By Olivia Land
Towards the end of her TEDTalk “Confessions of a bad feminist,” writer Roxane Gay makes the point that “You do not want to be that wild woman, until you realize that you are her, and you cannot imagine being any other way.” I have encountered a good deal of inspirational quotes in my time (#carpethatdiem, folks), but this was different. Rather than an Instagram ‘like” or a reblog on Tumblr, Gay’s words actually made me pause for several minutes. Such is the power of words, I remember thinking. Indeed, in one foul swoop that “wild woman” image funneled life into identity crisis I have been grappling with for months.
Before anyone asks, I did not watch this talk while debating the merits of running through meadows, sleeping in trees and the like. To most people, in fact, my woman probably is pretty mundane: She likes to write, she likes chocolate, and often forgets to drink enough water. The “wild” part? She is a feminist.
As the above cliffhanger (I tried, at least) suggests, my personal history with feminism is similar to the plot of Grey’s Anatomy, a.k.a. l-o-n-g and complicated. Growing up in a culturally aware but relatively apolitical environment, I viewed feminists as “radicals” who shouted obscenities on city streets. The benefit of my naïveté surrounding women’s issues was that I assumed I was already socially, politically, economically equal to my male peers. At the same time, however, I struggled (read: failed) to sustain healthy female friendships. Indeed, my elementary and middle school relationships were fraught with jealousy, manipulation, and lots of hurt feelings. By the time I reached eighth grade, a large part of me actually resented other girls. At this point, I rejected all mentions of feminism and “girl power” as nothing more than the empty promises of a petty sorority that refused to rush me.
Like many of the preconceptions that occupy a pre-teen mind, my disappointment with the female population lessened when I started high school. Caught in a quicksand mixture of depleted confidence and self-loathing, I found solace in the work of female writers like Joan Didion, Edith Wharton, and Lena Dunham (my ideal dinner party guests, if you’re asking…). Before long, my new “friends” inspired me to learn more about the early women’s movement, and eventually gave way to a full-blown fascination with feminism. But while indulging my growing passion was certainly a worthy pursuit, dissecting the wisdom of female leaders past and present also helped me to avoid genuine self-reflection. Indeed, it was not until July 2016, when I saw the word FEMINIST emblazoned above my byline on this site, that I finally asked myself:
“Am I feminist?”
Thus began a months-long internal tug-of-war. Within the confines of my own thoughts, I had no issue declaring “Of course I am a feminist!” With that said, I struggled to accept that my evolving personal views diverged not only form my previous beliefs, but also from the examples of feminism I encountered day-to-day. For example, unlike many of the feminists I knew, I shied away from lending my voice to more polarizing issues, or even hoisting a sign and joining a march. This wasn’t a matter of agree/disagree, but rather my own preference for sitting on the side lines, helping where I can while letting others wield the megaphone. Still, I was plagued by worries that I was worthy, productive, or feminist “enough.”
Fast-forward to the present: My Feminist Identity Crisis (FIC) is far from over, but time truly is the best remedy. Today, if asked, I proudly call myself a feminist. Lately, however, I identify more closely with the idea of “women’s empowerment.” Indeed, a huge part of my feminist journey thus far involved rediscovering my confidence and finding my voice both on the page and elsewhere. And while I’m sure there are marches in my future, for now I am pursuing the movement of getting to know and love the woman that is myself.
I want to end this piece the way I started it, and draw your attention to the quote “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” In my case, my experience with feminism involved accepting the “radical” notion that, yes, I am a person. I have passion and beliefs, and I deserve to own them without self-censure. Feminism itself is a big word, behind those which their lies lurks an abyss (or a treasure trove, depending on the day) of history, politics, and opinions both deeply personal and mainstream. Like everything else in my life, I expect that my personal feminism will continue to evolve as I embark on each new phase of my life. For now, however, I’m comfortable saying this:
Olivia Land is a feminist. I am her, and I cannot imagine being any other way.