by Flora Day

I was always quiet and compliant on the exterior. Inside, however, I was stubborn and questioned most everything. I despised being told what to do, especially when I couldn’t make sense of it. This culminated in kindergarten when my teacher, an old school woman from England, would force me to wear my coat at the end of the day. I’m in the south; when we wake up it’s 30 degrees and by 3 pm it’s 70 degrees. No coat needed by then, and I hated having to wear it home.

Every day, she’d tell me to put on my coat, and every day I would. Until, one day, I didn’t. I said I’d just carry it instead. What a lovey resolution for a peace making kindergartner! I was responsibly taking my coat, but not forced to stand in the hot sun seething with resentment and frustration because I didn’t want to wear the damn coat. My request was denied. She tied the coat around my neck that day and it hung off my back; I refused to put my arms through it. This became the routine, even on cold afternoons. No one could force my arms into that coat. I felt dismissed and minimized, and it bothered me enough to silently protest every single day, with my arms dangling freely at my sides.

Why did it matter if I put on my coat? What was the purpose of it? We’re talking 60-70 degrees, folks. No harm without a coat and, surely, she knew this.

This is how I view feminism. As a woman, we are told how to dress, how to speak, when to speak, designed to be a pretty “thing,” critiqued in every way and criticized for anything outside the “norm.” Innately, this didn’t work for me. I wasn’t boisterous or domineering, but I damn sure wasn’t going to let my life be dictated by this implied set of required standards for women.

Denying my coat was my first public display of feminism. Oh, yes, it was feminism. I had no idea at the time, of course. I was given an order – an order that didn’t provide any value to me or anyone else – and I refused.

Feminism isn’t always about burning bras and man hating; it can be subtle. Those subtle changes and cues we give and take define us.

Tomorrow, when you wake up, don’t make someone force your arms in that coat. That tight skirt you’ve only worn in the mirror at home – pop it on for work. Someone has an issue with how you rock it, well, as they say, haters gonna hate. If you get to the short grocery line with a load of diapers, 3 packs of 5-hour energies, wine in every brand and flavor, and a week’s worth of cookies, and homeboy walks up behind you with 1 natural spring water and a granola bar, don’t apologize. He can wait. Your time is just as valuable. Wear those leopard print stiletto shoes you’ve kept hidden in your closet for 3 years, and, when someone gives you “the eye,” do a twirl. Give them what they want: something amazing to talk about. You want purple hair? Go get it. You really want to slurp that delicious soup up, lift it up, tilt that sucker back, and lap it up, girl. Extra points if it’s a business lunch or formal dinner. You are a woman, and you matter.

You don’t have to put your arms in that damn coat, and no one can make you.