Journeys

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We are pleased to post stories about how women came to identify as feminist, following the theme of our first book, Feminist Journeys/Voies féministes, edited by Marguerite Andersen.

Why the World Changed by Joan Baril

Summer, 1963.  I live with my husband and two small children in a two-storey row house which backs onto a court. In time, I get to be friends with most of the women who live there.  All are housewives like me. The husbands are professional men: army officers, accountants, teachers, managers.

Six Basics of My Job as a Housewife

1. You have to get the diapers (cloth – there are no disposables) out on the clothes line by noon.  Better before 10.  If not, they won’t dry and you will spend your evening pegging them up in the basement. They will be so stiff when they dry that they will have to be ironed.  I wash diapers every day of the week except Sunday.  I skip Sunday, not because I am religious, but I give myself a morning off once a week. 

A note about the basement.  It contains an oil furnace, the wringer washer, the clothes line, the small table to mix the starch for my husband’s shirts, a wooden stick about two feet long to stir the clothes, a push car for three year old Lisa and the stroller. 

 2. I do not have the use of the car during the day and, in fact, seldom get to use it.  Most of the women on the court do not have a driver’s license except Dianne, who not only can drive but also gets to use the car fairly often.  No one considers the car to be a “family car.” It belongs to the husband and he takes it to work, even if he could easily get a ride or walk.  Because I have no transportation to the mall, about five kilometers away, I almost never shop.  I buy most of my clothes and the children’s clothes through the Eaton’s and Simpson’s catalogues. On Saturdays, I get the weekly groceries at the mall supermarket.  Milk is delivered to the door, a convenience because the nearest corner store is about a kilometer’s walk across a busy highway.

3. The husband does no housework.  Quite the opposite: he expects to be served. Many of the husbands insist that dinner be put on the table the minute they walk in the door; but not my husband who is a pleasant, genial guy.  Nevertheless, he does no work in the house at all, not even hanging up his own clothes. However, he does drive me to the supermarket on Saturday afternoons and, occasionally, on Saturday morning, he looks after the children if I have a hair appointment.  He also puts the children to bed in the evening.  Because of these activities and his general good nature, the women of the court consider him a prince among husbands.  The alpha prince however, is Dianne’s husband.  He cooks. 

 4. Everything needs to be ironed and I allot Thursday afternoon and evening for the ironing.  Unlike many wives, I do not iron diapers, sheets, towels or dishtowels but, like them, I have six or seven cotton shirts which have to be starched as well as ironed.  My husband wears a fresh shirt every day and another if we go out on Saturday night.

 5. Floors get dirty fast because everyone wears their shoes inside the house. The cleaning of the oven is a weekly job taking just over an hour.  The fridge is a different story.  The freezer compartment must be defrosted once a week and that takes an afternoon.

 6. Household help is unheard of. No one has a cleaning woman or uses any cleaning services beyond dry-cleaning.  Most of the women have little or no discretionary money for themselves.  In order to save money, many of the women in the court sew their own or their children’s clothes.

No one goes out for a family meal although some of the husbands, including mine, eat out at lunch. No one ever brings a meal in. 

My husband gives me $125 a month for all household expenses.  He pays the rent and uses the rest of the money (about $250) for car expenses, his own clothing and recreation.  Hydro, phone and the daily newspaper cost me $25 a month.  I allot fifteen dollars a week for food.  Clothing is very expensive.  Children’s shoes run close to ten dollars a pair and a snow suit about  $15, or the cost of a week’s food.  A winter coat is about $40 and winter boots about twenty. I have a charge account at Eaton’s but use it sparingly.  Credit cards have not been invented yet.

The week.

The Mornings.  The baby’s cry wakes me at seven.  She is plump and happy at a year and a half.  I run downstairs and put a bottle in the bottle warmer.  Then I run up and change her and dress her for the day.  I strip her crib and but on a fresh sheet and blanket. ( During the day she wears plastic pants but not at night because they cause diaper rash.  In the morning her sleeper, sheets and blankets are always wet. They will be washed with the diapers.) 

