The “B” Word

Posted in: About | 20

I was seventeen and in the midst of my grade twelve year when it happened.

My parents had recently chosen to migrate west; from Ontario to BC. And since I make friends like I do most big things-very slowly and gradually- it was a lonely time.

And so it was on that fateful day that I looked up from a mediocre book to witness a boy, whom I knew better than most of the others, call his girlfriend a “B-I-T-C-H.” He said it in a casual way… in the way you say a word like that just for the comedy or irony of the thing. But for an instant, I saw in the girl’s eyes that the word had stung.

I hated to see her hurt and his cocky ambivalence. Surely he would know better in the future if only someone would take the time to explain things to him.

“Adam,” I said instructively: “That’s a really offensive word. I don’t think you should be using it to describe your girlfriend.”

Adam looked down at the girl whom his arm was slung around, saw he wasn’t going to get any support from her in the matter, and turned back to me instead.

He leaned back, taking his time with the words I would never forget:

“You know, Jen…. When I first saw you I thought: ‘she’s pretty hot’… and then (here, he paused for dramatic effect) …you opened your mouth.”

He smiled, a satisfied smile, confident he had shut me up forever.

I stared back at him stupidly, both frozen and inflamed. I never, never, ever wanted to be like that girl beside Adam; lifelessly sitting next to a boy who threw around words like “hot,” because he was clever enough to know that most, if not all, high school girls have an intense desire to be that word.

And so, a feminist was born, albeit a conflicted one. Of course, I was not immune to Adam’s words.  It would be easy enough to come to terms with the fact that Adam didn’t love me, but I did want to be loved by someone.  And Adam had given the distinct impression through his smile that he was confident no one ever would.

Fast forward eleven years, and I’m still a pretty conflicted feminist.    However, there is something that seventeen-year-old me knew on that day but couldn’t explain that pretty much sums up my belief in feminism, girl-power, and maybe all of humanity, and it’s this:

I have value as a person and as a woman and that value is not dependent upon the approval of any other man or woman.  And so you see, that Adam’s prophetic smile was mistaken.  Someone out there would love me forever and always, through thick and through thin, in sickness and health… and that somebody was ME!

Whether or not my parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, husband, children, or neighbours love me is up to their own free choosing, and completely independent from the knowledge of my own self-worth.

And speaking of feminism, my husband, Hans, who is so very wise, recently pointed out to me that my purse has been holding me back in life.  You see, having three children means you need to carry around an annoying number of things, and possibly because of my version of stubborn feminist pride, I have refused to entertain the concept of a diaper bag.  Something in me has always been convinced that diaper bags are where every chance of being alluring and interesting goes to die.

So there I was one day, carrying around an enormously clunky purse full of jumbled up bottles and diapers, oh so desperately searching for my keys, when Hans looked down disapprovingly at the mess that was my life, and said:  Why don’t you just get a backpack?

Why… don’t I… just… GET A BACKPACK?

The intelligence of a man completely unencumbered by the impracticality of feminine norms.

Yes.  I instantly started planning.  It would be a lovely thing, this backpack. – Canvas, so that it would be durable and ready for adventures, with lots of pockets providing easy access to my wallet, keys, etc. Not too bulky, but with enough room for all my things.

I could just picture myself moving freely about- both hands and arms completely free to haul children, bag groceries, and run through a field of daisies.

Luckily, after much searching, amazon delivered just the backpack I needed.  If you want to head over there, they have a great selection… and then you’ll be able to join me in the backpack revolution!

I am in love this backpack. It has completely changed my life.  It has the function I’ve been craving (it even has a little releasable clip for my keys!) and I don’t feel the least bit dowdy while using it.  It’s a win for me, and maybe even a win for the universe at large.

Sometimes, you have to start with the little things in life.  Today a backpack, tomorrow, boys and girls who are raised knowing that the worth of human beings isn’t determined by how “hot” they are.



