Why I am a feminist

If you asked my mother if she considered herself a feminist, she would probably say no.

"Me? A feminist?" she would say, "I just am who I am."

Whether or not my mother calls herself a feminist, she is the one who planted the seeds of feminism in my upbringing. As a child growing up in Maryland, my mom urged me to perform well in school so one day I could become a doctor or a lawyer or an astronaut. The whole world was ripe in my fingertips. When I told my mom that I wanted to become a pediatrician, she clasped her hands and smiled---a dream come true for a Chinese mother. A daughter with a stethoscope hanging around her neck.

Besides her frequent admonitions for me to "sit like a lady," my mother never pushed gender roles onto me. My brother and I were held to the same standard in our family. We both played piano and violin. We both had to do yard work. We both washed the dishes and vacuumed the floor. We both had to excel in school. I was never told that I couldn't do anything because I was a girl. Indeed, my mother would have balked if I chose anything less than a highly successful, straight-A existence.

In college, my feminism began to show itself in subtle ways. I wrote my history papers on the "It" girls of the Roaring Twenties and the noblewomen of medieval France (women who shook their respective spheres in quiet and raucous ways). Oftentimes I racked my mind over my future career---should I become a college professor or a museum curator? What graduate school should I attend? I had yet to identify myself with feminism, but it was peeking its head into my life in a variety of ways.

In fact, it reared its beautiful head one night during my junior year at BYU. I had been dating a guy for a few weeks when we randomly began to talk about parenting. Casually, my boyfriend remarked, "Well, I want my wife to stay at home." His comment made me blink hard, but I dumbly agreed with him because I was young and naive and this was my first real boyfriend. Not the pretend type that I had back in the sixth grade.

Once I returned to my apartment I told my roommate how much his remark had bothered me. Didn't his future wife have any say in the matter? It was as if he had made the decision for her even though he had yet to meet the girl. Deep inside my heart I knew that our relationship was doomed to fail. If my newfound boyfriend wanted to make career choices for his future wife, then I was certainly the wrong girl for him.

And yet, my feminism remained dormant until I graduated two years later. Ironically, it took a heartbreaking relationship to awaken the feminist dragon inside me. At the age of 22 I stood at a strange crossroads---either change my core beliefs to salvage my relationship or remain heartbroken with my integrity intact. Looking back now, the choice seems ridiculously and frustratingly simple but at the time I thought I was in love. (I was very stupid too.)

In my grief I turned to books for solace. Preferably non-fiction. I wanted tomes that were grounded in reality---in supposed facts---rather than the made-up worlds and characters of the fiction I had always preferred. I didn't want to read about love or people falling in love or people becoming disenchanted by love. Because I had too much of that in my own life.

One day my roommate Alexis, who had just started her Masters degree, lent me her copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. I carried the book to me to work everyday and fingered its pages every night before heading to bed. It was entrancing. I had always known about the injustices that women have encountered throughout history, but here was a book that provided a real voice to the agonizing plight that women---even modern women---have suffered from.

I was humbled. My mother had raised me in a world where my dreams could become a reality, where I could grow up to be a heart surgeon or a helicoptor pilot or a president of a country. I was raised to be a strong and independent woman yet I was becoming a jiggly pile of goo for my relationship. Billions of women before my birth had been forced to align with the sexist cultures and societies that they lived in---so why was I so willing to give up my very being to suit the tastes of an unremarkable man?

It was then when I finally embraced the word feminism. I embraced the works of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who pushed for women's suffrage. I embraced women like Betty Friedan who tirelessly worked for female advancement in the workplace. I embraced the all the women who opened the doors of education and opportunity for my generation.

I am a feminist today because I believe in equality. I believe in choice too---a woman's choice to dictate life on her own terms rather than on the rules and expectations of sexism and gender roles. I believe that the banner of feminism must be spread around the world to countries still wrapped in misogyny. To places where women cannot vote and cannot pursue an education. To places where women are still treated as property and chattel rather than as human beings.

On the surface, I may not look like our society's characterization of a feminist. I love to wear nice clothes and I have a penchant for high heels. I shave my legs and armpits. Oh, I'm married too. And did I mention I'm Mormon? But feminism isn't about raving lesbians who want to kill the entire male species. Feminism is about equality and it's about choice. Do some feminists take this ideology to the extreme? Of course. But their views shouldn't eclipse what lies at the heart of feminism---the empowering of women so they can stand as equals by their male counterparts.