My older sister and I once got into a disagreement about my inclination to buy a doll dressed in a pretty dress rather than one in work attire, in the middle of a beloved theme park. Four years of age separated us but our perspectives on the term “female” widened the relationship gap for most of our time together.
Growing up, I thought feminism equaled anger, man hate, anti-femininity/princesses/maternal inclination. I loved children, dresses, fairytale princesses, manners, compassion, and kindness. I hate conflict and confrontation, preferring time to reflect and see the positive in the midst of angry responses. I wanted to get married and have children, yet I believe wholeheartedly that true love was not just possible but based on mutual respect and unconditional love.
I thought that in order to be a feminist you had to burn bras, refuse to wear skirts/dresses, and try as hard as possible to show disdain for anything lady-like. It seemed to me that if you were a feminist, then you immediately distrusted men and had a penchant for complaining. I viewed feminism as a movement driven by anger that sought to distance itself from classic ideologies of femininity. As an adult I understand the reasons why but as a teenager and young adult I saw it as a judgement against those of us, like myself, who embraced the very feminine traits that feminists sought to fight against.
As one who hated confrontation, I didn’t know how to discuss this dichotomy with my staunchly feminist older sister. “She must think me weak, naïve, and gullible,” I often wondered. My active involvement in the Catholic Church probably didn’t help bridge the understanding gap, but I never told her that I felt connected to Catholicism because of the feminine aspect. I loved Mother Mary and adored her sometimes more than that of her son. I saw her as brave, kind, loving, nurturing, and strong beyond words. I didn’t admire her because the church tried to make her the epitome of virginity, purity, and unfair depiction of the subservient gender. To me, she was just the opposite – it was her kindness, compassionate spirit, nurturing tendency, and unconditional love that kept her moving when faced with hatred, violence, anger, and unspeakable grief.
But I didn’t know how to say that to my sister without fear of being judged or told I am keeping the women’s movement from progressing. I felt as misunderstood as the women she so vehemently fought to give a voice to. So that day in the amusement park as she lectured me about how buying a doll in princess clothes instead of one in a business suit set the women’s movement back decades, I sat in silence, misunderstood and hurt more than I could convey.
It wasn’t until my early twenties, as a sat in a Gender & History university class, that I realized that feminism didn’t mean hating the male species – it meant embracing women as they are now, in whatever capacity that entailed. Whether you preferred wearing fancy dresses or flowing attire without breast support, you were a woman whose voice was worthy of being heard. Your voice should not and could not be silenced by those of any gender. In one beautiful, transformative moment I felt understood and accepted for the complex, fairy-tale embracing woman I’d always been. I didn’t have to disavow myself from the roles, labels, or traits that made me, me. In the nearly twenty years since, I proudly wear the feminist label – championing the belief that our worth, ability, or opportunity should never be judged by our gender, race, or sexual orientation.
My sister died almost two years ago, and I am incredibly proud of the fierce, passionate, determined woman she was and still is wherever her spirit may be. My only regret is that I never told her so or knew whether she felt the same of me.