Hello ladies and gentlemen. I do not want to alarm you, but today I've been given clearance to say a very, very bad word right here on the airways.
It is a word that I am sure we have all heard. Some of us are more liberal with its use, but many of us would not ever use it in polite conversation. It is a certain word that begins with an F and makes its frequent users feel powerful and in command- and makes those who oppose it writhe in disgust. I implore you- cover your children's ears so that they may not experience such profanity. All right, I've warned you. Here I go:
Wait, what? Isn't feminism supposed to be a good thing that helps people? Why does society roll its eyes at the mere mention? This is a question that I ask myself constantly. When I was invited to contribute a piece to this series, I struggled to decide what to write. So much could be explored and discussed. Then it hit me. Why not discuss feminism, known to some as the movement that must not be named.
I used to be uncomfortable identifying as a feminist. The consensus was, as I'm sure we've all heard, that a feminist was some insane, man-hating loony who never shaved and listened to Tori Amos. I can't remember ever thinking that feminists hated men, or believing any of the other stereotypes, but I do have a clear recollection in my mind of being afraid of what people would think of me or say about me if I told them I was a feminist.
How utterly ridiculous.
Like Hester Prinn I wandered through the town with a dark secret, afraid of being shunned or cast out.
I supported women's rights.
The condition was terminal. No cure in sight.
When I think back, it occurs to me that the reason for my trepidation was a lack of information- on my part and on everyone else's. I may have had the same values then as I do now about equality, but now I realize that I should never be ashamed of what I believe in. The misconceptions aren't gone. I no longer put any stock in them.
I'm reminded of a story here. When I was seven years old, my family drove from Macomb, Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was my first time traveling to the South that I could remember, and I noticed a strange phenomenon that, to this day, I've never shared with my parents.
I had heard in school that there was still some racism in the south, but it isn't something that a kid really dwells on. Besides that, the sights were gorgeous, the food was incredible, and for the most part the people were the picture of Southern Charm. Yet once or twice, I noticed a white person looking at me and my family and just staring, or even frowning. I'd never been looked at with hatred before, and it's something that really sticks with me. Not because I was scared or offended, but because my first instinct was to be apologetic. I felt so bad that I was offending them or that I was doing something wrong by being the color that I am.
Now that I'm much older, it hurts me so much that I felt this way. It was completely ludicrous to be ashamed of what I am- beautiful, unique, and proud of the skin I'm in- just because of what others thought of me.
It's something more than that as well. It's the fact that I could even walk through the south with my family and only have to put up with frowning or stares. I could have been born in the heart of racist Mississippi, in 1950, like my father- miles away from the town where, five years later, Emmett Till would draw his last breath.
I go to Western Illinois University, and my dorm at Thompson Hall is maybe a five-minute walk from the campus library. Last night I was on my way across campus to take a test. It was 8 pm, decently dark, and I marveled at how nice the illuminated windows of the library looked while my headphones blared Cat Stevens in the background. I thought to myself how nice it would be to just walk around campus one evening and listen to music. Immediately a checklist went through my mind: "Make sure one headphone is out of your ear and that the music is turned down so you can hear for someone approaching." "Make sure there's somewhere nearby you can go for help if you need it." The list goes on. I don't know how long it will take, but I don't want this world to continue to be a place where we give our sisters, our daughters, and ourselves a checklist of how to stay safe, and where we are ever afraid to go for a walk.
Today if people ask me who I am, all I need to say is, "I'm Bree, I'm black and I'm a feminist. Next question." I am a feminist because I'm not ashamed anymore. I'm proactive. Barbara Harroun said in a previous commentary, we all need to be activists. I may not have been as eloquent, but my message is the same: we have the power in this day and age to change the world with enough persistence and effort.
We believe in women's rights. We believe in human rights. There is no cure because we are not the disease. It's so important to be constantly learning from our past and present to improve our future.
What a difference a semester of Women's Studies can make! I've only been in college for two years and already I've learned so much about women and feminism that I didn't know before. Feminism is not the eighth dirty word you can't say on television. It's the key to a new world.
Bree Bracey is a student studying French at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.