Next, I run into the bathroom.  I take the diaper pail, which is full of water and reeking diapers and tilt most of the water into the toilet.  I also pick up a kitchen knife that is sitting on the floor beside the pail.  It is used to scrape excrement from dirty diapers into the toilet.  After the scrape down, the dirty diaper is cleaned by holding it firmly and flushing the excrement away.  I run downstairs and set the pail and knife by the door to the basement stairs.  I clean my hands at the kitchen sink and run upstairs with the warm bottle of milk and give it to the baby.

Three year old Lisa is awake. I take her to the bathroom, bring her downstairs and give her a slice of apple or banana to hold her while I start the laundry.

I take the diaper pail, the knife and the wet bedding and the cloths I used to clean the baby’s bottom down the basement and throw all into the laundry tub.  I rinse them with cold water and then fill the tub.  (This preliminary soak in cold water is supposed to remove the ammonia that causes diaper rash).  I clean the knife and pail  with Javex.

I carry the diaper pail and knife up to the second floor and set them beside the toilet.  I carry the baby down to the first floor and put her in her high chair.  By this time my husband has risen and showered and I start breakfast.  I do not eat myself but take bites of scrambled egg or cereal while I feed the baby.  I ask my husband to look after the children for a few minutes so I can get at the next stage of the laundry. He is never happy about this, but he usually agrees if he has time.

I run down the basement, wheel the washer up to the laundry tubs and set the wringer in place. I put the hose into the body of the washer and turn on the hot water to fill it.  I then push the cold diapers and the bedding through the wringer into the boiling water, add soap and turn the machine on.  My husband is usually impatient and standing at the back door when I run up.

I wash the breakfast dishes and wipe down the kitchen.  I put the baby into the play pen and take Lisa upstairs to wash her and dress her for the day.  I then quickly make her bed, tidy her room, and in my room, pick up my husband’s clothes and make the bed.  I dress for the day, usually in an old pair of slacks, runners and some sort of old blouse. I run a comb through my hair.

I take Lisa downstairs and run to the basement to put the wash into the first rinse.  To do this, I fish the clothes out with the stick.  Very often Lisa wants to come with me to play with her push car so I bring down the baby and put her in the stroller but watch carefully that Lisa does not bump her into anything or approach the washing machine with its wringer and the boiling water.

Using the stick, I bounce the diapers up and down in the first rinse. I set the wringer sideways and put the diapers through to the second tub for the final rinse. I empty the washer using a special hose. I leave the diapers to soak. I take the children upstairs and change the baby, tidy the living room and other quick chores.  Then back down and place the wringer so that the diapers fall into the laundry basket as I feed them through.

If the children are with me in the basement, I must make two trips, one to get them up and a second to carry up the full basket.  Then comes the most nerve-wracking part of the day because I must leave the children to go outside and peg up the diapers. In the middle of the task, I run in to make sure they are all right. I often do this two or three times.

Once the diapers are outside on the line, I feel I can breathe.  I retrieve the stroller and take both children outside.  If we have no invite for coffee I might take them to the near-by playground and push Lisa on the swing.  Often, I go to a neighbour’s and we drink instant coffee. Most of the women present light up a cigarette. No food is ever served but the children are sometimes given a cookie or a piece of apple.  For a half hour, the children play together and we women gather around the kitchen table to complain about our husbands or describe, in detail, our housework routine. This is the only time we can speak about our occupation. Our husbands, for the most part, are not interested and housework is not something that can be brought up in casual conversation elsewhere. We never discuss sex or money or anything intimate.  We all have a weekly housework schedule except Edith who rarely does housework and sleeps with the children during their afternoon nap. 

I am lucky.  My husband seldom comes home for lunch.  I make the children sandwiches and Campbell’s soup and then prepare for my daily housework which has not yet begun. I also have to plan the dinner which is to be served around five o’clock because my husband often has some sort of sports activity in the evening.

