A feminist’s growth at Macalester

When I was called a feminist my junior year of high school, I was shocked, upset and embarrassed. To me, a feminist was a crunchy granola, Birkenstock-wearing, unshaven bra-burner of the 70s. In her bygone era she (because logically men could not be feminists), of course, was important. For a kid of the 90s she was an inflammatory disruption when all I could comfortably commit to was “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” As an academically driven student involved in student government and athletics, I understood and valued my right to vote, attend school, and participate in activities originally limited to men. However, while I also knew gender inequality persisted, to identify as an advocate against injustice or speak out against sexism within my own school was far beyond my comfort zone.

I brought these feelings with me to college. On my first day of class at Macalester, one of my professors asked each of us to share a special fact about ourselves. Another first-year student in my class nonchalantly mentioned she started a feminist website in high school and I was immediately overcome with embarrassment on her behalf. I furtively glanced around the room, hoping she would be spared the eye rolls and suppressed giggles I anticipated. Nobody reacted (looking back, everyone else had probably created an activist website) and the introductions continued. For me, however, it was a first, quiet step toward a new perspective and identity that stemmed from empowerment.

Now, a month from graduation, it is strange to look back on that strong but simultaneously timid young woman. In some respects, I am ashamed that I lacked the courage to proudly say, “I am a feminist and I think everyone should identify as a feminist.” However, a larger part of me is overwhelmed by pride and gratitude for all Macalester gave me. The classes and lectures we attend expose us to the complex, troubled, and ongoing story of our struggle for a more just and equitable world. Our relationships with faculty and staff give us the support we need to muddle through a confusing haze of theory, politically-correct language and controversy. Greatest of all, our peers inspire us to be the best possible versions of ourselves.

From my beautiful, fierce, bench-pressing family of Mac’s soccer team to the unfamiliar young men engaged in a light-hearted but sincere debate about the best role models (Michelle Obama versus Wangari Maathai versus Amy Poehler) outside the Campus Center, I am continually impressed by our student body. I have never experienced another community as respectful, engaged and loving as Macalester and for that reason I am apprehensive about next year and where I might land. However, I know that you all, my Macalester, have given me the confidence and skills I need to be an agent of change. Because of you, I am a feminist. More importantly, I also know that within the class of 2017 there will be at least one young woman who will find a new, beautiful and empowering part of her identity because of the wonderful people on this campus.