My name is Danielle Donovan. I am excited to be the new college intern at Esteem! As a means of introducing myself, I have chosen to share about my journey of accidentally becoming a feminist.
I wasn’t always all about the empowerment of women. In fact, I used to fear the “F” word and cringe every time someone spat it out- feminist. It always sounded dirty and extreme. In fact, I never dreamed I would associate with the feminist movement at all. I used to think women who “swam against the current” were aggressive and offensive. The first time I was asked what I thought feminism meant, I imagined women in the 1970’s burning bras, hating men and failing miserably to take down patriarchy. I quickly learned that I was ignorant to not only the power, but the opportunity that feminism embodied. In all honesty, all I really knew was that I wanted to be proud of the female gender I associate with and help others do the same. Unfortunately, I learned through personal trials that the pursuit of happiness for those who identify as women was much harder than it sounded.
During high school I hit an extremely low point when I was brutally bullied and as a result, became suicidal. I was varsity cheer captain as a junior in high school and each night after being front and center at football games, I would go home and cry myself to sleep because I was called derogatory, gendered names like slut and bitch. A low point for me was when I went so far as to Google the most effective way to end my life. I was seventeen years old.
I couldn’t figure out why women were always in competition with one another, but I knew that I could not live every single day being weighed down by such hate.
I was lucky enough to have the help of my supportive family and a compassionate psychologist to get me through this difficult period, graduate high school and continue on to college. While attending community college, I began learning about the social issues women face and realized my experience was not uncommon. We women are not only picking one another apart with other women, but are also criticizing each other in front of men. Women all around me were nitpicking at their frenemies. “She really gained weight…” I’d hear friends say to their beaus. It was as if his agreement validated the imperfections of other women, and as a result, elevated her superiority. And this vicious cycle was not just women tearing women apart, but was also encouraging men to do the same. From that point on, I was enlightened to the twisted concept of patriarchy that we all participate in, whether we are aware of it or not. I became angry and sad, but mostly I was disappointed. Women were constantly bashing women, men were bashing women, and society as a whole was bashing women. I began to recognize the harassment that I and other women experience while we are out and about, enjoying our twenties and experiencing new endeavors. I did not understand why my life experiences had to be different than a man’s simply because of gender differences. At first, I was asking myself “Why is this happening?” but soon enough, my question had changed to “How can I help change this?”
Fast forward to present day where I am now a junior at UC Riverside earning my Bachelor’s in Psychology, with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am grateful that my education introduced me to feminism, but wonder what it would have been like if in high school I was not only able to feel encouraged by fellow female classmates, but felt confident enough in myself to acknowledge the successes of my female classmates as well. Over the last couple of years, I have realized that the struggle between women is not just a women’s issue, it is a societal issue that impacts everyone. When I looked at what was behind our insecurities as women, I saw things that were beyond our control; slut shaming, unattainable beauty standards, motherhood expectations, and unequal pay in the workplace, to name just a few. I began to understand, at nineteen years old, why so many women are unhappy with themselves: we are too preoccupied with our own imperfections and as a result, attention is diverted away from our personal power. As I learned more about feminism, I realized that I wanted to have my voice heard by as many people as possible. There are so many women (and men) who buy into anti-feminist rhetoric and reject the concept of feminism without really understanding what it actually means. Feminism is focused on social and economic equality of the sexes. That’s it.
As a consequence of my actions to combat patriarchy, I began to receive backlash from those around me. I would go on dates and men would look at me funny when I explained to them why I picked my minor of Gender and Sexuality Studies. At first, they’d think it was sexy that my minor included the word “sex”. To their dismay, any time I was asked to elaborate on my field of study, I would educate them on the inequalities women face due to gender, and expand the discussion to include class, race and other forms of oppression. I once had a man tell me that my passion for equality came off as “aggressive.” In the days that followed, I began to think about why I was so hurt by his choice of words. I then realized that had I been a man, he probably would have used different language to describe my eagerness for world change: strong-willed, powerful, dominant, intelligent.
The significance of the language we all use became apparent to me: it is not just what people are saying, but how they are saying it. If men are allowed to have strong opinions, then I am too. If men are allowed to post pictures of themselves out playing sports and being active in a game of “shirts versus skins”, I should be allowed to be tanning on a boat and having fun with my girlfriends in dresses or cute shorts without being objectified and harassed. All of these different aspects of inequality began to overwhelm me, and I did not know where to start making changes..
Since I can’t completely dismantle patriarchy today, I’ve done some self-reflecting and begun to name my own personal “feminist” goals: I want to be taken seriously for both my accomplishments and my failures, for my happiness and my sadness. I do not want to be told that I am too sad or too happy, simply because I am a woman. I do not want to be ignored when I have important ideas simply because I am a woman.
I decided that the only way I was going to change that for myself and hopefully empower other women through my journey, was to become more assertive. I went to an Esteem seminar offered at UC Riverside recently and heard the presenter, Lauren Roselle, speak on assertiveness. Roselle gave a definition of assertiveness I had never heard before. She said, “Assertiveness is respectfully educating other people in how to treat you.” I realized that I did not need to be a bra-burning (which didn’t ever happen, by the way), man-hating warrior to be considered a feminist. I could still paint my nails, wear a push-up bra and love men just as much as I love myself and other women. I just had to acknowledge my voice because I am worth more than oppressive silence. If I want to see change, it is my duty to bring to light why we as a society need it. If I choose to ignore the impact of patriarchy, I am encouraging historical amnesia and am therefore part of the problem.
Through my new internship with Esteem, I hope to change the way assertive women are viewed. Assertive women are strong, capable, and more and more of us identify as feminist. I’m excited to do what I can to empower women, not just for myself, but for future generations. I want to live in a world where saying a woman is assertive and strong has no negative connotation. It is time that we as females, young and old, own our power and continue the work of our foremothers to defy patriarchy.Share this: