It has taken a long time for me to understand all the reasons why I am a feminist.
I am a feminist because my best friend in high school was sexually abused by our youth pastor. I am a feminist because other people I love have been victimized too. I am a feminist because the weight of this abuse is heavy and bitter, many years later. I am a feminist because I don’t want my two daughters to experience the same thing.
I am a feminist because despite being a white woman of serious privilege, I know way too many abuse victims; when I think of the statistic that half of all African-American women experience this horror first-hand, I want to weep.
It’s not normal. It’s not acceptable. It’s not reasonable.
We should not be victims of exploitation because of our holy anointing as women. And we should not be witnesses to our sisters’ and brothers’ pain.
I took a walk down the street the other night; we live fairly close to a group of shops, bars, restaurants. It was mid-week, still early for the pub scene; the street was pretty deserted.
I walked at a brisk clip after a long day of mothering. As I turned the corner, I heard footsteps behind me. The skin on the back of my neck prickled; there’d been a guy across the street. Now he was closer, gaining on me.
I looked over my shoulder. He was looking at me. I scanned the street. Was there anyone else around?
Seeing he’d caught my eye, he caught up to me and called out. “Hey! Can you tell me where [Name of Bar] is?”
I stopped, confused. He was lost? Later, I’d realize he’d been standing right in front of that bar before he started following me. He didn’t need directions.
I mumbled something noncommittal.
He extended his hand in a showy arc; flashed me an even broader smile. “My name’s Brad,” he said.
“I’m married,” I said.
His grin faded; he turned to go.
I breathed out, in, watched him walk away to make sure he was really leaving. I continued on my way.
I was confused by this encounter. Should I be flattered? Should I laugh at his haplessness? Should I be angry that he’d frightened me? That I’d used my marriage as shorthand for “Leave me alone?”
I had taken a walk to see the stars, to hear the rhythmic in and out of my breath, to smell the ocean air. Now, I replayed the sound of his footsteps behind me.
I felt bad being angry with him. He had meant me no harm. He was a schmuck, not a predator. Nothing happened. Nothing.
Was I being reasonable?
Then, suddenly, I got supremely pissed.
I am a feminist because even though “nothing” has happened to me, knowing it happens to people you love brings it roaring into your stomach when you hear footsteps behind you.
I am a feminist because it’s not reasonable that many men are clueless about women’s vulnerability.
I am a feminist because I am starting to realize that it is not reasonable for women to bear this burden.
It is not reasonable to live in a world where half of my African-American sisters will be sexually assaulted, where surely all the rest hold the violation of their friends, sisters, and daughters like broken glass in their hearts.
I am a feminist because I need a word to help me explain my anger. To channel that anger into something other than helpless bitterness. I need a word to use to teach my brothers and help them see. I need words like privilege and reconciliation to make sure I am not harming others in banal, blind ways.
I need words that help me tap into the legacy of the people who have fought to protect the vulnerable, who point out the powerful, comfortable blindfold of privilege. I want to stand with Jesus as he pronounces blessings on the poor in spirit, the brokenhearted, on those who weep.
Image credit: Spyros Papaspyropoulos