I do not assume my experiences are universal, nor do I speak for all feminists, Democrats, or Mormons. As my editor-in-chief taught me, “Ima do me; you do you.”
I don’t recall the first time I heard the dirty “f” word, but by the end of my first year at BYU, I knew I was one.
How on earth did my military father and stay-at-home mother raise a…a…a…can I even say it…FEMINIST?
This is how.
In my youth, though I recall being taught very traditional gender roles and expectations, I also recall never being told that I couldn’t do things. My parents bought me Star Wars action figures–Luke, Leia, Darth Vader and Obi Wan, and a Land Speeder–and I remember playing with them more than I played with Barbies. In my earliest years, my sister and I would catch lizards and bugs. While I eventually outgrew the rough-and-tumble adventuresome nature that my sister wholeheartedly embraced, my parents never discouraged her either. Play sports, play in the dirt, hang upside down from monkey bars–no one shoved dolls into our hands or told us to put on shoes in the backyard.
When I went to BYU, an English professor in Freshman Composition made me read Margaret Atwood short stories and Jill Ker Conway’s memoir, and I realized that women’s stories mattered. If their voices mattered, then so did mine. I could add to the narrative, but what did I want my voice to say?
That year at BYU was somewhat atypical–at least atypical to my expectations. I was filled with stories of endless dating and falling in love, only to quickly realize I was not the type of girl that most boys wanted to date. In my more discouraging hours, I would trudge to the library, where the special collections section housed a book about my dad’s Wangsgaard roots.
I would check out the book–which could not leave the library–and settle into a overstuffed chair and read the stories of the women. Why the women, I’m not sure. But it was always the women. The women who left Denmark and journeyed across the United States to Huntsville, Utah. These women were mostly just names on a page to me, and always I would read about my Nana.
My Nana, who had married a man she loved but who was not LDS. My Nana, who was involved in every possible way in the two communities where she spent her adult life. My Nana, who I always thought was rather traditional, but as I read her personal history I would get tired–she did SO MUCH!
Legend has it that when she held me for the first time, not long after my birth, she said, “This is the most demanding baby I’ve ever seen.” I laugh at this now, because to read her story, that statement is an awful lot of pot calling the newborn kettle black. She did everything from plays to dances to music festivals to serving in her community as well as raise four kids. She did not just sit around at home to be at her family’s beck and call.
Neither did my Grandma. She was a WAVE during World War II. She married a man she loved but who was not Jewish. She worked outside the home almost all of her life. She had an amazing sense of humor, and all my memories of her lead me to believe that she really didn’t take a lot of guff. Maybe that isn’t entirely accurate, but sometimes, perception is reality, and that was my perception. She did not just sit around at home to be at her family’s beck and call.
Then there is my mom. She was the traditional stay-at-home mom of the 70s and 80s, but spent a lot of time pursuing her own interests. Sewing, crafts, golf, college classes. She did not just sit around at home to be at her family’s beck and call.
And that, for me, is the point of being a feminist. Having choices.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean I hate men (I rather love them) or that I hate skirts (though I’m not a fan) or that I’m purposely choosing not to get married (I would if I could convince someone I’m worth it). It means that when my niece says she wants to be a veterinarian, I tell her she can. And the next day when she tells me she wants to be a mom, I tell her she can. It means that even though I really wanted to be married, I didn’t stop going to college and I didn’t settle for a career I wasn’t passionate about.
It also means that I get a little worked up when I see patriarchal privilege hurting women, and that when I know I’m being patronized, or when Rush Limbaugh calls any random woman who happens to assert a little power horrible names, I fight back a little. But honestly, where did I learn that?
From my Nana, my Grandma, and my Mom.
So Mom and Dad, you only have yourself to blame. You shouldn’t have raised me to believe I could do anything or be anything I wanted…including a feminist.