Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

I am just going to admit it: before I started working at the YW, I would not have described myself as a feminist. I like it when my husband holds the door open for me – not because I am incapable of doing it myself or because he thinks I am but because it is a nice gesture and simply because somebody else holding the door open for me means I don’t have to do it myself. So am I one of those angry women who would snarl at a man for offering such a condescending gesture thus undermining my independence? One of those feminists? Good grief, no!

Do I ever still have a lot to learn!

Would I have described myself as somebody who is passionate about gender equality? Absolutely! Only a few weeks into my employment with the YW, I got to attend the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women (NLSW) 2014. I went in as somebody-who-is-passionate-about-gender-equality-but-not-a-feminist and left as darn-right-I-am-a-Feminist! Until that day last October, I don’t think I ever felt proud to be a woman. Proud of my accomplishments, sure, but of my being a woman? Rather not. However, at the end of the NLSW, I felt it – proud to be a woman, proud to be a feminist, a word that now made sense.

It is not the “F-Word” anymore, as Jennifer Bonato titled so appropriately at this year’s conference, but a word that stands for the fight for equality. Why did it take the NLSW for me to self-identify as a feminist? First of all, I am white, young, Western… I don’t usually find myself at the receiving end of inequality.

When I was eight, I was fed up with playing the recorder like all of the other girls and wanted to play the trumpet, like my dad. When I finally was ready to join the church brass band, we were a group of ten men, ages 30 and up, and one ten-year-old girl. Today, 17 years later, the band consists of at least as many – if not more – women than men.

I grew up both in the Lutheran and the Catholic church. Contrasted to my mother’s time, when girls were not allowed to be altar servers at all, my church was pretty much run by us female altar servers.

When the gym teacher in elementary school told the girls to play volleyball and the boys to play soccer, I protested until I was allowed to be the one girl who played soccer with the boys.

What I had simply never reflected on before is that I have been a feminist all my life. I have been part of the fight for gender equality all of my life without even realizing that I had to fight, that it was not just a given that I was treated equally. I didn’t realize that so many privileges that I am taking for granted today are the result of the fight other women have fought for me.

Why is that? It’s because that is not what I remember, it’s the women who I remember. While the band was all male until I joined it, the band leader was in fact a woman and, boy, was she a strong one at that. Though I never heard a woman give a homily in either church until I was in my teens, I remember my mother, who was head of parish council for years, or the pastor’s wife whose gentle spirit made me want to be around her all the time.

The teacher I remember the most (well, other than the one I had a crush on in high school) is my female elementary school teacher who believed in me and encouraged me long past my childhood.

I didn’t think it would happen again this year. This feeling of pride, this feeling of: YES! I am a feminist; let’s all be feminists! But it did. When I walked away from this year’s NLSW, I felt it again – a feeling of wanting to be part of making this world even better for us today and for the many girls still to come.

So do I encourage you to join us next year? Absolutely! I hope to see you there.