What Losing a Friend Taught Me About Feminism

Hands by Kate Edwards
“Hands” by Kate Edwards

It’s hard for me not to roll my eyes when I hear the oft-uttered axiom that “people don’t change.” In my experience we change every day: incrementally, inexplicably, and in such a way that looking back through our mind’s eye—or through an Instagram filter—feels like watching your favorite actor’s first movie, when he or she was barely recognizable. People change and as such, so do their relationships to others. Our bonds between friends shift just like our haircuts, our affinity for misguided tattoos, our political ideologies.

Despite thinking I was a full-fledged adult at 18, reflecting on my friendships at that time highlights just how much has changed. Morgan was a friend who, despite spending nearly all my time with her for the last two years of high school, never fell into my category of “best friend:” the coveted, teenaged-girl honorific. In most of my other friendships I was cast in the role of follower, worshipper. They were the older, more experienced girls, always a step ahead of me in terms of maturity or experience. With Morgan the roles were reversed, at least in my eyes. She was slightly less “cool” and so I found myself emboldened to call the shots and be a little bossy. These complicated dynamics led to a close but often fraught relationship; I’d tease her in what I assumed was a jocular, silly way, but every once in a while she bristled, pointing out my condescending tone or underlying cruelty. She was right, of course, to my current embarrassment. What stemmed from this was my certain dismissal of her ideas at first blush. No matter what book she said she liked or song she’d heard on the radio, I’d write it off.

 
… I judged her for her choices. It was one of the tensions that led to our eventual falling out.
 

During our first year of college in separate cities, Morgan started working at a strip club, first as a waitress and then as a dancer. In nearly all regards this was a positive move: she gained confidence, was safe at a well-regulated establishment, and generally grew as a person with a more worldly point of view. As an adult and a feminist, the values that I hold most closely are that women are their own masters, and how they choose to work within and outside of the patriarchy is their own domain. But because it was Morgan, and because I was young and uninformed, I judged her for her choices. It was one of the tensions that led to our eventual falling out.

I remember clearly an argument wherein she defended her decision to strip as feminist, while I countered that she was feeding into the sexualization of women. Later, after the vehemence had subsided, I realized I had never even looked up the word “feminism” in the dictionary, let alone thought of it as more than a term for a hazy historical concept involving suffragettes.

The following year, in the first of many women’s studies and feminist literary theory classes which would come to shape my beliefs, I started to realize how close-minded I’d been and how brave Morgan was to stand up to me. Although our friendship burned out shortly after that argument, it left a mark. I cannot imagine my life without feminism and I’m grateful to have been pushed into the sticky, lifelong learning experience by a friend who was willing to fight over it.

This essay originally appeared in the Fight issue. Find more inspiring stories from the Fight issue here or read The Important Lesson My Roommate Taught Me.