This I Believe

Jessica - Madison, Wisconsin
Entered on February 6, 2008

A recent column by Karen Von Hahn in The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, chastised younger women – which includes my 26-year-old self – for thinking it’s “‘lame’ to align themselves with a woman candidate on the sole ground of sisterhood.” Every few days, I see, hear or read that I “just don’t understand” feminism.

This all implies that I don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed as a woman and that I can’t understand the importance of having a woman lead the free world. Most insulting of all, it declares that I’m not a feminist. Who gets to decide what the definition of “feminism” really is?

When my parents had me, their first child, they couldn’t afford day care and also believed their kids should have a stay-at-home parent. They actually sat down and figured out whose job would support the family – it was never assumed by either of them that my mom would leave the work force. It worked out that my dad’s postal carrier job provided the best benefits for our growing family.

As I grew up, I saw the first female secretary of state, first female CEO of a Fortune 500 and many more milestones. I also watched my mom, a member of the boomer generation, whose parents denied her the chance to go to college, struggle to stay at home with her kids because that was what she wanted. She also drove a full-size, diesel-engine school bus (an impressive feat for someone who’s just under five feet tall and slight) every morning and afternoon in order to contribute to our small household income.

My mom never burned her bra; she never marched on Washington. But I wouldn’t dare say she’s not a feminist. Within the limits she had, she went for what she wanted despite her gender. And she taught me that feminism isn’t a static concept; it’s something we each need to apply to our own lives, in our own way.

My feminism is not doing something “out of sisterhood,” but out of my personal sense of right and wrong. In my feminism, men aren’t the enemy or the competition. I want to create a positive future for my possible sons as well as my possible daughters. My feminism is choosing the candidate I think will best improve the nation for everyone, and I’ve well considered the efforts of my hard-working sisters of past generation in making that decision.

Feminism was once a radical idea. Now I argue that the radical idea is to accept that a male candidate for president, Barack Obama, might be better for American women than a female candidate just because she’s female. Feminism is about making your own decisions – and so I’m proud to call myself a feminist, even if some of my pioneering sisters may want me ousted from that group after I cast my vote in the Wisconsin primary on February 19.