— Owning the F Word

One fight with my sisters changed the way I thought about feminism

My road to feminism was circuitous. Like so many of us girls, for most of my adolescence, I thought “feminism” was a bad word. I didn’t truly understand why, but I knew that most people scoffed at the term and so I discarded it, confused as to what I truly believed. It took me until college and adulthood to fully understand and embrace the term, and even longer until I felt knowledgeable and confident enough to express what I believed.

When I finally did express it, I was sometimes met with dissent from the two people I’m closest to: my older sisters. Having two older sisters taught me that feminism is built on a foundation of sisterhood and that supporting other women is necessary for feminism to work, especially when you disagree with other women.

I always thought that a woman changing her name when she gets married is a clear-cut sign of the negative effects of the patriarchy. “I have a name,” I always thought, “why would I take someone else’s if that person isn’t expected to take mine? Why should I be expected to change my literal identity for a man?” I never understood the reasoning behind it until my older sisters got married themselves.

I asked them why they changed their names and really listened when they explained. They said things like, “I want to have the same last name as my children” and “I like the idea of having the same name as my husband and starting a new life as a new family with him.” Another said that she just liked the tradition, and that it was romantic to her. What struck me was that they held as strong an opinion as I did about the issue of name changing, and that it was completely opposite to mine. How can a sister judge a sister for doing what she thinks is right, what will make her happy?

My sisters and I are passionate, opinionated people who like to be heard. We tend to have these heated discussions and we end our “fights” in eye rolls and laughter and the agreement to disagree. These talks made me realize that if I were arguing these points with anyone other than my sisters, I would get super angry. Disagreeing with a stranger is so easy; dismissing someone else as ill-informed or just plain wrong is my instinct. But I can’t do that with my sisters, whose opinions I value. So I listen. I listen and discuss, and I learned to understand their views.

I learned that their opinions are valid, even though they’re not my own, and that they live their lives as they wish to, as independent women. They make informed choices about their lives that they know will make them happy, just as I do. Even though we disagree, I have learned to support them fiercely in whatever they choose to do, because it’s their choice and not mine. And I know that my sisters support me with the same ferocity. I also learned to second-guess snap judgments and to see the validity in other people’s choices, to sympathize with them and to try to see things in their perspective. I believe that disagreeing with my sisters taught me how to be a better feminist. I can respect other women’s opinions, and their right to choose their own paths, even if I disagree with.

I realized that there are probably many things I believe in that other feminists would disagree with. But, you know, disagreement can be a good thing, as long as there is a foundation of support and understanding.  Social change needs support; feminism needs sisterhood. From arguing with my sisters, I learned that disagreement opens a dialogue that allows for deeper understanding of those you disagree with, and for a closer bond among women who are ultimately all striving for one goal: the ability to choose for yourself what will make you happiest in life.

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