About a year-and-a-half ago, I started dating my now ex-boyfriend. Both of us lived in Boston but attended separate colleges, so our social circles hardly crossed paths and differed considerably. Like most couples, introducing one another to our respective social groups and families was a natural next step. Before I met his family and close friends, I asked him if he had mentioned me. He said yes. I asked what, exactly, he had told them about me, and I will never forget his response.
“Well, the first thing I told them about you is that you’re a huge feminist.”
First of all, I am. I’m a woman. I believe in gender equality, female empowerment, sexual assault prevention, anti-street harassment advocacy, equal opportunities for all genders, inclusivity and diversity of women in the media, the fight against the objectification of women’s bodies…you name it. I’m proud of what I advocate for and am passionate about bettering the world around me and promoting fair treatment of all people.
Let me be clear: I don’t hate the word feminist. It’s a label and I understand that, but I don’t cower away from it, stigmatize it or feel ashamed when embracing it as a part of my advocacy efforts and identity.
But in that moment, I felt uncomfortable. The way he said it didn’t sound like a sincere or flattering compliment. “Huge feminist” sounded callous when rolling off his tongue and it made me feel insecure. I started doubting if my passion and energy for female empowerment and feminist issues were overbearing or perceived by others as an annoyance. For a brief moment, I was nervous about the preconceived notions and perceptions his friends and family had of me.
Almost simultaneously, I also realized that I was letting a word — and the common misconceptions people have of it — define me instead of defining the word for myself and using it to empower me. After experiencing a mental tug of war with my anger, frustration, impatience and insecurity, I then felt guilt.
I was angry because I didn’t want his family and friends to think feminism was synonymous with misandry. I didn’t want people to judge me based on a label before they even met me. I was angry because the F-word is something I shouldn’t be ashamed of, ever, but in that moment I was.
After confronting my now-ex about how his words made me feel, he assured me he meant it in the most complimentary, respectful and inspiring way. But I shouldn’t have needed that assurance and I shouldn’t have been angry about not being able to defend myself to his friends and family before meeting them. I shouldn’t even have to defend myself in regards to feminism. At all.
But the reality is, feminism is still a stigmatized word that people have dehumanized, despite efforts to reclaim, rebrand and empower it. More than ever, I’m convinced that those efforts should never be silenced.
That conversation sparked a much needed dialogue about what being a feminist means to me, my personal investment in feminist issues, and how every gender can rally around feminism because it doesn’t discriminate. It’s about equality, fairness, inclusivity and opportunity.
In the brief instants that I (regrettably) recoiled at his description of me, I realized something important about myself too: Even if his friends and family had those preconceived notions and false stereotypes of feminism, it shouldn’t have mattered because I am proud to be a feminist.
I am proud that my beliefs and passions help mold who I am and inform my actions. I believe being a feminist means being a better person, because we are looking to make the world to be a better place. We are looking to create safer, fairer, and more empowering environments and opportunities for people.
Feminism and the activist efforts of others empower me, make me feel valued, and inspire me to keep fighting against injustices and prejudices. People’s misconceptions of the word shouldn’t have — and will no longer have — an affect on my values, passions and sense of self. Being a feminist is not a negative thing and should not be viewed as such.
So, yeah I am a huge feminist. And I am proud of it.
About the author: Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA. While there, she served as the President of the college’s only philanthropic and professional sorority and hosted several female empowerment-centered events for the community. Dylan is currently a first-year high school teacher in rural Arkansas teaching Digital Communications, Computer Business and Audio Visual Technology.