As the only child in a middle-class Christian Republican family, its an understatement when I say that I was very sheltered growing up. Both of my parents have very strong personalities and opinions, so being confronted with an opinion differing from theirs (especially when it involves politics) usually ends in some sort of confrontation. Being the type of Republicans that watch FOX news every single morning without fail, my parents can sometimes be closed off to more progressive/ liberal ideas. Despite this, my first experiences with feminism were with my parents, especially my mom. My mom has had the biggest influence on my life because she passed on her love of reading to me. When I was a kid, she would read to me every night, and later when I could read on my own she encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on. Both of my parents pushed me to work hard at everything I attempted to do, especially when it came to school. Although the word feminism was never really mentioned in our house, I grew up being told that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. My mom would also tell me that it was important that I go to college and get a job so that I could become self-sufficient and never have to rely on a man to support me.
Despite this early empowerment/support, my family believed that being a woman came with certain rules. Most of these rules had to do with the generic stereotypes of what girls “should” like. I was taught that girls are supposed to like things like the color pink, flowers, dresses, and shopping. As a kid, I can remember my mom dressing me up in cute little dresses, curling my hair (which I hated because she used these foam rollers that I had to sleep in), and then completing the look with little matching bows. My childhood room was saturated in pink, frills, and flower prints. Other rules had to do with behavior, like girls should be sweet, polite, not argue (I was quite an opinionated child), and should care about their appearances. I didn’t like it, but being a kid I thought this was normal.
Throughout middle school and high school, I went through a little bit of a rebellious phase. I loved the color black, wore jeans and hoodies almost everyday, and was deathly allergic to flower prints. Needless to say, my parents did not like this change. This created some conflict in our family, but I can be really stubborn. I couldn’t understand why I had to force myself to conform to their image of how I should be just because I was a girl. My pet peeve was when my dad would tell me to smile, especially if we were out in public. He would constantly tell me to smile or that I would look prettier if I would just smile. Not only did it make me angry because I felt like I shouldn’t have to smile when I didn’t want to or feel like it, but it also made me feel like there was something wrong with me.
Before college, feminism was not a big part of my life. I vaguely knew what it was, but it felt like a distant part of history. I was all for the empowerment of women, but I thought that the movement was over and women had already gained equality. This view completely changed when I switched my major to English (before that I was a Pre-Vet and then a Biology major). My first introduction to feminist literature was Helene Cixous and “The Laugh of the Medusa”. When I first read the essay, I had no idea what she was saying. In class, when the professor wanted us to discuss what we thought about the piece, I honestly had no opinion. Even after the essay was explained to me, I didn’t know what to think. Later, I took a Critical Theory coarse that touched on some feminist writing, but it wasn’t until I took a class called Feminisms and Rhetoric that I became really interested in feminist literature. This was also when I became aware that feminism was not just about women gaining the right to vote, and how feminism was connected to other factors like race. This class not only helped me understand feminism better, but forced me to become aware of how privileged I was and why feminism is still important today.
I wanted to take this class for a couple of reasons. After taking that Feminisms and Rhetoric class, I became interested in feminist writings. But instead of focusing on the rhetoric, I wanted to learn and discuss more feminist theories. I also feel that although I’ve gained more knowledge on feminist literature there is still a lot that I don’t know. Plus, after the recent election, I think it’s important now more than ever for me to have a better understanding of feminist theory just so that I can have a better informed opinion and fully understand how people’s rights are being threatened. The other reason I wanted to take this class is that I think reading and discussing more feminist theories will help me write and develop my thesis, which focuses on early Japanese feminism.