I am happiest barefoot in the kitchen. Growing up this image was reinforced to me as the ideal. A woman was defined by her ability to take care of her family, friends and everyone else. The purpose of taking care of yourself was to make sure you were able to continue serving others.
I am the eldest of three, an older sister to two brothers. At almost two I modeled myself after my mother, making sure my brothers had what they needed. They were quiet kids and I often spoke up for them. Babysitters chuckled at my stern admonitions to feed them the right snacks and my determined attempts to read them bed time stories. It never seemed like an obligation, just part of who I am.
When I was younger, I was called bossy and cute. As a teenager, I was more noticed for my body and the way that I dressed. I felt self-conscious that I didn’t look like the girls around and that men rarely noticed me for the right reasons. The first time I remember a male commenting on my body was in the 5th grade when one of my classmates said I had nice tits for my age. At the time I felt shame about my cup B breasts, but I quickly learned that my shape would get me further than my smarts or my ambition.
Even when males took advantage and I found myself in abusive situations, I sought to prioritize their well-being. The mentality that I was meant to please others was further emphasized by my belief that I would be labeled as someone who was negative, disappointing and worst of all unable to make people happy. The first time I was forced to do something I didn’t want to, I was 16 years old. It took months for me to tell anyone because I didn’t want to bother anyone with my problems. A woman’s role is to fix everything.
I am awed how strongly the themes of nurture and caretaking affect women and how quickly we are demonized when we don’t fit into those roles. As an adult I have lived in DC, New York City and San Francisco and whenever I don’t smile I am seen as mean and aggressive. More than once I’ve had a man walk away from a romantic relationship with me because I’m pushing back too much or nagging him. Even if I share how I feel about his behavior, I become someone who does not support him. The men in my life, professionally and personally are happiest when I am smiling, agreeing with them and preferably feeding them.
I nervously told my sister-in-law that I was writing an article about being a feminist. I am passionate about creating communities of women, serving vulnerable women and loving all women that I can. But I don’t feel like a feminist. She reminded me “a feminist is whoever you want to be.” Is that enough?
I am happiest barefoot in the kitchen. I know many woman who would read that statement with raised eyebrows. I know many men who would approve. I wish I could say that choosing to be a feminist is obvious or easy or that no matter who you are, you are a feminist if you are a woman. Sometimes I don’t know what part of me makes decisions because of how I was raised or because I know for sure what to do. Sometimes I doubt I’m a feminist at all.
I do know this: I am a woman. I love and care for other women. I want women to feel nurtured and safe to own their own selves. I stand by the things I know. I stand, barefoot in the kitchen, with no shame and with love in my heart.