Monday. Task – clean downstairs. After lunch, I do up the dishes.  I vacuum and dust the downstairs and scrub the kitchen floor on my hands and knees.  Once the linoleum is dry I spread on the liquid wax using a cloth. I seldom wax the hardwood in the living room even though it is quite worn. Many women strip the hardwood once a month, replace the paste wax and polish with an electric polisher.  I tend to avoid this task as long as I can.  I put the children down for their nap about 1:30. They both sleep for an hour, seldom longer. This gives me time to complete the daily task. If the day is fair, the diapers might be dry and I can bring them in before they wake up.  I pile the diapers roughly into the laundry basket to fold after supper. If there is any extra time, I clean something in the kitchen: the cutlery drawer or the top of the stove.

When the children wake, I change the baby and bring both downstairs while I start supper.  Because I am on a tight budget, I make a lot of casseroles from scratch.  Unlike some wives, I do not make my own bread but my husband likes dessert and I make something sweet about three times a week: cookies, a cake mix or a pie. I try to start supper no later than three-thirty so all is ready when my husband arrives. I like to have the cooking utensils and pots and pans either soaked or cleaned before supper.  This means fewer dishes after.  Occasionally I make very simple suppers such as hamburgers or beans with wieners but my husband dislikes these “picnic meals” as he calls them.  Nevertheless, they work for busy days.

When he comes in, he goes immediately upstairs and changes into jeans.  (Later I’ll hang up his suit which he leaves on the bed.)  I serve everybody and almost always sit and eat.  Some of the women on the court never sit down for a meal but serve and clean as the family eats. I am not in favour of this; to me it seems servant-like. After supper, my husband often goes out to play sports but sometimes he plays with the children or reads them a story.  He is often cross about the toys strewn around the living room but I never put them away until the children are in bed. I do the dishes, wipe the counters and sweep the floor.

I bathe the children and get them into their sleepers.  While my husband reads a bedtime story or plays with them, I pick up his clothes in our bedroom and then go down and tackle the toy mess in the living room.

Every evening, I fold diapers at the kitchen table.  After my husband puts the kids to bed, he reads the newspaper and watches sports on TV.  I often go upstairs for a bath, change into a nightie, climb into bed and read. Again, husband gets cross. Why don’t I sit in the loving room and watch sports with him? I do read the paper for a while but then I leave after trying my best to explain I do not like sports and cannot read with the TV on.

Tuesday. Task-clean upstairs. This is an easy day and often there is time for a walk to the playground.  My Tuesday afternoon task is to vacuum and dust the upstairs and scrub out the bathroom.  I set the child fence as a barrier across the stairs and let the kids help or play around in the bedrooms.  Sometimes I give them their bath in the afternoon on Tuesday. Once in a while, I also vacuum the basement. Tuesday is a good day to make something time-consuming like spaghetti sauce which can be heated up on dreaded Wednesday.  On Tuesday evening, I set a cookie sheet in the fridge and turn on the defroster. (the fridge has a small freezer which, in a week, is covered with ice crystals well over an inch thick. It takes about 16 hours to defrost).   I also spread Easy Off inside the oven.  I fold the diapers as usual and head to bed.

Wednesday. Task – fridge and stove. I empty the freezer tray in the morning as well as the other tray I have set in there to catch water.  I always get water over the floor.  In the afternoon, I remove everything from the fridge and chip away at the ice, trying  to dislodge the big pieces.  I wait until the children are napping before cleaning the oven with the caustic oven cleaner.  I wash my hands well after I finish. After the last ice has been removed, I wipe out the fridge using several old towels and then wipe down the floor.  I wash the interior of the fridge and replace all the food.  I take all the cloths down to the basement and soak them in the scrub bucket. I will wash then with the other cleaning cloths and floor cloths at the end of the big laundry the next day.

