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My dear daughter, you are a feminist, you just don’t know it. How awesome is that?
When I asked you the other night if you thought I was a feminist and you said “no,” you could have picked my jaw up off the floor. You acknowledged that I did advocate for women’s equality – in pay, in work, in control over our bodies, in speech, in advancement, in freedom to choose our life’s direction.
You just didn’t identify me, or yourself, with the term feminist. Your definition associated the word with radical ideas and methods, with raised voices, with placards and demonstrations and pink pussy hats and marches down the street.
There are battles we fight daily, my daughter; not all are angry or acknowledged or make the headlines. Sometimes we don’t recognize ourselves on the battlefield, but I need you to know that you have been one of the warriors.
When at 14 your butt was grabbed by a drunk man one night as you stood at the SeaBus terminal in jeans and a sweater waiting for your friends to catch up with you, you went to the transit police and reported him. You told them what happened, the grabbing, the mooning as you all followed him down the escalator and in loud voices berated him and his actions. Your friends stood by you. You all watched him get arrested and put in handcuffs. You were all questioned repeatedly and asked to describe the incident. You finally called me, two hours after I expected you to be home, and told me you were assaulted and that the police wanted to talk to me. My heart stopped. They told me it would be helpful if you could go to the police station and give an interview on video. I asked what you wanted to do. It was almost midnight and you were tired, but your brother and I came to get you and your friends, and we all drove out to the station so you could tell your story again, in detail, on camera, to a male police officer. I was in the room with you. You never flinched in graphically describing how a grown man had touched your behind, without consent and then thought showing you his bare backside was somehow further warranted. You never once excused him for “being drunk,” and when we were driving home and we talked about the long night and the process of the assault and the arrest, and the multiple interviews, your telling statement to me was: “They kept calling me a victim. I’m not a victim, Mom.”
When at 17 you were working the closing shift at your part-time job at a snack bar and you asked a colleague if he could put a load of dishes through the machine, he responded with: “Not unless you suck my dick.” It was late at night, on top of a mountain. I was on holiday, so I wasn’t there to talk to you. You didn’t need me anyway. You told your male boss about the incident and then had to repeat the encounter to his male boss and his male boss. There was a witness. When the young man was fired and your boss told you that you shouldn’t feel sorry about it, you came home and told me, “Why should I feel sorry?”
When you discovered you were good at math and physics and chemistry and the numbers of female science students declined, some of your friends among them, as you moved through high school and subject difficulty advanced – you stuck with it. You set your future goals to include something you wanted to do and were good at – hats off to your female Grade 8 math teacher for inspiring you.
When your male psychology teacher unexpectedly inquired, in front of the whole class, if you or your twin brother was smarter, it never occurred to you that there should be a distinction. You are both smart.
When you feel beautiful no matter what you wear; when you wear high heels and a dress because you want to and not because it’s expected; when you say you will pursue a career in engineering because it will provide financial choices and the lifestyle you want; when you invest your own money in shares of Apple and Facebook instead of the latest beauty cream or hair product; when you participate in soccer and rugby because you get to push back and come off the field sweaty but stronger; when you hike in the mountains without worrying about who might be lurking in the shadows; when you feel capable and skilled as a swim instructor and lifeguard; when you spend your own money to buy us dinner and treat your friends; when you wanted your license because you knew driving would give you freedom; when you count men among your friends and enjoy talking to them because you don’t see gender; when you don’t jump to empty our dishwasher, learn to cook or pick up after anyone but yourself….. these are all examples of your feminist battle cries.
Unlike me, I realized that you never needed a word – you already expect a full and enriching life, which includes all of the above and more. You have learned about my feminist struggles in our conversations and in my stories and reactions to implicit bias and male privilege. There have been many examples that I freely shared with you and your brother, often with humor and head shaking. These lessons have come from a single working mother in a field that is still, 30 years after I started in it, unequivocally male dominated.
You are a feminist…..you just didn’t know it.
Carry on, my daughter, carry on.
Cornelia Unger lives in North Vancouver.