I just wanted to buy a gallon of milk, a bag of chips, and some ice cream. That’s it. Nothing more.
It was a warm spring day in central Indiana when I hurried into a local grocery store to pick up a few items on our way home from a slew of doctor’s appointments and miscellaneous errands. It had been a long day and home was calling. Really calling. Our kids were tired and growing crankier by the minute, our car’s AC was finicky, and it was right in the middle of dinnertime. Recipe for disaster.
On that particular day, I just happened to be wearing a t-shirt with “Feminist” written across the chest in block letters. I thought nothing of it as I put it on that morning. I had worn it many times in the past.
It’s important for me to say here that I never wear this shirt to make a political statement or stir up controversy. Not my style.
Trust me, as a person who tends to be more introverted than extroverted, the last thing I wanted was conversation — especially on a day when my children were milliseconds away from full-blown meltdowns. I was simply wearing it because I believe in the empowerment of women. I believe my wife and daughters are leaders. I also believe no woman on earth is second rate to any man, in any part of the world. This is the only way to live. I stand by this, no matter what.
But on that day, I was reminded just how narrow-minded the world is. While I’ve had several people — men, woman, and kids alike — compliment my shirt, I’ve also gotten a few stares, eye rolls, and even off-handed comments. Then, standing in the dairy section of the grocery store that afternoon, I heard these words …
“So, you’re one of those complainers, huh?”
I turned and saw an older woman standing next to her husband glaring in my direction. At first, I didn’t believe she was talking to me.
All I could think to say, being in utter shock at that moment, was, “I’m sorry … what?”
“Your shirt,” she snapped, as she pointed toward my chest. “That’s all we hear over and over anymore. Feminist, feminist, feminist! Just a bunch of complainers! You must be one of them.”
I stood dumbfounded, searching for words to say while fighting off a rush of anger. I felt frustrated. A torrent of emotions welled up in me. I wanted to lash out, fight back, argue, explain the way I felt.
Yet, the longer I looked at her, my anger gave way to compassion. I felt this deep sadness for her. I suddenly realized that she said this probably because of the world she grew up in. As much as I hate it, this was the attitude she most likely was surrounded with for years, first as a little girl, then as a woman. Forced to stay quiet and accept her world.
For generations, female empowerment and the equality of men and women were not topics of conversation or even considered. Feminism was traditionally pigeon-holed into a political agenda and not given its voice as the right way to live — in the workplace, in the home, and in the world.
So there I stood, in the dairy section of a grocery store in central Indiana, looking at a woman in her 70s who had probably been told at a very young age that woman were to “know their place,” “be silent in the presence of men,” or “accept that this was the way it was.” She had perhaps long convinced herself that any woman who raised her voice and said “enough” was a complainer. Somewhere in all those years, she may have conceded that she would forever be a follower, standing in the shadows within a world of inequality.
After what seemed like a hour, but only a minute, I spoke.
I tried to convince her that I wore this shirt not as an agenda, nor to stir up controversy, but to support the greater good — as an advocate for the equal rights of all human beings, regardless of gender or skin color.
I could see quickly that it was futile. She rolled her eyes and turned with her husband to leave.
I was deeply saddened. I lingered behind trying to collect myself and silently praying the two of them would choose a different checkout lane. But then, I glanced down at my shirt and was filled with hope, because in my car, just outside of the grocery, sat a woman and two teenage girls who were leaders. World-shapers. Change-makers.
Even though we still live in a world that has a very long way to go when it comes to equality, I see hope. I see it in the women in my life. I see it when my daughter refuses to accept “that’s just the way it is,” or every day when my wife takes leadership in our home (as she should). I see it when we stand side by side, leading our family together. I see it in the empowerment of women in the workplace, and in churches across the globe.
Yes, I still wear my Feminist t-shirt with pride. I’m not a complainer. I’m just a husband and father who believe my girls are world leaders — and second place to no one.