Thursday. Task- family wash day.  I change our bed and Lisa’s bed and gather all the towels and dish towels etc.  I usually have a hamper full of clothes, the most important being my husband’s shirts.  I try to start very early and put on the alarm for six. The laundry takes all day starting with the diapers as usual but the water has to be changed before the shirts go in. I mix the starch and dip the collar and cuffs.  I am thankful that I do not have to boil starch anymore and can use a liquid product. I peg out the shirts carefully so there are as few wrinkles as possible.  I try to do all the clothes in this second wash. The third wash is for the sheets, towels and any remaining clothes.  Everything has to be sent through the wringer to be rinsed twice. Sometimes I do not get the last load (cleaning cloths) through the wringer until after dinner.  I put these on the basement line.  Often it is too late in the afternoon to put the sheets and towels outside, so I peg them out in the morning  with the diapers.

In the evening, after folding the diapers, I put away all the clothes that are dry and do not need ironing. (underwear, sleepwear etc).  I usually straighten out the children’s drawers and the linen closet as I go.

Friday. Task – Ironing. I set up the ironing board in the kitchen before lunch and start by sprinkling and rolling up all the clothes to be ironed. I let the rolls sit in the basket while I feed the girls and do the lunch dishes.  I am a swift and efficient ironer and can do a shirt in about 20 minutes so it takes over two hours for the shirts including interruptions such as putting the girls to nap etc.  I then iron the girls’ clothes and my clothes but, usually, by three thirty, I am still ironing and setting things on to cook at the same time.  In the evening, I fold the diapers, the sheets, dishtowels, face cloths, bath towels and put them and all the ironed clothes away.  I also make out my grocery list for the next day. I plan each meal carefully, always conscious of the lack of money and the need to save for the girls’ clothes and to put something aside for birthday gifts and Christmas. I have envelopes marked “clothes” and another marked “presents” tucked behind my cook books.  I try to add a few dollars each week but many times, I can add very little.

Saturday. Saturday is always up for grabs.  I never know until the last minute what my husband will agree to.  If I ask in advance, he always says, “wait and see how I feel.” By this, he means to wait until he has arranged his schedule for his various sports and games.  If he decides we will to go out on Saturday evening, I have to find a sitter, often at the last minute.

Saturday morning, husband wants a big breakfast. Sometimes he is off to his sports at once.  Sometimes I can arrange a hair appointment and he will drive me there and look after the girls. However, I can never count on him, and I have had to cancel more than one appointment at the last minute.

But if I am home, and I usually am, I launder diapers feeling a bit downcast.  On Saturday, we wives never get together for coffee and I miss the friendly conversation.  

Usually, my husband arrives home for lunch and, after I do the lunch dishes, I pack up the kids into the car and he drives us to the Supermarket.  I try to convince him to take the kids for a ride while I get the groceries because he has a tendency to throw things into the basket, often food stuffs he will never eat.  Grocery shopping can be quite tense.  I have the food money for the week in my envelope marked “food” and I have no extra.  I buy the cheapest of everything—shampoo, soap, toilet paper and the ingredients for the meals. I never buy candy, pop or any treats but I try to buy healthy snacks like celery, apples, bananas and so on.  The high cost of meat is my despair.  I make many casseroles using ground beef but my husband likes steaks and roasts and I try to factor in one such meal a week.

On one of these shopping trips, I receive a wonderful surprise.  The supermarket has added a rack of paper-back books.  Getting something to read is my biggest challenge. The neighbouring women seldom read a book and so have none to lend.  The library is over 10 kilometers away and I have to beg, every Saturday, that we drive there so I can get books.  Husband usually gives in, pulls up in front and says, “You have fifteen minutes,” and I run.  I dare not go over the time because he might not drive me the next week. 

But here, in the supermarket, in front of me, are books for sale. I sometimes buy a magazine but, on this momentous day, I chose a book instead.  I am elated to realize I can buy a book every week. On those weeks when I can’t get to the library, I will always have something to read.  And re-read if necessary.  Soon I am buying two books a week and feeling not the least bit guilty because my husband spends a fortune on sports equipment: tennis, golf, basketball shoes, baseball gloves, skates for hockey, team uniforms and of course the beers afterwards with the guys.

