With the election of President Elect, Joe Biden, and Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris, I have been thinking a lot about a few things - being a woman, being a woman in today’s United States, and being a woman who engages with clients through a feminist therapy perspective, something that I have recently begun to state, to own, and to embrace. Watching Kamala Harris deliver her address to our nation in her brilliant white suit had me feeling, like many, so incredibly proud and moreover, full of so much hope. Hope for the country, hope for the future, but most of all, hope for an even brighter horizon for my own daughters.
My relationship with feminism has been a long and winding road, and I have been more or less aware of it and/or proud of it during different eras of my life. I grew up in a pretty conventional household with traditional gender roles. My mom was a stay-at-home parent with the three of us (I have a younger brother and a younger sister), and my father worked at and later ran our family’s construction and engineering company. My family’s world shifted when, at 39 years old, my mom went to college when I did. Though I wasn’t home, my dad and siblings had to adjust to my mom not being there ALL THE TIME. They had to learn to eat leftovers, do laundry, and my dad had to take a greater role in doing some of the “household command center work” that is so much a part of mom life, unpaid and unrecognized, such as shuttling my brother to karate or my sister to dance classes. I, blissfully away at college, tried to imagine my almost 40-year-old mom sitting next to hungover frat boys, which she reported to us was a new and unwelcome experience for her.
Meanwhile, on my college campus, I was invited to join sororities and on-campus feminist activist organizations. Though each type of organization had things that interested me as well as things that I wasn’t sure about, I ultimately joined (and then quit) a sorority, rather than the feminist group that had invited me. Being a transfer student at a college is a challenge in itself, and a sorority seemed like a safer bet for my social capital rather than a “man hating femi-nazi” club; a term that I disliked but did nothing to correct. I feel, even today, a lot of shame for this decision because it was based exclusively on what others would think of me rather than what I thought of myself and what I felt was lighting a fire inside my heart. I allowed my fear of “being seen” in a certain light to hold me back from a group of women who, in reality, held really similar values to me and were on paths, even in the late ‘90’s, to address the inequalities between genders both on our campus as well as in the world. I chose the “safe bet” of popularity and parties; I rejected the option that had everything to do with my soul. At 19 years old, I was not ready to be part of my “Something Larger,” as referred to by Emily and Amelia Nagoski in their book, Burnout: Unlocking the Stress Cycle. My mom, however, stepped into hers by chronologically and sociologically defying what was expected of her and started college midway through her life, even though she “had it all” as an upper-middle class white woman, mother, wife, and friend. Though not acknowledged as such, this step, for her and for us, was a radical feminist act.
For some of us, a feminist act is challenging a misogynistic comment that someone uses at work. For others, a feminist act is keeping one’s own name when marrying or taking part in a march or, like my mom, starting college at an “unconventional” age. For me, starting a women’s counseling practice focused on offering feminist therapy to my clients is what feels right, and also a bit redemptive, doing now what I perhaps should have done many years ago. For Kamala Harris, it’s becoming Madam Vice President of the United States of America. Boom.
Many of the principles of psychotherapy and counseling were founded by men and were created for the “dominant culture” of which women, children, and of which Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), were not part. Instead of just “giving voice” to those who have been “othered,” a feminist therapy approach seeks to celebrate these voices and to empower all people, not just women, to explore the patriarchal systems that have created or restricted room for all people to safely tell their stories. My 19-year old self was way off base - being a feminist is not man-hating, and it does not have to be harsh in approach. It is an inclusive way of exploring the many actionable ways that we can connect and make bigger our collective space and value in this world. It is knowing that my voice and my story - they matter.