My name is Lola and I am finally a feminist.
I grew up as a member of the Mormon faith, an organization I believe to be deeply rooted in misogyny, and the only girl in a family with three boys. In church, I learned that deference to males was the natural order of things; men decided the fate of women and children, because men had a spiritual relationship with God that women could not access. At school and in my culture, I received constant messages that girls were emotional, needy creatures, trying to entrap the opposite sex in monogamous relationships against their will. “Women might convince men to be in relationships,” the narrative always was, “but they don’t really want to be.” At home with my brothers and their friends, and later in my mainly male friend groups, I learned that it was cool to hang like one of the guys, to take shit like a man, and to joke about how needy, emotional or generally annoying other girls could be so I could knowingly avoid it and be a “cool girl.”
By the time I was a teenager, the word “feminist” seemed like a bad word. As far as I knew, feminism was just extremist women making a fuss about something that hadn’t been a problem in America in years. I mean, sure, I knew there was a pay gap or whatever. But I didn’t believe the rest of it. Not really. I was a guys’ girl. I wasn’t going to get all worked up about that stuff. I was cool.
I stopped being Mormon and started having sex, and with virtually no knowledge of what was appropriate, largely thanks to the abstinence-only education so prevalent in religious communities, some of the basics of healthy sexual relationships had never crossed my mind - like that it was actually okay to say no, for example, even if you’d been engaging in other sexual activity. Deep down I believed that once you turned a guy on, how it ended was his choice. Because cool girls didn’t give guys blue balls. Cool girls went with the flow. Cool girls were breezy and casual; they didn’t demand relationships.
And then somewhere along the line, I hit a wall; I stopped being cool about sex. It no longer felt cool to be slept with and ignored afterward, even if I’d enjoyed the experience in the moment. It didn’t feel cool to be overwhelmed with regret because I’d been penetrated by someone who had as much regard for me as a blow-up doll. It didn’t feel cool to suddenly become invisible to a person I’d been dating for weeks as soon as he was able to sleep with me, or to only be contacted late at night, or to have to convince myself I was okay with not being monogamous for fear that I might scare my crush away if I asked for too much. I learned what my needs were with men romantically, and over time I learned how to express them in an honest and direct way. I learned that demanding respect would filter out the wrong people and earn respect from the right people. I for the most part stopped having casual sex altogether, because however it may work for other women, it wasn’t working for me. I realized that, when it came to sex, it was much cooler to own my needs than it was to try to be cool. It was a huge breakthrough, and a lot changed for me in the years that followed.
And yet I still didn’t consider myself a feminist. After all, boys had always been rather nice to me (when in truth they’d just given me attention, a rather distracting red herring). There were a few bad eggs, but I was the one who had chosen those bad eggs, after all. I was still a cool girl.
A few years passed, and I wasn’t always the absolute youngest girl in the group anymore. My friendships began shifting from being mainly with men to being more evenly distributed among both sexes. I began forming deeper connections with women. I fired my former manager and broke up with my music producer boyfriend, and eventually, slowly, changes began to take root. Now alone in the music business, I no longer had a male buffer to protect me from an industry rife with sexism, and in turn (much more recently than I care to admit), I began to understand the unfair, imbalanced reality of the world I live in.
I talked with girl friends about some things I’d experienced and began hearing about issues in the workplace that were all too familiar. One friend would pitch an idea to her male bosses which was immediately scoffed at, only for the same idea to be received with wholehearted enthusiasm just weeks later - when pitched by a man. One friend felt she couldn’t say anything when treated like a child or called pet names, knowing people would associate her with negativity if she complained. Another was criticized for her looks, told she was a 5 or 6 at best, for no particular reason. Many of them, relaxed and warm in their everyday lives, were forced to develop a hard exterior in business to combat the incessant condescension and dismissiveness that they encountered from men every day, only to then face being called bitchy or cold. Countless others had to learn to navigate inappropriate sexual advances from men they worked with and suffer potentially detrimental consequences if they declined. Executives were treated like assistants; assistants were treated like girlfriends.
And everything came crashing down around me. It was everywhere. It always had been. How had I not seen it? Memories began swimming around in my head of all the times I’d been treated differently because I was female and hadn’t noticed - I’d often even encouraged it, wanting to be fun and funny and in on the joke.
That time I was told I was “clearly getting emotional” and “couldn’t think clearly” when calmly outlining to a man why I needed to end our professional partnership.
Those times I was scoffed at for wanting my sexual interactions to take place within the scope of a relationship. All the rolling eyes, the harsh laughs, the “oh let me guess…” moments. Being made to feel typical and generic for wanting to decide who has and has not earned the right to my body.
The fear of mentioning my romantic relationships in a music-related setting, knowing I would lose opportunities if it was known that the possibility of sex had been removed from the equation.
The words men in my industry had spread about me - “stubborn,” “difficult,” “bitchy” - when my biggest crime was having an opinion that contradicted theirs, even when backed by reasons I was able to articulate, examine, and question objectively, and even when eventually they came to agree.
Those couple of times when I said I didn’t want to have sex and genuinely meant it, and was ignored.
All the men I spoke to about it afterward, even friends, who told me that if I’d really wanted to stop, I “should have just left.” All the men who thought that giving up fighting off someone’s ceaseless sexual advances is the same as consent. That kissing or touching is the same as consent.
The damage my body suffered. The excuses I made for the perpetrators, because it was such a grey area, because it was normal, because guys just can’t control themselves.
That time I was called into a powerful prospective business associate’s office at night, only to be aggressively told to engage in sex - my project then dismissed after I refused.
The complex layers of guilt I felt for not foreseeing that these things would happen.
It went on and on. And finally, it occurred to me: this is real, and I have internalized these messages, and I’m tired of it. I don’t want to be a “cool girl” anymore. Fuck being cool. I want to be treated with respect and dignity, like the human being I am, with legitimate thoughts and feelings, and I want to stop feeling like there’s something wrong with me because of it. I want every female I know to be able to live in a world where she can safely expect the same from the men in her life at work, at home, and everywhere she goes. All women DO experience misogyny, and it is so deeply and often invisibly ingrained in so many of us, male and female, that we might not know we are part of the problem - everyone always feels like the good guy. But change begins with me, and you, and facing the parts of ourselves that we’re afraid of, and speaking up when other people don’t. If we examine ourselves and our own behavior, take responsibility, and make an effort to contribute to change in what small ways we can, little by little, maybe we can begin to eradicate the stubborn core of misogyny that our culture has been incubating for our entire history.
So here I am. I’m ready to be part of the solution. I’m finally a feminist, and I, for one, think I’m cooler than I’ve ever been. #YesAllWomen.