Failing at Feminism

Written by Mindy Morgan

I had always assumed my feminism sprouted because of the Spice Girls, I was touting girl power and peace signs in mini-skirts and platform heels in elementary school. I always preferred them over the boybands. There was something fierce and wild about that group of 5 girls that resonated with me as a kid. But, after a lot of introspection I’m realizing my story isn’t about my admiration of Baby Spice, it’s much much deeper than that.

I grew up with the perfect cocktail of a fierce matriarchal mom, a quiet and sometimes distanced dad, a stepdad who is the exact opposite of my father and a stepmom who is the exact opposite of my mother, and being on the older end of the spectrum of six brothers.

I grew up in a relatively small town in New Jersey. I was privileged enough. I never wanted for anything. My parents worked hard and instilled those values in us as kids.

My failure as a feminist came in a lot of forms. Growing up with so many brothers, I’ve been privy to the “locker room talk” that exists amongst men.

“You’re just his sister, I can say this in front of you.” And they did. I’d hear how men talked about their friends, their girlfriends, each other’s mom, all of it. Instead of condemning their misogyny, I would condone it, even chime in at times. I would fail as a feminist, because deep down I didn’t want to be a woman.

For me, it wasn’t about wanting to be a man. It was about not wanting to betray my gender in order to fit in. I had two options, I either fiercely defend or submit to the behavior.

That tension is what brought me to my label as a feminist. There were times I’d get so angry at something I had to speak up. I remember one time at a party a group of men were yelling at a girl who was curled up in a corner crying. The men, my friends, were screaming sexual things and degrading her. She sat there and continued to cried.

And I broke in that moment. I told them to stop. And that’s when the “Oh, here we go, Mindy’s got something to say, the feminist.”

I didn’t do much that night besides say stop. And they didn’t. But I thought about how I was protected from that behavior in my town because of my brother. He was respected, and therefore I was protected - to some degree. And that ‘protection’ separated me from myself as a woman. In order to keep that ‘protection’ I had to be less admired, less feminine, and more like ‘one of the guys.’  But I am a woman, I want to be admired, I want to be feminine and I want to be one of the girls.

College freed me from that ‘protection.’ And in it came catcalls, sexual harassment, and even assault. And I failed at feminism again.

Because I grew up in a bubble of ‘protection’ against direct harassment, when I got served it, I felt empowered. I finally felt like I had my opportunity to be feminine, to be admired and to be one of the girls. The pendulum swung so far to the other side, I conflated that behavior with empowerment and feminism.

It was a step in the right direction, but I would accept the catcalls as compliments. I would smile when someone asked me to, because I was being recognized as a woman. I would partner with people I didn’t really want to, because I could. I told myself this is what confidence was.

But, I was failing at feminism. Empowerment is not sleeping with whoever we want to and being admired by strangers on the street. Empowerment lies in our choice to decide the value we bring to the world. That was not the value I wanted to bring to the world.

A step in the right direction.

Meeting my fiance in Austin taught me a new kind of failure in feminism. He has chosen me to be his partner because of my independence and strength. He is a gem of a human.

But, there are times I’ve devalued myself as a creative in order to lift him up. “He’s my sugar daddy,” I’ll say. But I work just as much, have just as much ambition and bring equal value to our relationship. We’re each other’s sugar in this salty world, if you will.

And in thinking about my role as a future wife and possible mother, I need to decide the value I bring into the world.

And that’s where my success in feminism finally comes in.

I needed to sit in the shame of my label as a feminist. I asked my mom once, “what made you raise a feminist?” She sort of chuckled at me, “I don’t know, Mindy, it was never an intention of mine.”

My mom chose her life. She knew divorcing my dad would be difficult, but it’s what she had to do for herself. My parents didn’t get divorced because one is a bad person and the other is good (that narrative needs to stop, it’s literally crushing children of divorce).

And because of that, I don’t hate men. I don’t think all women should choose career over family. I don’t believe women shouldn’t wear makeup and do what they want to feel beautiful.

What I do believe in is the choice. I should not be shamed because of my femininity, I should not be shamed for my ambition, and I sure as hell should not feel shame for my beauty. It is failing at all that and sitting in the shame that taught me how to truly live as a feminist and support all women around me.

My success at feminism is knowing the value I bring into the world and allowing that to shine through my work and my personal life. Because of that success I’ve been able to feel true gratitude and love for myself and my accomplishments.

What value do you want to bring into the world?

Photo by  Des Magness

Photo by Des Magness

Mindy is a storyteller and marketing professional based in Austin, TX. Her work is fueled by authenticity, honesty, creativity and girl power. Currently, Mindy works as Vuka Collective's marketing manager, where she heads up communication and marketing efforts for Gather Venues and Impact Hub Austin. 

She has experience working in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector where she managed visual communications and brand identity for one of Austin's leading charitable foundations. She's also lead communications for various nonprofit campaigns and programs like farmworker health access, building schools and water systems in Nicaragua, and education and resource opportunities for freelancers in the Austin area. 

Mindy lives in East Austin with her partner Omar, and their pretty amazingly awesome cat Bean. 

Chelsea Francis