As a young woman in my late teens and early 20s, my feminism had three main tenets: I was rabidly pro-choice; I was interested in LGBTQ rights; I didn’t want to be a housewife like my mother. The third idea culminated in a sort of “bad bitch” attitude of privileged, second-wave feminism that, in my opinion, was damaging to me and my progress as a person. I completely rejected the nurturing side of myself: I refused to do housework, I refused to learn how to cook. I could get a partner who could do those things for me — I was a career woman and would never be trapped into servitude like my mother. I was way too smart for that shit.
Quick side bar: my mother actually worked from home for most of my youth and only stopped when her parents needed care. When my father left my mother in 2002, she had seen the writing on the wall, gone back to school, and was able to get a decent job as an admin in a mental health centre. I’m not sure why I was so attached to the idea of my mother as a full-time housewife, but I think I probably just wanted to be a career-focused person and I didn’t want to get stuck in a shitty relationship for as long as my mother was.
I was also not ready to make any effort to understand true inequality (I’m not even sure I would have been capable of it at the time). I wanted everyone to have equal rights, but I also felt as though many of the more difficult battles had already been fought and won. I was naive enough to believe that we were living in a post-racist and post-sexist society where the only rights that really needed defending were LGBTQ and abortion rights. In some ways, this is not particularly surprising. I’m white, I grew up in an affluent household, I was a spoiled only child and I was never told that I couldn’t do things because I was a woman. The only real adversity I had ever had to face was some family drama and my emotionally abusive father.
My “bad bitch” attitude softened a bit over the next few years. My parents split up and my life got a bit crazy. I was working two part-time jobs, going to university part time and helping to look after my father’s father. I had a boyfriend and I tried to have a social life. This didn’t leave me with any space for politics: lot of aspects of my life were serious and important and I wanted to have fun in my spare time. This was when I started to become more closely involved in fandom.
When I say fandom, I’m nearly always referring to the female-dominated sector of fandom, where most fanfiction comes from. What many male members of the video game community probably don’t realize is that discussions about diversity, equality and representation in fictional media started popping up in female-dominated fandom communities years prior to the emergence of figures like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, who would push these issues to the forefront of video games.
My response to those discussions was always politely dismissive: I wasn’t interested in political discussion getting in the way of my fun. Fandom was my escape from the heaviness of my everyday life and, at that time, I needed to keep things light. My reaction to those discussions and politics was quite similar to the video game community’s reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter campaign: I wanted them to stay far away from me. The big difference being that I just avoided those discussions rather than going to online forums and uttering death and rape threats.
I’m not a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian, but I credit her with being the lightning rod that inspired the development of my true feminism. When the controversy over her Kickstarter campaign began, I was horrified by the kinds of behaviour and comments I witnessed in communities where I had previously felt welcome. For example, I had been an active member of the Giant Bomb community since the site had started and the forums had always been a place where I felt comfortable hanging out. The reaction to the Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter campaign, however, made me feel completely unsafe.
Thousands upon thousands of men in the video game community flocked to Anita Sarkeesian’s website and social media accounts and threatened her with death and rape. They subsequently flocked to popular video game forums to talk about what a bitch she was, how ugly she was, how stupid she was, and how she had no right to voice her opinion about video games. Some even attempted to dox her and prove that her family was affluent so that they could approach Kickstarter and report her campaign as a scam (there was a huge thread on Giant Bomb that was devoted to this that was, thankfully, deleted).
If all this was done in response to a series of YouTube videos that probably wouldn’t even be widely viewed, what would these men say to me if I disagreed with them? What would happen to me if I agreed with her arguments? What if I questioned the representation of women in video games from my own perspective? Would they speak to me this way? Would they threaten and bully me? Of course they would. They had given me no evidence to the contrary.
It was this horrible reaction to Anita Sarkeesian that made me realize that we were not living in a post-sexist society. From there I started actively trying to gain a better understanding of inequality. I read books by marginalized authors and I read feminist literature and contemporary memoirs. My mother needed my help and I became her full-time caregiver for a year. I taught myself how to cook and how to bake (turns out I’m pretty damned good at both). I volunteered at a women’s shelter. I finally started to embrace the nurturing part of myself and I allowed myself to see that there were people in the world that I needed to fight for.
In many ways my accepting myself as a nurturer was akin to accepting my femininity, something that I had never been able to do. While this was a stepping stone in my feminist development, I have actually arrived at a place beyond that. While activities like cooking can be caring and nurturing, it is incorrect to assume that caring and nurturing are inherently feminine. Radical feminist author bell hooks (yes, her name is all lowercase) has written extensively about the fact that loving and nurturing should be natural to both men and women and it is our gendered view of society that limits those traits to women. If we think about cooking from this perspective, cooking isn’t a feminine activity that comes naturally to women because they are caregivers. Cooking is a life skill that we should all learn in order to care for ourselves and the people we love, regardless of gender.
Men and women are different, but I believe that removing gendered preconceptions from my life makes it a lot simpler and prevents me from limiting my options. Within myself, I have the capacity to accomplish a great deal, especially if I can move past society’s, and my own, preconceptions of what I should be. As I write this, I am 36 years old — soon to be 37. I discovered my true feminism a little later than some and it has been a long and arduous process. I know that I will still make mistakes from time to time and that my views will continue to evolve, but I am proud of how far I’ve come.