Today I want to talk a little about what it’s like to interact with people who openly admit to not being feminists — specifically, people you care about a lot.
Because my parents aren’t feminists.
It wasn’t always this way. No, I grew up with two very feminist parents, who believed in women’s right to be heard and taught us to dream big and be independent.
My dad always taught me to believe in myself, that I’m no less capable of the boys in my grade, even if they wanted me to think that. He told me I could be whatever I want to be, and he was proud to have two little girls.
My mom bought me my first (and only) miniskirt when I was in grade seven, telling me to be proud of my body and to own it. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” she would tell me.
And my sister fought to be heard no matter what, and never let anyone shut her down. Trust me, we’ve tried!
I was taught to be careful, to be sure I love someone before marrying them — to live with someone and learn what it’s really like to be with someone in day-to-day life before making such a commitment.
I was raised to be feminist.
That’s why when suddenly my parents converted to a new religion that taught them otherwise, I was shocked that they accepted these new beliefs so quickly.
Every single day I was home around this time, whenever I visited, I fought. I felt like I’d lost my family, so I fought to get them back. I tried to convince them to go back to the way things were.
I refused to join them in their new lifestyle, because now they aren’t feminists — they are very socially traditional. And these are big, core beliefs for me. I simply can’t accept their new values — it’s who I am.
So those years were awful.
But since then, I’ve learned to accept them and to love them for who they are.
Not to say that it’s not still challenging at times, because it is. I basically lost what my family once was and had to get to know my sister all over again.
But I’ve stopped fighting them, and they’ve stopped trying to ask me to change.
See, when I go home, I often feel like I’m being policed.
Clothes that I used to wear on a daily basis are now inappropriate, and my dad even yelled at me one summer when I worked as a restaurant server, saying I wasn’t raised to be “trashy.”
I was wearing a button down short-sleeve shirt and a pencil skirt that was longer than mid-thigh length, but shorter than knee-length.
It was summer. And that outfit was all black! I sweat for hours in that outfit, walking for six hours straight.
I’ve worn normal-length shorts, your average tank tops, mid-thigh length dresses, v-neck t-shirts, and had my dad shame me for wearing them.
Basically unless I meet the expectations of covering my breasts and wearing only knee-length anything, I get shamed for it. Plus, my sister once told me, “I wouldn’t wear it, but you can,” as if that was supposed to make me feel better. So I know when my sister and mom say nothing it’s because they agree.
I’m twenty-three, live on my own, and to be quite honest, my clothes are very regular.
So I fought and I fought… but soon I was tired of fighting.
Last summer, I specifically went out to the thrift store to buy clothes so I wouldn’t be judged anymore.
I know my family loves me, and it’s simply part of their new belief system that women should dress a certain way. They just want the best for me, right?
So I decided to comply in order to avoid conflict. Besides, it was only for two weeks — I could go back to wearing my own clothes soon enough, free of judgment and guilt.
I changed myself to get along with them.
So I listened instead to comments about women they saw in the street, women with tattoos, girls in low-cut dresses or mid-thigh-length dresses.
I listened to my sister tell me directly that she doesn’t believe women and men and should be equal.
I listened to comments about girls who were dressed however the hell they wanted — and to be honest, even by society’s (double) standards, they weren’t dressed “inappropriately” — and tried not to take them as comments about me.
I internalized a lot of it, and was afraid to dress the way I used to, even when I returned to living with Grady.
I became afraid of being myself.
As a feminist, I know I have the right to wear whatever I want and not be judged.
Even though it’s not my style, I should be able to wear a miniskirt and a crop top and not have people tell me I’m trashy, or treat me like I don’t deserve respect.
I should not have to go home and have my family shame me for being comfortable in my body.
I don’t accept friends commenting on other women’s clothing when I walk down the street with them.
But this is my family — I can’t tell them off the way I’d tell my friends off.
Mind you, my family’s culture is different from that of the average Canadian. I am a first-generation Canadian with two immigrant parents that did spend teen years in Canada, but learned traditional values of their cultures. So in my family, you listen to the parents. You don’t question. The parents have the last say, the kids have none. There’s no democratic discussion. And I may have broken these rules as a teenager, because I’m stuck between two cultures where I learn conflicting values.
But I’m trying to be better!
I’m torn between staying true to my values, values that are deeply important to me and really define who I am, and trying to respect my family and get along with them despite the changes that have taken place.
So this is my dilemma — do I change myself so my family will accept me?
If I’m a true feminist, what’s the right thing for me to do?
Being able to express myself through clothing is something I value, even if it seems trivial.
But beyond that — I don’t feel I can be myself when I’m home.
I mean, my mother learned I’m queer through reading my Flight & Scarlet newsletters, not because I talked to my family about it. That’s right — my mom will likely read this, too.
(Hi mom. I love you.)
I’m afraid to be myself at home, because I don’t know what all their new values are.
I was afraid to tell them about being queer because I didn’t know what they were taught about those issues. I don’t know if they’re taught more that we will disagree on.
I know they’re taught to love all humans, and they’re taught to accept if other people won’t join their church. But I also know my sister has rules about what can and cannot be discussed if she is to be friends with someone — no talk about sex, dating, no watching movies with sex or anything devilish, no complaining — rules she never shared with me, but that I know I’ve broken many times.
I also know they police my clothes and other women’s clothes, and when I shared why I felt things were unfair they refused to listen.
They do try to accept me for who I am, knowing that they taught me so much that has helped shaped me into this person that conflicts with many of their beliefs.
I know it’s not just me struggling.
But am I failed feminist if I succumb to the pressures of my un-feminist family?
Am I a terrible daughter for holding my values so highly compared to getting along with my family?
I’ve been more respectful of their lifestyle, but is it unfair of me to expect them to be okay with my lifestyle when it conflicts with theirs?
Is the “our house, our rules” concept a little outdated because I’m a grown adult now, or is it completely fair?
Regardless, being home has been a bit of an adventure.
I arrived in BC on the 1st of August, and I’m here for two weeks.
But here’s the surprise — none of the clothes I wore last summer fit me now.
I have one pair of shorts (which I know are too short in their minds) and few summer shirts besides tank tops and sleeveless shirts.
I’m on Employment Insurance until the school year begins, which means I don’t have the income to go buy new clothes this summer.
So I’m wearing what I want this summer, and I hope — I really hope — that I’m not policed.
Maybe things aren’t as bad as last summer. Maybe things have changed.
But if I am shamed, well… I’m going to try my hardest to talk calmly about it.
How do you deal with people who aren’t feminist? Any tips? Leave a comment below — I could really use the advice!
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