I have spent most of my life avoiding thinking about whether or not I am a feminist. My earliest ideas about my place in the world as a young lady were informed by my high school’s mission statement. “Women in time to come will do much,” we were told. These words were emblazoned around the school on glossy pamphlets, on stained glass windows, underneath hallway art and in the diaries that we carried to Home Economics class. It was here, after flooding the kitchen, baking cupcakes that were consistently too dry and, finally, sewing through my own finger that I was told with great seriousness, “Your husband is going to need to be very tolerant.”
And so, full of teenage spite, I arced up, dedicated a year to topping that class and then having proved a point that makes even less sense in hindsight, promptly forgot about the entire thing. I went to university where feminists were known to me as the women I saw around campus who didn’t shave their armpits, or wear bras, or read anything except for terrifyingly dense texts about this movement I understood nothing about. I avoided these women in the same spirit that I avoided the philosophy students who did not wear shoes or nutrition students who only wore track pants. Having had no greater injustice inflicted upon me than having been told that my place was in the kitchen, but only if that kitchen was supervised at all times, feminism was something I thought did not apply to me.
In subsequent years I have been called a sexist because I co-curate an event that celebrates women. I have also been told by a woman that this same event degrades females because it raises money for neglected animals. I had, I was informed, entirely missed “the importance of genuinely celebrating women’s voices.”
This was the reason, I realised, that feminism, at least as I had encountered it, does not seem relevant to me. It has rules. Qualifiers. Hundred-year-old mottos that I am meant to apply to my own life. Celebrating women’s voices is an admirable pursuit, but not if this celebration assists in the care of abandoned animals. Women in time may well come to do much, but only if these women know how to correctly use a sewing machine. Or, presumably, if they have very tolerant husbands.
Michaela McGuire co-curates and hosts Women of Letters. Her first book, Apply Within: Stories of career sabotage, was published by MUP last year.
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