Saturday, November 7, 2009

PPNYC Panel With Three Feminists: When Did You Become a Feminist?

Posted by: Maya Dusenbery

On Wednesday the Planned Parenthood of NYC Action Fund hosted a panel that brought together three awesome New York feminists: Jessica Valenti of Feministing, Lynn Harris of Salon's Broadsheet, and former Planned Parenthood Federation president Gloria Feldt.

The discussion roamed from women in the comedy world to Abby Johnson, the Planned Parenthood director turned anti-choice activist, to the weaknesses of the term "pro-choice" in the rhetorical battle over abortion rights. But the conversation centered on the speakers' relationship to feminism--how they came to identify as feminists, how it is has influenced their lives at various stages, and how we can get more young people to embrace the label.

I was especially fascinated to hear about their paths to feminism. Both Jessica and Lynn said their first moments of feminist awareness came at a young age--in 3rd grade--before they had the language to give a name to their sense of injustice. For Lynn it was listening to her gym teacher explain to the class how to do "push-ups" and "girl push-ups." For Jessica it was when the boys on her team told her to pretend to be sick when it was her turn at bat in a class softball game. Yet, despite growing up in feminist-minded families--Jessica even attended pro-choice protests with her mom as a kid--both said it wasn't until they were young adults--going off to college, taking their first Women's Studies courses--that they came to identify with feminism on a personal level.

Gloria's path to feminism, on the other hand, was a bit different. A self-described "desperate housewife in Texas," who had three children by the time she was 20, Gloria said the invention of the birth control pill literally saved her life. Eventually she discovered a new magazine called Ms., sought out the NOW chapter in her small-town community, and never looked back. For her--coming to feminism in that way, in that time period--the personal was political and vice versa from the very beginning.

As a woman in my early 20s, I identify with Jessica and Lynn's path--and I'd wager a lot of younger feminists have had a similar journey. Growing up in a family and community in which a belief in gender equality was kind of taken for granted, I certainly signed onto the political goals of feminism long before I came to appreciate feminism on a personal level. I believed in it--in a kind of abstract way--before I really felt it. And it was only when I started to make the link between how I felt and what I believed--between the personal and the political--and realized that feminism really does provide a lens through which to look at the entire world, that I came to identify as a feminist.

How about you? What was your path? When did you start to really feel the power of feminism?

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