Feminist Fridays in a new blog project in which one Women’s Center employee will tell the story of how she or he was influenced to identify as a feminist.
By Women’s Center Director Susanne Dietzel
It is difficult to put a date on when I became a feminist. As I am nearing my 50th birthday (!!!!), it feels like I always was one. But I also know that when I found feminism it fit me like a glove.
I was your typical German teenager: I started smoking when I was fifteen (if not earlier), hung out with the wrong group of guys (at least that is what my parents said), only studied when I really had to, loved putting on make-up, going out to discos, and chasing boys. I hardly knew feminism existed, in fact, my father thought it was a very bad thing and feminists were ugly man-haters, but I also knew that things were not right for women. One of my after-school jobs was as a cashier in the auto parts department of a large department store; the manager there regularly propositioned me to come into the storeroom for some action, and the salesmen commented on my cleavage even if I was wearing a turtleneck. On a summer vacation to Spain, a man in an adjacent hotel room exposed himself to me on the balcony, asking me to take a good look.
I graduated high school in 1980 and enrolled at university a year later. I joined a leftist student group in my department and together we protested higher education policies, nuclear power, and the expansion of the Frankfurt airport; we supported nuclear disarmament, the Green party, and liberation movements all over the world.
Women’s issues were not on our agenda. But some of the women in our group had started taking courses in women’s literature and we were hooked. We decided to form our own consciousness-raising and feminist study group, very much to the dismay of our fellow male group members who felt excluded and argued that our “separatism” was diminishing the real political work of our group. We read feminist theory, talked about how incidents of everyday sexism affected our lives, some of us explored feminist spirituality, and most of us began to more seriously pursue feminist topics in their course of study. It was a glorious time. Feminist theory, women’s literature, and our daily activism confirmed for me what I had always known: yes, women were oppressed and secondary citizens, but we were resisters and had agency, we were strong, beautiful, and awesome. We could and did move mountains, we pushed for more feminist scholarship in the academy, demanded more from the men in our lives, educated ourselves in women’s history and everyday sexism, and explored lesbianism.
As I said, feminism fit me like a glove, it was and is my intellectual, political, and actual home and shapes how I act upon the world, in my personal relationships, in my work, and how I raise my daughter. Feminism is part of who I am.