I used to be a liberal feminist. In fact, I didn't even know there was anything besides liberal feminism - which I knew as simply "feminism". Of course I believed that women have inherent value as people - I am a woman after all - and so of course I was a feminist!
I believed that sex work was empowering, should be legal, and was always a woman's choice. I watched pornography with my boyfriend, and enjoyed it.
I believed that women could be empowered by getting nearly naked on television, that they could feel liberated by wearing hijab.
I wore a full face of makeup and felt ashamed without it. I looked down on ugly women. I believed that captivating a man's interest by using my looks, was a form of power. I delighted in being objectified. I shaved every inch of my body.
I believed that TWAW, watched TW youtube channels and left comments along the lines of "you go girl". I aspired to be as "girly" as them and felt that they were more woman than me because they spent more time styling their hair or doing their nails. I watched Contrapoints and thought, "those TERFs sure sound like bad people."
I allowed men to tell me that my "vanilla" preferences showed that I was not "sex positive", and I believed they were right. I believed that I was "just frigid" for not wanting to be tied up and punched. I hoped I would someday shed my "hangups" and genuinely enjoy being spit on and choked. I blamed myself for the times I was sexually assaulted and harassed.
I called myself a "feminist, obviously" while living with a man, doing 100% of the cooking and cleaning, aspiring to be nothing more than a "trophy wife", part of a still life painting in the background of his fantastic life. I was so depressed I had to go on Lexapro.
That all - that was feminism to me. Until I realized it wasn't.
There were things that didn't sit right with me. Cracks in the dam. Things that didn't really make sense - but I blindly accepted - because I was a liberal, a left-winger, a good little feminist who goes along with what feminism is. I didn't know there was any other way.
I did ask questions. When Nicki Minaj's video "Anaconda" came out - I asked my "feminist" girlfriends - "is this really liberation?" But when they all said yes, I just stopped questioning it. It didn't look or feel empowering to me, but I thought I was just wrong.
I didn't understand how TW could be literally women but I thought it was just something I was personally missing and that someday I would get it. I had dozens of long conversations with family and friends on that topic, especially when "Caitlyn Jenner" emerged in the news. How can a man really be a woman? They're born with women's brains? I don't feel like a woman, but I am one? Hm, okay.
So, there were things that didn't sit right with me, but I went along with it anyway, because there was no alternative - that I knew of.
The gender critical dam was the first thing to burst for me - and that's a story in itself that I'll save for another essay. But I had that peak moment like many or most of us here did, which was an absolute revelation for me, where my thinking on that particular topic did a complete 180 over the course of about 3 days. A door opened in my life and I walked right through it. On the other side of the door was a place many of us landed, r/GenderCritical, where I felt my eyes open for the first time in my life.
Over the next year, the final year before it was banned, I read GC every single day. I had never had women in my life like that - wise women who were brave, bold and unafraid to say what was on their minds even if it didn't match the narrative that was being pushed literally everywhere else. They showed me a new way to be a feminist, they introduced me to radical feminism. It's something I'll be forever grateful for.
When I showed up at GC, I had just peaked on the T topic. But I still clung to those other beliefs - that SWIW, that a red lip was a symbol of power, that NAMALT. But when women there spoke on those topics, I listened. I sometimes discussed, but mostly I listened. I listened with an open mind, even on topics I thought I had made up my mind on. Even when it was challenging, instead of pushing back, I sat with the things these women said, I let them marinate.
The women of GC did this incredibly valuable work of opening other women's minds, but I really don't think it was work for them. These anonymous women were simply getting thoughts off their chests, processing source texts for their own benefit, ranting, sharing out of a love of sharing - and because they were doing it on a public forum, women like me benefited.
I ventured further than GC. I followed links, I read articles, I read books. I read Andrea Dworkin, I found so much power in her words, I read Sheila Jeffreys. I watched videos of second wave feminists and my jaws dropped at their courage. I watched documentaries on women's suffrage, I learned about first wave feminists, I read Mary Wollstonecraft. I read liberal feminist writing too and learned to critique it.
Gradually I shed all my old beliefs, every single one. And gradually I felt I had learned enough that I could start to contribute, that I could carry the flame and be one more voice to encourage other women to change their thinking too. Even if my voice was small, even if it touched just one other woman, perhaps she would tell another woman and so on. I could be a ripple on this pond, and with enough ripples we could create a wave. I started writing essays and making posts on GC, which was scary and intimidating and challenging, but also so incredibly gratifying to know that I was part of this incredible thing and I could see the power of my words and the impact they were having - that felt like real, true empowerment, and I had never known that before.
Radical feminism inspires me like nothing else. I will continue to learn from other women, to discuss, to read. I believe in women's true liberation. Andrea Dworkin said "I believe social change is possible, that's why I'm an activist." Those words give me hope.
This journey has been a journey of an open mind and receptiveness, things I am determined to never lose. I got here by listening to women. I'm not ashamed of where I came from, I'm proud of the woman I have become and I want to encourage other women as much as I can to challenge their thinking, to explore topics that make them uncomfortable. Because on the other side of discomfort is freedom. Open the door and discover liberation.