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.
3 thoughts on “Two Sisters – Two Variants of Feminism”
Kelly, what a beautiful essay about complex emotions and ideas! Thank you for sharing. I like your description of how you see Mary, the mother of Jesus.
I am sorry for the loss of your sister. I’m sure her fierce spirit is living in you just being expressed in different ways.
Thank you! She’s been in my dreams more often than not so I’m convinced she’s trying to tell me something, and she’s not one to relent. 😉
This is beautiful Kelly.