A Feminist in Love
My first word was love. I have been saying the word ever since. Eleven years later I learned the word feminism. I have been choking on it ever since.
Throughout the subtle persistence of feminism in my life, I never understood how I existed within its reign. Because I look at these all powerful feminists that change the world and I cower in their presence. I have fought against and alongside the power that comes with feminism and still do not know if I have come out as a victor.
I gave a twenty minute speech about the sexism of the exclamation mark with thirty six sources and my male professor grumbled that I had no proof. It made me question if feminism even existed. However, fifteen emails later, my professor gave me the A that I knew that I deserved. Three months later, four girls in my class told me that the speech changed their lives. However what the girls don’t know is, at the end of the day, when it was quiet and there was only the sound of cicadas and crickets, I would beg any man that disagreed with me in that room to love me. Because society has convinced me that I should get on my hands and my knees for some man to say that he loves me and mean it. So, is it possible to be both unabashedly independent and hopelessly romantic?
I have always lived in two worlds: one where I am in love and one where I am strong. When I am in love I drift through my days. When I am in love there is no time or date or reason. When I am in love it is only me and my love. The first time I thought I was in love, Sean asked me if I was “one of those good feminists.” I smiled and watered down my anger only for him to spit fire back at me three months later. But, ultimately, when the love fades and there’s nothing left but myself, I am unstoppable. I am so strong that I solve world peace and world hunger and cure cancer. I do a million things all at once so I don’t even have time to be in love.
Someday I will fall in love. I know that. My mother laughs about my wedding with her friends and my dad shakes his head at walking me down the aisle. Everyone says it is inevitable. It’s all there. But, what if I miss it? Or, even worse, what if I already have. What if I have been so worried about the patriarchy and the wage gap and sex crimes to see the boy across the street smile at me. What if my grandmother saying I am a catch isn’t enough. What if I need to be loved now. What if I need to know that they are out there — waiting for me like I am waiting for them.
Sometimes, when I am bold, I think I can be strong and in love at once. I can spend my days ruling the world and my nights ruling with him. But then, the sun sets and the truth comes flooding back — I have always been one or the other; maybe this is how I will always be.
My hometown friends and I have conversations that feel like deep breaths. We talk about the weight of societal expectations that we can never really lift. We talk about love — in all of its abstractions. We talk about how sometimes, when everything in life feels hazy and distant, love and expectations morph into one being: love being an expectation that we can never really meet; we can never really bask in. Therefore, to my hometown friends, and hopefully many other women, girlhood and womanhood feels like choosing to either be loud and opinionated, and consequently alone, or in love and, thus, stifled of your own voice.
When you explore all that love has to offer, you learn that it comes hand-and-hand with sacrifice. Every relationship expert tells you that compromise is at the very heart of love. But at the same time, every feminist says that women should not sacrifice ourselves for the man before us. So we just have to live a life that contradicts itself? Instead, why don’t encourage young girls to see feminism as a root of existence instead of a coming of age realization. Instead, why don’t we coo at the baby that says “feminism” first and “love” eleven years later.
Ultimately, feminism exists for women specifically but for no specific woman. It is collectivism. It is against any force that denies equality. It promises that at the end of the day we have a choice, even if we don’t want to choose. Each heartbeat is proof of the women that came before; the women that will come from us. It is all there.
But, also, to exist for all women, feminism must morph into what we need it to be. Feminism has to be the soft voice lulling me to sleep; it has to be proof there is tomorrow when everyone else says it is not there. It is strong when I am weak and soft when I am hard.
Every woman will mostly likely, at some point, have to digest feminism while we are coming to terms with life. We have to learn not only who we are but who we are in the context of the patriarchy. Who we are to men, to fellow women, to ourselves, and to society as a whole. These perspectives get filtered into our consciousness while we are learning what love is. While we are deciding why it all matters and why everyone keeps saying that “all you need is love.” It all comes rushing in at the same time. And then we spend the rest of our lives filtering through all of it. And sometimes, when we are tired and sick of all of it, we put love and feminism, or love and strength, in different piles so far apart that they will never meet. That they will never bask in the sun at the same time. They will never be enjoyed together. But, maybe, when the time is right, they find their way to each other in the dark.
But who is to say. Not me.