Saturday night we often go out. The club offers Saturday dances or bridge nights or bingo.  I sit with the same group of women that I see at coffee most days of the week but now we sit in dresses and heels, instead of stained tops and baggy old slacks.  We hardly recognize each other.  Dianne always looks good.  Edith, the world’s worst housekeeper, (she simply refuses to cook and serves her kids cornflakes for supper), looks sloppy and is soon drunk.  Alice’s hands are shaking more than ever.  Soon she will go away for a cure, a nervous breakdown as they called it then.  When I get up in the middle of the night for one of the girls, I will no longer see her light on at two in the morning as she sews for her four kids.  Suzanne wears a high collar to hide her bruises.  Sometimes,  late in the evening, when I am still in the kitchen, writing a letter to my mother, or dreaming over the Eaton’s catalogue, I hear her scream from the house next door or I hear a thump as if he has shoved her against the furniture.

Sunday. Like Adam and Eve, I rest on Sunday.  Husband is always off to sports and I take the kids to the playground and let them stay as long as they like.  In the afternoon, I do the traditional Sunday dinner, the meat and potatoes my husband loves.  It takes me over an hour to clean up.  But then, I console myself with the thought that I have a new book, purchased yesterday at the supermarket.  I sweep the floor, check the girls are asleep, take my bath, jump into bed and reach under my pillow for a book which is quite different from the paper-back novels I usually buy.  It is hard cover and non-fiction.

It is called The Feminine Mystique.

 An Open Seat by Amy Avis

I can’t say that I had a moment of awakening into feminism at a particular time or as a result of a particular event. Most of my identity as a feminist came from a desire to emulate my mother – a strong, smart woman of her generation who, to me, embodies the drive, strong sense of self and refusal to be bound by conventions that typifies what I understand to be a feminist. So I strove to develop the qualities exhibited by my mother and the other strong female role models in my life — my teachers, professors and other mentors.

It was not until later that I came to realize that being a young — I am in my early twenties — strong, assertive female, who strives to further social justice in the small ways, makes me a feminist and that this might not be perceived positively by others.  I have met with certain adversity and, surprisingly, much of the negativity I faced originated from other young women.Most women of my generation have not been confronted with the need to make a socio-political choice, to be a “feminist” or not. Young women like me who attend university, and who may not be a visible minority, are not as overtly confronted with the gender inequality experienced by women of past generations. Perhaps this is why the thought of self-identification as a feminist does not occur to many of us, and when asked if we are a feminist, social conventions and the desire to conform drive us away from the idea of fighting for gender equality.

As a female studying law this worries me. In many of my law school classes, filled with intelligent, driven and educated women, many roll their eyes, or scoff and refuse to be identified as “one of them” when introduced to feminist approaches to, and framing of, legal issues. I believe that feminism has become the ultimate “F-word” in many social and academic circles. I often find myself struggling to decide if I should vocalize my feminist opinions since they seemingly have become socially unacceptable, especially in the presence of young men. I find it difficult to muster the courage to speak my mind when I know that it changes others’ opinion of me – often for the worse. And I am embarrassed to admit that sometimes I keep silent to avoid being labelled ‘that type of girl’.

We young women need to examine our unwillingness to identify as a ‘feminist’ or to align with the feminist movement. I think it is important to remind ourselves that we have been afforded the luxuries of education and opportunity, which should not be taken for granted. We need to consider that when we, as young women, refuse to identify as feminists or mock ideas of feminism, we disrespect the women of the past and present who faced and continue to be confronted with persecution for this identification. We disrespect the women who fought for us to be considered ‘persons.

We need to respect and honour their perseverance and dedication rather than refusing to align ourselves with them. We must honour and respect their sacrifices, and the adversity they faced, instead of mocking it for the sake of conformity.  Only with appreciation for the strides of the women who came before us can we truly understand where we stand. Knowing where we stand, we can better appreciate what faces us, what we should be striving for, and then how to live and work in order to achieve those goals.

