This article is written as part of the Feminist Portrait Project Blog Carnival, inviting women to tell their stories of when the "click, I'm a Feminist" moment hit them. The discussion also involves "anti-click" in reference to non-white and oppressed, non-executive women who have many times been failed by Feminism.
Growing up in a small town in Oklahoma in the 70's and 80's, Feminism wasn't something I was raised to respect. Although there were a few Feminists in my community, Phyllis Schlafly was definitely more of an influence than Gloria Steinem, and the mention of the word "Feminist" evoked responses similar to Pat Robertson's infamous definition of Feminism: "Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
To top it off, I was raised Catholic, and when I would ask why nuns didn't perform mass or why the Virgin Mary wasn't also considered as God, the way Jesus was, the only explanation available was, "because women can't." Even at ten years old, it bothered me to the point that I applied to be an alter girl, just to make a statement. When Father McGouldrick approved it (!) I chickened out...suddenly afraid of calling the wrong attention to myself or of being laughed at. I didn't want to be a spectacle.
None of this is to say that my parents didn't encourage me to do whatever I wanted, obviously, but in the structure of a small, highly religious community with conservative values, Feminism as a political statement was something that was not encouraged. Just as many women today state, "I'm not a feminist but I believe in women's rights..." people in my community in Oklahoma would say similar things. They believed a woman could work as hard as a man, but feminists were atheist, heartless, ugly, man-women and supporting them made you nothing less than the same.
My parents did fall into the "divorce phenomenon" of the early 80's, placing my brothers and I among the growing number of so-called latch-key kids. That's when making a spectacle about women's rights clicked in my mind as being okay. After holding my own with a house full of boys, I would see my mother come home exhausted and with more work to do, totally unprepared after years of being a housewife. I vowed very vocally that I would never be reliant on anyone but myself. I was a feminist.
Perhaps it was seeing women like those in my community who were caught off-guard by divorce - who never considered it as a possibility - that also gave me an anti-click moment. Many women born in the 40's and 50's were raised to only hope for a good husband who would provide. Education was put on the back-burner, or dropped all together. Divorce forced these women into the workforce as low-level employees - receptionists or factory workers - where feminism and women's rights were laughed at. Women in these positions had no one on their side - not even the executive level women, who at the time were fighting so hard to move up the ladder and gain respect that stepping on lower-level women was an afterthought.
Feminists, at that time, were mostly white and privileged and educated, and women in small town Oklahoma could not relate - nor could Feminists relate to them. The culture of the south still tends to lean toward weakened women in low-level positions, but as Feminism learns to reach out beyond the academic, and with the growing community of vocal feminists online, I have faith that will change.