by: Mimi Nguyen
Lately, I’ve wanted to make a formal apology to feminists living and dead. In my head, the meeting involves a small kitchen table next to a window shining down sunlight. Strangely, the light resembles the glare of confession room lamps. Across from me is the embodiment of feminism. Her face is constantly changing in a smooth transition between all the feminists of our past and present- suffragettes, housewives, lipstick fems… She is dressed in a high collar and puffed sleeves in homage to Susan B. Anthony.
“I am so embarrassed,” I say.
Feminism looks at me with her poker face. She remains silent.
I clutch my cup of tea tightly. Yes, we are sharing a beverage. It is appropriate to offer great influence and power something humble like hot tea.
“I never meant to disrespect you. It’s just…” I look out the window. “How does this even happen in this day and age? Information is everywhere!”
Feminism blinks and I immediately regret raising my voice at her.
“I’ll try harder, I swear.” My voice catches.
Feminism lets out a deep sigh.
I burst into tears. “I’m sorry.”
A few months ago, I thought I knew what a feminist was. Feminists are people who believe a woman and a man of the same caliber should be paid the same wages for the same occupation. Feminists demand equality. Feminists fight for women’s rights.
That’s it. That’s about all I knew. High school history taught me about women winning the right to vote and Roe v.Wade, but that was the bulk of my education. In college, I always wanted to take gender studies classes but I never did because I was too busy focusing on my far superior studies in English. Now I know I should have made the time, because now I feel like a complete asshole.
A few months ago, I thought feminism only had two waves. Nope. Wrong. Idiot.
I’m working on a thesis for my Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing and the whole project currently revolves around perceptions of Asian women in American pornography. Researching discontent over porn is on my long list of things to do, so imagine my naïve surprise when I found out there were “Feminist Sex Wars” in the 1970-80s. To oversimplify an extremely complicated argument: feminists disagreed and still disagree on whether porn was good or bad for women. This shocked me. How did I not know about this? I am a woman and all these events directly affect my life. Why hasn’t this information been more available to me? Why didn’t I sniff it out sooner?
Clearly, the person most responsible for my education is me. I am the reason behind my ignorance. Feminists, cast your glares this way. But I must also point out the disturbing lack of feminist history throughout my public school education. Grade school through high school was a blur of civil war, world wars, and wars between stuffy old Europeans. Even U.S. history class was primarily about war. Granted, feminist theory is difficult to discuss without addressing sex and we all know that’s dangerous territory for public school curriculum, but where are we supposed to learn about feminism? College?
Not everyone goes to college and those who do don’t often register for gender studies. I honestly didn’t even consider gender studies because I thought it was a waste of my student loan dollars. People joked the gender studies classes were full of lesbians who hated on men and I figured I was getting enough of the gender discussion each time Shakespeare made it on a reading list. Besides, most of my friends were queer. My gender studies happened outside of the classroom. Instead, I spent my time on an English degree. Feel free to laugh.
For the last three months I’ve been slowly making my way through a huge stack of feminist theory articles- emphasis on “slowly.” I’m the proud owner of a respectable vocabulary but every other sentence in these papers have little gems like “intersectional identities and multilayered discrimination,” “feminist praxis,” or “essentialism” and these trip me up, make me reread, and often consult a dictionary which sometimes has me looking up words in the definitions. I’m not lazy. I do the work, but really, does it have to be so hard? The language in these articles is academic because they’re written for an academic audience, but that also makes them inaccessible to those outside of the academic feminist sphere. Where then, should the rest of us laymen and laywomen look to educate ourselves?
As I find myself writing more and more, I also discover the parts of me that need additional learning and maturity. It’s cliché, but I really thought I knew it all and now what I know for sure is I don’t know much. Perhaps in year I’ll travel back into my head, to the kitchen table where Feminism is waiting for me, and I’ll say to her, “Okay. Let’s talk.”
Tien (Mimi) Nguyen is a former TriQuarterly Online Art Director, and nonfiction and fiction editor. She is currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at Northwestern University. She contributes regularly to TriQuarterly Online and has worked for The Long Beach Press-Telegram, Runes Literary Magazine and The Iowa Review.