Sexism is truly a global issue, which transcends borders and intersects with colour, race, class, sexual orientation and age. Though  young Canadian women  may have the luxury of ignoring small sexist comments or veiled discrimination, these same attitudes are realized in much more brutal and horrific acts on women throughout the world, manifested in a violent way in the rapes of women in Darfur and the Congo  — their bodies are a battlegrounds upon which war is waged.

So I believe that I and other young women of my generation, specifically those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy higher education, are charged with a duty. We young feminists are charged with a task.

There was one moment of awakening for me as a feminist: Constance Backhouse, described to our first year Criminal Law class at Ottawa University the Women Are Persons! monument created by artist Barbara Paterson and located at Parliament in Ottawa. The monument depicts the Famous Five and serves as a landmark of the gains made in women’s rights and the democratic triumph accomplished by these trailblazing women. Prof. Backhouse pointed out that the sculpture comprises a sixth and empty seat left that beckons the viewer to interact with the other five women.  The sculpture with its empty seat is a stirring symbol for young women. The open seat among next to the incredible women heroes of 1929 serves not only as an invitation, but also a demand, a call to action firmly and forever transfixed in stone.

Amy Avis is a law student in the English Common Law program at the University of Ottawa. She is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario with an Honours Specialization in Media, Information and Technoculture. Amy looks forward to furthering feminist and social justice goals and objectives in her practice of law.

Posted September 1, 2010

Growing Into Feminism by Megan Reid

My parents are farmers, and they raised me as a feminist.  While they would not have used that word back then – it wasn’t exactly de rigueur in our blue-collar town, or on our farm – and they were not overtly political about it, they espoused women’s equality in their own way, and promoted positive change, by example.  When it came time for me to identify as a feminist, I initially decided against calling myself a feminist.  It wasn’t until I began university and saw feminism’s true beauty through the eyes of others that I recognized that feminism had been nurturing me all along, and realized that feminism was one of my aspirations. 

I was born in 1983, in the small agricultural town of Leamington, Ontario, and of two very different parents: a father, a white-Anglo-protestant farmer whose family had harvested from the same land for generations, and a mother, an immigrant from Lebanon, who, along with her large family, came to a new land with hopes for a better life.

My parents met in the late 1970s, in Leamington. Even though they’ve been married for 30 years now, some people still refer to them as “the farmer who married the Lebanese girl.” The prospect of a “mixed” marriage in our small town did not deter my parents, who were guided by their own moral compass, despite the resistance of others. 

My parents taught me to appreciate the gifts inherent in peoples’ diversity, never to belittle people, and to find solutions.  My parents look very different from one another, they have vastly distinctive cultures, they were raised in different religions, and they take different approaches to nearly everything. The women on my mother’s side never bought anything unless it was on sale, and ate pita bread with every meal.  The women on my father’s side spent hours quilting and made salads with mandarin oranges and marshmallows.  Thankfully, I was a curious child, and found the diversity among my family members to be both interesting and entertaining, and I enjoyed eating whatever people fed me – it was an easy fit.

The second thing my parents did to prepare me for life as a feminist was that they valued equality, and taught me to change that which was unfair. 

Cuddled securely in my mother’s warm embrace as a child, I recall being struck by my mother’s comment, out of the blue, that she wished she could protect me from all the terrible things in the world. I had no idea what my mother was talking about. My life consisted of school and playtime on the farm with my two sisters.  I loved school and when I wasn’t there, I spent my days collecting tadpoles from our ditch, kicking around chewed-up soccer balls with our dog Muffin, building forts with old sheets and tall furniture in our basement, and organizing musical performances with my sisters.  The world was my oyster!

