Accidental Feminist

I often wonder how I got here.

I don’t believe my parents intentionally raised me to be a feminist, but here I am, an advocate for gender equality. I know the organization closest to my family’s heart—the Catholic church—certainly did not want me to become this. I remember being five years old with my hands outstretched, reciting word-for-word the priest’s lines as he broke the bread and blessed the cup. I don’t remember if I wanted to be up at the altar, but at five years old, I thought I could be. I hadn’t put two-and-two together that a woman would never be allowed to break the bread or bless the cup. I don’t remember when I realized that those who exude influence on countless lives and votes only seem to value the cis gender male perspective.

I don’t know when I “snapped” or woke up from my trance. I often feel broken because stepping away from the Church also meant a division with my immediate family. I don’t know when it happened, but I finally broke the connection. Maybe it was the time I questioned the religion teacher about why we had to report on the good deeds we did every week. Why must goodness be matched with glory? Maybe it was the time a different religion teacher asked a follow-up question as my classmates recited anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, showing me that, maybe, room existed for equality within the congregation. Maybe it was the time the Bishop outright stated that “Women must be more saintly than men because it’s a woman’s responsibility to get ‘her man’ to Heaven.” Hell, I can barely take care of myself. I will not claim dominion over anyone else’s soul.

This is not to discredit the value or healing power of spirituality, but it is to call into question the unchecked power institutionalized sexism has. I wonder what my younger brothers have learned from the same institution that I feel betrayed me, and I wonder if my sister will learn to value herself despite the odds. I wonder how I got here. What lessons did my parents teach me that gave me the ability to see past the propaganda? Because for every lesson that told me that my role in life is to be a mother, I also learned how to question and see myself outside of the seemingly predetermined path.

I believe the greatest lesson my parents taught me was to value education, and I thank them eternally for that. I was pushed to study and read, and luckily, I enjoyed it for the most part. At the same time, I was encouraged to travel and explore the world, which I also believe helped me realize that my worldview needed a shake up. My family also taught me that being happy and valued is more important than money, but I now question how true that sentiment was. Trump’s assent to power has been attributed to white, middle class’s belief that their pocketbooks are too empty. It seems that the pocketbook is actually more important than women, minorities, and people with disabilities feeling valued and safe in this country.

My feelings are not unique. Many young women are upset and saddened that those who raised them love them as daughters, but do not see the damage that misogyny, condescension, and support of a man who openly discusses having sexually assaulted women has. If it was only one man, he could be written off as incompatible with this country’s values, but when larger institutions, including the Catholic Church, ingrain these inequities into society’s psyche and make them appear acceptable, it’s impossible not to blame those who fail to protest and condemn such practices.

Trump’s election and its fallout is personal because it feels like an overwhelming number of people have voted against my body autonomy and the right for many of my friends to exist comfortably in their own skin. I haven’t asked my parents who they voted for because I’m afraid to know. I’m afraid to know if I am, in my parents’ eyes, an accident. I’m afraid to know if they are disappointed that they are responsible for someone who is an intersectional feminist because I do not ascribe to the Church’s antiquated gender beliefs.

I disagree with the Church’s decision to exclude women from its highest ranks and its failure to recognize the legitimacy of marriage equality. I am not okay with these and other inequities that the Church promotes, and in that vein, I may not be the daughter that my parents wanted. I needed to step away from the patriarchy of the Church in order to find my best self. Even if I’m an accident, I am not a failure.

Because in the end, I chose which lessons to carry with me. It’s not up to our churches, teachers, or parents; it’s up to us to determine the lesson’s worth, question the narrator, and look past the surface of the story to see what’s hidden. I saw the Church’s patriarchy in action and for some time believed in its dogma with a child’s trust. Yet the more I read novels about women who smashed traditions and the more I studied the history of women’s rights, the more I realized that the messages telling women to submissively bear and serve were designed to keep women relegated to society’s background. I learned about the brutalities and heartbreak of racial oppression, poverty, and lack of access to proper healthcare.

Somewhere between high school and college, I became a feminist. Maybe it was by accident, but it’s not an accident that I plan to give up.