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20 Responses

  1. Valerie

    I switched to a backpack for my work bag a few weeks ago when the handles of my pretty black bag with pink interior broke for the second time. I am part the need for a big purse for personal use so I carry a very minimalistic purse and my very practical work backpack. I am fully committed to the revolution 🙂

  2. Coreen Strom

    Hey Jen, love your words. Thanks for sharing. I love my backpack, have used one for the past 8 years. Not only is it more practical, but so much easier on your back, shoulders and over all alignment. We got enough of a load to haul, why not even it out! 🙂

  3. Chelsea

    Now I’m going to have to try a backpack! I always love reading what wisdom you have to share with the world. 🙂

    • Jen Bowden

      Thanks for reading, Chelly. I originally started writing to help provide guidance to some of the young girls I have worked with over the summers… so if you think of any young people that would benefit from this site, please feel free to share it with them.

  4. Heather

    I loved reading this. You’re constantly reminding me what’s right! Sometimes the line between what’s right and wrong gets a little blurry, but it was so clear when I read this. Now I’m so excited for when I have a kid, I’m getting a backpack instead of a diaper bag right away!!

  5. You know

    Jen, As you know I feel bad that I didn’t write my thoughts on your previous post and therefore take this opportunity to say this:
    -Hans is NOT “very wise” however when you wrote “when Hans looked down disapprovingly at the mess that was my life” I can picture his bearded face and could not stop laughing.
    – I enjoyed your post but wanted to make a distinction as to what is a feminist and how the world sees a feminist. Feminist is a person who fights for equal opportunities no matter sex. The world sees a feminist as a female professional with no children or a masculine or unattractive female as some examples. I think your post about converting from a purse to a back pack does not make you a feminist but a person who is confident enough to take comfort/practicality over fashion.
    – I do support the true definition of being a feminist and hope that my wife and daughter feel that they have the same opportunity as I did/have and that they continue to challenge me on the double standards that the world has given to men.
    – In reading your posts it seems that you constantly ask “Why do I do the things that I do” (ie. make up, being the perfect mother, dressing sexy at church) which I think more people should ask. In my opinion, we should only do things that make us happy, better people, or through obligation and carrying a purse does not meet any of the above. I also think that making other people happy is important, but if we lived our lives to make other people happy (a person who is happy when you wear a purse rather than a back pack) sometimes we need to re evaluate the people that we are trying to impress.

    Please keep writing as I enjoy the thought provoking comments and issues that you bring in your posts.

    • Jen Bowden

      Jeff, I can’t even tell you how much this comment of yours thrilled me! I had to dance a little after I read it… so there’s another thing for you to picture (Hans says my dancing looks like a “full-body-dry-heave,” whatever that is).
      I want to take some time to look at this part of your comment:
      “The world sees a feminist as a female professional with no children or a masculine or unattractive female (as some examples). I think your post about converting from a purse to a back pack does not make you a feminist but a person who is confident enough to take comfort/practicality over fashion.”
      First of all, let me say that I’ve been patiently waiting for someone to say anything contrary like this on my blog for about 2 years. So you’re pretty much the coolest person I could imagine right now.
      Second, I agree with you; converting from a purse to a backpack does not make me a feminist on its own. However, I do believe that there are other aspects of the way I live and think that technically make me a feminist. I think you’d say that the beliefs I have in this regard are part of “the true definition of being a feminist.”
      So, the question that comes to mind as I read your comment is this:

      Is it correct for me to align myself with the term feminist even though the world at large may see “feminists” as being very different than who I am?
      Let’s look at some of the facts:

      • Being a great wife and mother are the two ultimate goals of life
      • When I file my taxes, I will be reporting $0 earned in 2016- and I don’t feel sad about it

      I could go on, but I think that’s enough to give you the idea that my resume and my belief system might not get me very much support from some of the “feminists” of today.

      You actually got me thinking about this idea in our university days when you referred to Stef as a “closet feminist.” That made me realize that maybe I too am a closet feminist… but I felt a little weird about that since I’ve never been ashamed about the “technically feminist” beliefs I have- just the word itself.