I was coached on how to address issues that were important to me.  For example, my Lebanese grandmother, a food-lover who was always giving her grandchildren goodies, always carried hard candies in her pocket.  One spring afternoon, after eating candy during a walk together, my grandmother littered the wrappers.  The shiny wrappers were caught by the breeze, and floated away almost instantly. I was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a dolphin flanked by the words “Save the Dolphins”, and while the shirt was many sizes too big for me and unflattering as could be, it was my favourite. My grandmother, sensing that I was upset by her littering, reassured me that the tiny wrappers were already gone, evaporated, and that there was nothing to worry about. But all I could imagine were our pretty wrappers drifting into my dolphin’s beak, and the adorable dolphin suffocating and dying so senselessly.  Still tormented by the potential death of the dolphin that I had set-out to protect, and overwhelmed by the fact that my grandmother, whom I had always imagined was all-knowing and wise, had put the life of dolphins at risk, that night I told my mother what my grandmother had done.  My Reid grandparents, like most of their country neighbours, burned their garbage – surely no dolphins were harmed by this, I thought – why did my Lebanese grandmother choose to litter?  My mother encouraged me to address the problem with my grandmother, emphasizing that I should do so respectfully and without hurting my grandmother’s feelings, and I heeded to her advice.  I realized that authority figures, were not perfect, but could be respected anyway.  I also realized that despite being an awkward kid in a t-shirt, I could promote positive change.  I’m happy to report that I haven’t seen my grandmother litter since that time. 

As I moved farther outside the shelter of my parents’ home, I began to see inequality first-hand. I was devastated when I discovered that girls could not be altar servers at our church.  Before I knew it, thanks to my mother’s intervention, and a receptive parish priest, that problem was fixed.  My mother was a courageous and tireless ally in resolving inequality in my world, reinforcing my view that once barriers were discovered, they could only come down.

As a child and adolescent, I was idealistic and optimistic. I truly believed that I could achieve whatever I wanted if I put my mind to it.  I had no reason to believe otherwise, and I had the backing of both my parents, who were both very encouraging.  This is one of the great victories of feminism.  Like many young women of my generation, I did not feel the sting of inequality.  Sure, I felt a little pinch from time to time, but overall, I simply coasted on the hard work done by other women, sailing easily to wherever I wanted to go.  My experience also illustrates one of the biggest hurdles for feminism.  Many women of my generation, those who have had the buffer of privilege to protect them throughout their lives, are oblivious to the stifling impact inequity has on other women.

It was not until university that I began to describe myself as a feminist, but even there, I got off to a bit of a rocky start:  It was my first semester at the University of Ottawa and I was studying health science.  I was about to receive a youth’s Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.  On the eve of the award ceremony, I felt compelled to reassure my friends, in no uncertain terms, that although I was receiving the award, commemorating women’s equality, I was certainly not a feminist.  I had never known anyone who self-identified as a feminist.  I’m not sure how, exactly, but I had adopted the opinion that feminists were heartless, bitter, and vicious women, the type who would harm a dolphin without a good reason. 

The awards ceremony was a pivotal moment for me in that I saw, for the first time in my life, and through the eyes of the other recipients and the participants of the ceremony, feminism as it truly is – humane, progressive, and wonderful.  We were celebrating feminism and I was struck with the realization that it seemed like something we truly ought to celebrate.  Moved by this recent discovery, I enrolled in a women’s studies course beginning the following semester.  That course changed the trajectory of my life in a positive way. Knowledge is power, and I am indebted to my professor for the gifts she has given me, for inspiring me to be a better feminist.

Feminism was always in me – my parents planted that seed – and feminism protected and benefited me even when I didn’t have the ability to recognize it by naming it, and did little to nurture it.  It’s a work in progress, and while the I still find the t-shirt to be too big for me, I’m confident I’ll grow into it one day.

Megan Reid practices labour and human rights law in Toronto.  She is involved in social justice initiatives and volunteers with LEAF — the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, and CRIAW — the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.  She enjoys bicycling and visits to her hometown of Leamington, Ontario.

Posted September 1, 2010