The Fires of Feminism
We wound our way along the fence, through the gate, and down the path towards the gazebo. It was dark, and the midwestern snow was either melting or about to fall again, I don’t quite remember. We hushed each other loudly, giggling through the proposed weightiness of this sacred trek, feeling the rush of something truly avant garde.
We were really doing this.
It was silly, we knew, but serious enough to get us all out of dorm rooms or the library that night. This was our show of commitment to The Cause, the thing that we absolutely had to do as a grand public statement, cementing our place in the line of the devoted champions.
Of course, we made our grand public statement with no fanfare, no publicity, at night, sneaking out to the park, wearing layers of tanks and baggy sweatshirts and coats that would hide our lack of undergarments. We didn’t have protest signs. We would only refer to that night in smirks across cafeteria tables, through layers of inside jokes on Facebook walls, and in common acronyms. It was the most secret of social rebellions.
“What did you bring?” someone asked. “Are we really doing this?”
Someone else pulled out a few pages of printed lines and read aloud, I have no idea what or by whom, about sisterhood or equality or freedom. I’m sure it was something that, as a bunch of millennial middle class white girls attending a private college in America, we probably didn’t really understand.
But it felt like we were screaming truth that night. It felt like we mattered.
I set out the small metal trash can I had grabbed from my dorm room. Even in the freezing cold, it wasn’t worth the risk of burning down a gazebo. Our goal was solidarity, not destruction. We huddled around the picnic table like it was an altar.
The girls held up their trophies: a couple of old, gigantic satin bras from a thrift store and a faded cotton sports bra with the elastic stretched to uselessness.
Nobody was actually burning their real bras. This was all symbolic ritual. Besides, we were too frugal to go around destroying clothes we actually needed. We were in college. We were Feminists, not idiots.
Someone lit the printed words first, because trying to light a bra on a windy, freezing night is more difficult than you’d think. We were gleefully reenacting the grand myths of our cause, but it was slightly unsatisfying when it took that many matches.
Someone else suggested a song, but we didn’t really know any feminist songs, except for maybe a Carly Simon chorus.
Those scraps of fabric finally started burning well, the polyester fibers casting out light and all of our bold pronouncements at the injustice of the world. We stared for a brief moment at our success.
The flames blossomed.
“Oh my gosh!” someone shrieked. “THE TRASH CAN IS ON FIRE!”
We panicked as the paper and fabric and now the painted
inside of the trash can itself flamed up a few feet. It my mind, it was
shooting straight for the roof of the gazebo, sure to torch the roof, the
picnic table, the park beyond, and my position as a Resident Assistant, if not
my entire academic career. I was positive we would die from inhaling the toxic
paint smoke, all because I had attempted to contain our rebellion in the most responsible
but poorly thought out way possible. Feminism was suddenly a very serious
commitment and one I wasn't sure I wanted to handle.
Finally, someone jumped up and kicked the trashcan off the table. With a few more kicks, it landed upside down, smothering the flames and my panic.
It was out.
We squealed at our recklessness, discussed our shock and the
humor in the situation, examined the bent and charred metal bucket, and swore
each other again to secrecy. And then we went back down the path, out the gate,
and along the fence, returning to our rooms and studies.
It is a difficult thing to say I am a Feminist, and yet it is easy, the most natural and obvious thing in the world.
Maybe it is always like this, when we are naming our beliefs and ourselves. Maybe Feminism is important, a sacred sort of thing that matters immensely to those that came before us and will come after, but it is also a wildly funny process of trying things and having them flare up in our faces.
We wrestle, make pronouncements, and tell our stories, but
then we go back to living them. We light our fires and join hands and laugh at
how we turned this around, we are proving that we are more than bra burning
radicals by reading lines and burning bras. We take on all of the weight of the
Feminist label. We set things on fire. We stand with humans of all genders.
And then we put out the fires and return to the radical tasks of building careers, raising children, fighting depression, being healthy partners and safe friends, figuring out what we want to do right now and doing it, preaching truth, and learning to love those deepening smile lines in the mirror. We stand with humans of all genders in this, too.
This is why Feminism is important. This is why a conversation like Femisims Fest matters.
These posts this week prove to me that we could not even
name our Feminisms without the strength from our unique, every day stories. The things
we do, whether it’s learning about privilege, speaking up about injustice, practicing
mutual submission, advocating policy that is pro-women and pro-human, or
writing out the long, odd path of our own healing, these things matter. They matter
because we are doing them.
We engage the theoretical and historical images of Feminism, in all of the voting rights rallies and bra burnings and conversations about privilege, and we see all of the complexities of these things, and we simply live our lives.
Today's post is a part of Feminisms Fest, a synchroblog discussion on Feminism and Why It Matters. See other posts on this topic hosted by Danielle Vermeer today. Be sure to check out all the Feminism and Me links hosted by J. R. Goudeau and consider writing your own! We'll be on Twitter under #femfest