i wasn't always a feminist

My friend Hannah on her way to haul wood in Baxter State Park. 

I DIDN'T CALL MYSELF a feminist until mid-September 2007. I was 18, and had been automatically enrolled in my first college women’s studies course at the University of Maine. We sat in a circle on the first day, 15 women and our professor, and “checked in” — something that I had never in my life been asked to do.

“I feel scared when I have to walk to my dorm at night.”

“People call me anorexic because I’m thin.”

“Reading magazines makes me feel fat.”

I almost dropped the course. It wasn’t because I couldn’t empathize with these women, it was the sitting in a circle and the “talking about it” that made me feel uncomfortable. Like Bonnie Hunt in Jerry Maguire — having your girlfriends over to bitch, except it was a class.

I hadn’t yet tapped into how powerful a good bitch session could be.

Let me be clear, I didn’t grow up with some nasty, scowling connotation for the word “feminist.” I came from a pretty small town in Maine. There weren’t that many kids to play with. My mom was from there, my grandmother was from there — it was small. Feminism never really came up, to my adolescent knowledge at least.

As kids, we all bounced from house to house like one giant amoeba. We were a collective mass of snot and overalls with an unhealthy interest in road kill. It didn’t matter if you were a boy or if you were a girl, you could still play capture the flag.

Despite the fact that feminism had gone unnamed for most of my life, I stuck with that first Women’s Studies course and it turned out to be the most influential one I took in my entire college career. My professor was a slight woman, a two-time breast cancer survivor with a very detailed tattoo of a flower where her breasts used to be — I know, she showed it to us. Her name was Rhea. [read more]