the reality of the double-standard with which girls are forced to live; in which a guy is lauded as a stud and a girl is condemned as a slut where sex, real or imagined, is involved.
As I grew into adulthood and became aware of the world around me, as I went to college and learned more about women’s history, I learned newer lessons; lessons that were in many ways harder to bear than my earlier lesson. I became aware of the millions of women all over the world who are still traded into marriage, most often as young girls, against their will. I learned that adultery is still punishable by maiming or death in many areas of the world and that women are far more likely to be the victims of such cruelty than men. I learned that girls and women all over the world are less likely to be educated, more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to suffer from disease for lack of health care. I learned that women and girls are more likely to be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused, raped, or murdered. I learned that for millions of women all over the world chattelry is the reality in which they live; being a woman in this world is as good being born a goat or cow.
I need feminism because women are not equal, not by a long shot and not even here in my own country. I need feminism because the world I thought I knew as a girl, the world that my Dad tried to build for me where everything and anything was possible, is not real. At the same time, though, I need feminism because I know that that world, the world of my girlhood, the world my Dad so deeply wanted for me, is possible.
When I was in sixth grade I participated in and won 7th place in a state-wide essay contest entitled, “An Influential Woman in My Life.” In the response letter, Governor Anne Richards told me that young ladies like me have the power to change the world. I still believe that. I will never stop believing that. And so, I need feminism…