[This is one of a series of posts on Caitlin Moran's book How to Be a Woman. Click here for other posts in this series.]
As a senior in high school, I scribbled a poem into my AP English binder. The title: “I Hate the Feminists.” I wasn’t being ironic. Why, you might ask, at the young age of 17, was I writing such a poem? I’ll tell you. I really did feel angst towards those women out there who were making me feel like I should become a (cue thunder crash) Career Woman.
I was a young Utah Mormon. Raised in the church, I had been taught my whole life that my ultimate goal, the highest plane I could achieve, was that of wife-mom. The female role models that surrounded me were mostly SAHMs. My cover story was that I wanted to become a high school English teacher, but what I really wanted was to be the best Latter-Day Saint I could be. I wanted to be Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, oozing goodness; certainly not a rebellious Lydia, an outspoken Lizzie. I remember walking to seminary one morning, soaking up a rosy sunrise, and crying because I wanted so badly to be Good.
In accordance with what I’d been taught and what I’d observed, that meant finding a husband while attending college, popping out between five and twelve babies, and avoiding feminists because they might make me unhappy with the way things are supposed to be. I associated feminists with rabble-rousers, causing discontent where there was harmony. I think many people (most?) still associate feminists with discord. Hence, the fear of the f-word.
Fast forward 15 years. I’m on the staff of a Mormon feminist magazine, Exponent II. (When I told someone who shall remain anonymous that I was volunteering for a Mormon feminist magazine, he snorted and said, “Mormon feminist? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”) I have a masters in English literature, I write feminist poetry, and I’ve been an adjunct professor of English and French. I also have two daughters. I have two gorgeous, smart, amazing daughters, and I fiercely want them to become whatever they want to be. Doctor, lawyer, teacher, CEO. And mom? Yes, it would be nice to be a grandma someday; I’m not gonna lie. However, I want my daughters to know they have options. Because of feminists, they have lots of options.
Giving birth to daughters probably did more to change my mind about feminism than any other life experience I’ve had. When I found out that my first was going to be a girl, my first reaction was fear. I worried about sexual predators and chauvinist pigs and already wanted to Kung Fu chop their bodies in half. It’s one thing to experience sexual inequality. If you’re raised breathing it like oxygen, in many ways you grow used to it. But it’s another thing entirely to watch (or even imagine) your child as a victim of sexism. Something there has the power to transform a person into a snarling feminist tiger, claws out, teeth bared and dripping.
I wish 17-year-old me could’ve had a good chat with Caitlin Moran. Perhaps Moran could’ve helped me realize that feminists are on my side, not something scary and Other. In How To Be a Woman, she boils down the definition of feminist to the essentials: if you are female and want to be in charge of your own body, then you are a feminist. Period. (Ehem. Moran says it much better. Read the book.) It really is that simple. She urges readers to reclaim the word “feminist,” to stand on chairs and shout, “I AM A FEMINIST!”
Men are not off the hook. She says:
And do not think you shouldn’t be standing on that chair shouting, “I AM A FEMINIST!” if you are a boy. A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution. A male feminist should ABSOLUTELY be on the chair—so we ladies may all toast you, in champagne, before coveting your body wildly. And maybe get you to change that lightbulb, while you’re up there. (68)
It’s only been within the past year or so that I feel comfortable announcing to people (family and strangers alike) that I am a feminist. A MORMON feminist. Moran encourages adding a “strident” to “feminist” because “It looks hotter like that” (76). So maybe I’ll start introducing myself as a strident Mormon feminist and watch people implode from the thermal impact.
Recently, I looked for that old feminist-hating poem and couldn’t find it. Hopefully it made its way to the bottom of a landfill. Or better, maybe it was recycled and made into a new notebook. And maybe that notebook found its way into the hands of a feisty, fire-eating 17-year-old who is at this very moment writing a sonnet about Susan B. Anthony, an elegy for Eleanor Roosevelt, or a spunky Sapphic ode to Caitlin Moran.