      So another question:

      Don’t you think it’s a little dangerous to let the loudest voices of feminism today claim all the ennobling and inspiring parts of what the word feminism implies, letting the world assume that someone with my resume simply doesn’t value those things?

      I recently got up in front of a group of high-school aged girls and told them that statistically speaking, a large portion of them would become mothers…. And they looked as though I was talking to them about a future jail sentence. That makes me sad. And so I want girls today that to know that you can be a strong, capable woman, and even align yourself with the elements of feminist principle that support motherhood and marriage, while also earning $0 in 2016 because the best thing you felt you could be doing was being at home with your 3 little ones.

      Please keep the comments coming. Love having to question and re-examine my viewpoints.

  6. You know

    So, My thoughts:
    The loudest voices need to be loud as the ideas being expressed are much more radical than others. My example is a feminist does not need to start a rally so that she can be a stay at home mother. However, it is concerning that the “media feminist” would/could possibly look down on this mother as a coward or a women who lets men control her. Women (and Men) should be proud of the ability to choose to be “stay at home Parents” and voice their achievements as one (in appropriate media, please don’t go and post things on Facebook as you know how much I love that. JKJKJKJK)

    • Jen Bowden

      Amen to all of the above. An interesting point that the loudest voices are required to be loud. Hadn’t thought of it that way before.

      • Valerie

        By small and simple things… Great things come to pass. Soft and quiet can be very powerful. The loud voices choose to be loud and my experience is that loud is less.

  7. Steph

    As always, I love reading your blog. Your words are so thought provoking and challenge me to observe and contemplate the values in my life. I am especially giddy about your conversation with Jeff and has made me think hard about the definition of feminism. With all the noise lately around women (women’s march, international women’s day) and the attention it has gained on social media, I have been reflecting on what being a woman means to me and how it is intertwined with feminism.

    First off, I think defining feminism is so difficult and ultimately impossible as it means something different to everyone. I like to think that feminism is on a spectrum and has a fluid framework.
    I would argue that feminism has evolved from the groundbreaking radical feminists to the new wave feminists and my hope is that it is still evolving as an open ended era which has multiple and inclusive perspectives on what it means to be a feminist. My hope beyond that is that “feminist” will not be an aggressive term rather it be a celebrated notion of woman! Ultimately we want women to have no ceilings, no stigmas but the choice to chose what they do and how they do it! Really, who is to say that there are boundaries and levels of how feminist you are. Wife, partner, CEO, mother, athlete, conservative, liberal, hairy, skanky, strong, nurturing…. whatever you feel love and empowerment through should be your own prerogative. I’m not saying women should start anarchy because F it we are women! There are still social graces and norms to be upheld as well as respecting and supporting men and treating all with respect. After all it is not just women who are feminists.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that I appreciate your ability to make decisions based on you, your family and your beliefs. I always admire your strength to stand so sturdy and resilient for what you believe in. You embody someone who celebrates being a woman and I think that is femint as ****!!

    • Jen Bowden

      Loved your comment, Steph. Especially this part: “My hope beyond that is that ‘feminist’ will not be an aggressive term rather it be a celebrated notion of woman!” I have the same hope… and am continually learning what this notion of being a woman really means for me. Sometimes that means stripping away a lot of things I have come to understand about how I should act or be in order to find out what I actually value in life.

      Had a good chuckle over your final statement. And also felt empowered by it. Love you and can’t wait for some warm weather fun with you guys.

  8. Hans

    Feminism takes many different forms. I think the masses in Western society have come to view feminism monolithically. I totally agree that the shift from a purse to a pack is consistent with feminism. I view the dainty impracticality of the purse as equal to the ridiculousness of the English side saddle. The purse is awkward, clumsy and limited. I’m proud of you Jennifer Bowden for dropping the purse and grabbing hold of the reigns.

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