My introduction to feminism came later than most. I put that down to having grown up in a traditional Chinese family in a hyper-capitalist city. Political beliefs, existential musings and philosophical discussions were something that were restricted to late evening conversations and anyone who took them too seriously were immediately deemed as radical and sacrificing their livelihood for lofty ideals.
I wasn’t introduced to the words “feminist” or “feminism” until my first year of my undergraduate. It was so new and so foreign. It made so much sense to me from the get go (of course I don’t need to feel like I need to shave, of course I should be paid the same amount as a dude, of course I have the right to call out manspreaders), but it didn’t feel like something I could grasp. It felt like it didn’t apply to me, a seventeen-year-old. I felt as if I hadn’t suffered enough, or at all, for being a woman. I felt like the gross catcalls and leery stares I got were compliments. I felt as if losing my virginity to my first boyfriend, after he got me drunk and forced me to have sex when I was blacked out, was something dirty that had only happened to me. I didn’t understand how silly it was to feel that feminism is something that one can only identify with if something had happened to them.
Even hearing the word “feminism” roll off my tongue felt like a transgression in itself back then. I still remember the day when I first became aware of International Women’s Day. It was a day off and a close friend and I were wandering around downtown. She was telling me about feminism and how important it is to her after my basically having asked: “why anarcho-feminism?” After hearing her becoming increasingly passionate as she spoke, I told her I didn’t identify as a feminist. I justified that by saying that I stand by everything that feminists believe in and identified with. But I don’t feel like I am living like one and putting what I believe in into practice yet. It’s a label that I don’t feel comfortable in owning, at least not yet. While she understood me, she accused me of being a bad ally. It is a conversation that has stayed with me and which I revisit from time to time.
“I am a woman, not a feminist.”
After the first time I was date raped, I tried to muster up the courage to go to the university police after having gone to the clinic earlier in the week. When the policeman began to question if I had had alcohol (I didn’t) and if I had invited the rapist in my home, I just wanted the conversation to end and left without filing a report. It devastated me. I tried so hard not to let it affect me and kept with the grind to pursue the career that I had dreamt of. I got a lotus tattoo as a gift to myself. A permanent one. To tell myself that like the lotus, I can also grow out of the mud and make something beautiful.
I became a more militant and more outspoken feminist. Why should I self-police the way I look when nothing mattered? Why should I play nice if what they want is to see us down, to see us weak?
Then it happened again. Date rape again, but this time when I tried to confront the rapist, I got a cease and desist. When I called the survivor’s hotline, they were bored with my trying to figure out if I had been raped or not and were only interested in ensuring that I wasn’t going to off myself when I hung up.
I got my fourth tattoo to remind myself to stop looking for reason in what had happened to me. I tried to drown myself in work, to stop performing femininity and to fight for visibility in the workplace. But I was either too visible, by being too feminine, too Asian, too petite, too North-American, too outspoken, too loud, too much. Or I was not being seen at all. I was only one of three female postgraduates in my program. I had to fight to speak up when we had union meetings, or any meeting at all. People always assumed I was an undergraduate. It became even more ridiculous when I became a faculty member. I still remember the time when I was almost thrown out of the staff room.
A few years later, I got burn out. Like, serious burn out. It was only last year that I started to embrace it and not give myself a time limit to get out of it. I have since been using my time to take care of the kids, to nurture myself as I should have done all these years ago.
So why do I feel like such a bad feminist? Whenever I tell people I stay at home now, I get the weirdest looks from people. Where people would have usually gone on to talk to me about my work and projects, now the conversation would fizzle out and there would be an awkward silence before people talk about something else entirely and I would disappear into the background.
I choose to be a homemaker. I am not my work.
I am a feminist.
Checklist for the day:
- Call gran
- Expecting a package and sending out two other
- Do the dinner shop
- Tidy up the house
- Feed me!
- Move the basil
- Pick up Little
- Get dinner ready
- Work out