When I was 24, I went to university. I was a single mother, with a two and a half year old daughter. Before I started at York U., I spent one year at an adult day school in Toronto called CALC: City Adult Learning Centre. I wanted to upgrade my OACs so that I wouldn’t be restricted into the adult learning stream once I started my university studies. My daughter was in daycare at the same site that I was, and I was supported, and encouraged by wonderful teachers and mentors that cared and saw my potential.
There were generally three types of students during my time at CALC; many refugees and new immigrants to the city, whom I always had such a great respect for as they were working hard to create a new life and already knew two or more languages. There were also those that spent their time mostly smoking joints in the back of the field and were biding their time, ensuring they were getting their welfare cheques. Then there those like me, working on their upgrades, vying for the opportunity to head to university and get on with it.
In spring of that year, the news was reporting about a particularly violent weekend in Toronto. I didn’t realize why it stuck out to me at first, but there were a number of reports about multiple assaults and murders. Notably, the victims were all women. I remember thinking of this as I headed into my first class on Monday morning, when the head of the Social Sciences department pulled me aside and let me know that one of our classmates and her mother were in fact two of the victims that I had heard about on the news.
This woman was a recent immigrant from Poland. She was probably my age, and although we didn’t agree on a number of issues in our World Issues class, I respected the fact that she was vocal, opinionated, and strong-willed. Her boyfriend had apparently attacked her, her mother and her father, and only her father ended up surviving the assault.
It was around this time that I was starting to investigate what it meant to be a “feminist”. I actually went to the dictionary to look it up. Webster’s defined it for me as “one who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of women.” Easy. I was a feminist. Really, I always had been. I had the “When God Created Man, She Was Only Joking” t-shirt when I was a kid, and my mother had always instilled in me a great sense of pride in being a woman, but it wasn’t until I was about 23 that I started to really educate myself and self declare.
I started to read Ms. Magazine, Marilyn French, Gloria Steinem (seriously, have you ever read If Men Could Menstruate?), Susan Faludi, and Naomi Wolf. Then I started talking about being a feminist. Inevitably, the response I would get from most was “I’m a humanist”. Funny thing was, as soon as I would provide the actual definition of feminist, it wasn’t really surprising to me how many would say, “Oh, then I’m a feminist”.
Labels are scary. They can pigeon hole us, restrict us, cause judgments that we may or may not welcome.
I feel that one of the most important things that define us as human beings is our use of language. It is our language that frames our thoughts, and expresses our emotions. When my daughter was six years old she asked me one day, “Mummy, why do you use ten dollar words when two dollar words will do?” “Oh, because I love those ten dollar words,” I would respond.
So, I choose to use those ten dollars words, and I certainly choose to call myself a feminist. (It’s also not a surprise that my daughter, now 19, does the same. ) And I do it for many reasons; for the women that are afraid to, the women that no longer can, the next generation of women who deserve to see examples of what feminism look like across all the demographics, and most importantly, for myself.
Oh yah, I am feminist, hear me roar. You betcha.