What Does It Take To Make A Feminist?S

In 2004, Ashley Judd, me and thousands of other women and men came to Washington for the March For Women's Lives. For some, it was the culmination of years of feminism. For others, like me, it was a new beginning.

As I wrote in a piece published this week in On The Issues Magazine, I had stopped calling myself a feminist in college, after years of calling myself a feminist, when I ran up against a Women's Studies professor who preached a certain kind of feminist gospel that I could no more get behind than the religion I'd left as a teenager.

But it was when the professor told us that, one day, when sexism is over, the government could make abortion illegal again, that I truly lost it — both my patience and, as it turns out, the A that I'd been biting my tongue to earn. She presented this nugget of information not as an idiosyncratic view of her feelings about abortion, but as a tenet of feminist thinking about abortion, and it was one that stood in opposition to everything I understood about abortion and its importance to the feminist movement

The professor was, apparently, a pro-life and pro-choice feminist, who believed that abortion was a moral wrong outweighed only by the moral wrong of sexism. And, once sexism had been conquered, the world would be perfect and abortion would no longer be necessary.

I thought she was cracked, but I was 19 and didn't realize that "feminism" meant many different things to many different people, or that there was more than one way to be a feminist. Having been raised in a religious environment in which we were taught that there was one gospel, one Church and one way of looking at a set of issues, it didn't occur to me that a political and social movement would or could be more multifaceted. I figured if she was a feminist, and feminists believed that about abortion, then I was obviously not a feminist.

But the March for Women's Lives made me realize, very concretely, that there was more to it than what I'd been told: more people, more ideas, more ways of looking at the issues, more ideas of what was or was not a feminist issue. And I came back to the idea of calling myself a feminist, and what that meant, and the kinds of ideas, attitudes, disagreements and fights that the movement could both be and embrace.

There's often a lot of debate, here and in other places, about what is required to be feminist, who is feminist enough and who is not, why people don't self-identify as a feminist (both because they don't like the societal implications of the word or because they feel the feminist movement doesn't embrace the issues of importance to them) and whether they deserve to. But, what I'm more interested in is why you guys do, or don't, or did, or started to again — because it took me a while to figure it out.

A Feminist's U-Turn: A Torrid Tale of Disappointment and Discovery [On The Issues]