Is the “F” word actually taboo again in the year 2017? It seems like it was almost out of style and now you are considered “nasty” if you use it. It might also be hurled at you as an insult if you happen to mention something crazy like, “I think men and women should be equal.” Of course, I am talking about “FEMINISM”- the four letter word with three vowels and five consonants. I actually thought this fight was over, that feminism as a movement had won; after all, in my lifetime women were allowed and, even encouraged, to go to college and have careers.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the world isn’t perfect. Being a woman in a (still) male-dominated production industry I have seen and experienced my fair share of sexual harassment. And, while it was annoying to deal with, I was conditioned to believe that those silly “harmless” jokes were just the cost of working in a man’s world. I was actually quite proud of my ability to hang with the boys. But with our first female candidate for President came a lot of talk about equal rights and the deficits we still face. It made me think about my own feelings on the “F” word and how I got here.

Let’s take a step back, yeah, there it is… the EIGHTIES. St. Augustine has always been a ‘good ol’ boys’ kind of town and I grew up in a patriarchal family. We lived down a long dirt road, surrounded by my mother’s family. My father, grandfather, and uncles worked; while my mother, grandmother and aunts raised children, cleaned the house, cooked the food and did odd jobs to make ends meet. My grandmother always served my grandfather first. Men, in general, ate first, then children, and then the women. In spite of this, I somehow believed I could be and do anything with my life. I knew at an early age I would be going to college, even though no one else in my family had done so. 

I was a girl, the youngest of two in a swarm of boys. My grandmother and mother sewed gorgeous dresses for me, dresses I wore without enthusiasm because I wanted to be a boy. To be clear, I wasn’t confused about my gender. I knew I was a girl but wished I had been born a boy. It seemed to me that boys had more fun. They could play football, they could pee standing up, when they grew up they didn’t have to cook or clean. At one point I wanted to be a boy so badly I demanded everyone call me by my middle name “Jene.” That lasted one afternoon.

I played tackle football, peed outside, hated dresses, and was rough and tumble with the best of them. I even took down my fair share of boys at school. But I was still a girl. I did not know about ‘feminism” even though I was surrounded by the strongest and most resilient women I have ever met to this day. The boys and men seemed to have the better deal.

Taking my oath of adoption for my first child… Veronica Jeraldine Sweeney.

I was a young girl in a world who didn’t see many options: you grow up, get married, have kids and take care of your house and your family. No one told me this is what I had to do, but I also don’t remember anyone telling me otherwise and that is what I witnessed. I knew I wanted children and a family. I LOVED my cabbage patch dolls, but I also knew I wanted to go to college.

How did I come to that conclusion? I really struggle with the answer to this question, but I think it is because I insisted on doing what the boys did. I wanted to follow their path, not mine, and THAT is what I have trouble with looking back while simultaneously looking forward. I want my girls to go to college, I want them to achieve great things, but I want them to do that as themselves, as FEMALES.  I want gender equality, not gender neutrality.

What do I mean by gender equality?

It seems obvious but apparently needs a definition. According to the United Nations: GENDER EQUALITY is a human right. Women are entitled to live with dignity and with freedom from want and from fear. Gender equality is also a precondition for advancing development and reducing poverty. Empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities. They can also improve prospects for the next generation.

Simply put, people are people and everyone deserves kindness, respect, and fair treatment. I am not saying we all need to become androgynous. Boys and girls are different, almost from day one, and that is a good thing! Men should embrace their masculinity, they are incredible creatures; there is one in particular that I am quite fond of. And as far as feminism is concerned, they are not the enemy, in fact, they can and should be our greatest allies. Working together I believe we can celebrate our genders and create a more just world for all at the same time.  

The Future

My wish for my daughters is for them to grow up in a world where men celebrate their minds and respect their bodies. I wish for them to feel safe when walking down street any time of day. I want them to be able to succeed while being true to themselves. I want them to know: You can go to college. You can raise your hands and ask as many questions as you want. You can have a career. You can stay home and take care of your family. You can also choose not to have children. There are so many ways to show your strength while holding on to your femininity. 

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1899 (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

We have come far since the days of the suffragettes and I am thankful to the many women who have fought to give us the rights we enjoy today, but now I know the fight is not over. It is up to us to honor their work by picking up the torch and carrying it onward to make sure everyone enjoys a society where women and men are treated equally.