Then, when I was about eight or nine-ish, I had something of an epiphany. I was in the bathroom, getting into my pajamas after taking a shower, and I suddenly stopped and thought, "wait a minute...why do women have to stay home and cook and clean and whatnot? Why do the Disney movies I watch seem to always put women in an inferior role?" And all of a sudden, it stopped making sense to me. And that's where my journey began.
It was then that I started to detest wearing skirts and dresses and whatnot for fear of adhering to gender roles that say women should look feminine and whatnot. My aunt gave me a book about great women in world history (a book I absolutely loved and still have because it's one of my favorite books in existence). But I don't feel like my young mind completely understood feminism yet. While I did believe in equal rights for all people, I thought feminism was all about women not being housewives forced to do domestic tasks and not needing a man. Which, in a sense, I still believe, but more to the idea of women shouldn't have to adhere to gender roles they don't agree with, and a woman doesn't inherently need a man, but if she chooses to have one in her life, that's cool, too.
When I hit middle school, I was still a feminist, but I kinda shied away from the term out of fear that I would get made fun of, after finding that my family would lovingly tease me about being a feminist. But I was nevertheless interested in gender equality. I began to learn about the need for gender equality in the third world, sexism in ancient civilizations, the awesomeness of female scientists (primarily Marie Curie, who was absolutely positively my hero in seventh grade), and especially the woman suffrage movement in America during the early 1900s. Woman suffrage became a great interest of mine in eighth grade, so much so that I even submitted a paper on the history of woman suffrage in America for the National History Day contest (I didn't win, but the judges loved my paper anyway).
In my freshman year, I definitely continued to be a feminist. But I still wasn't super open about being one, due especially to the stigma and stereotypes attached to feminism and my fear of being made fun of. I used to avidly read online newspapers, and based on the comments I would write on the women's issues articles reveal to Present-Day Me that I was still a feminist. I spoke out about how gender equality still does not exist, I avidly supported LGBT rights, and signed petitions and wrote angry emails to help support Kiera Wilmot, as she was a fellow STEM girl. I was essentially one of those people who say "I'm not a feminist, but (insert feminist opinion)."
But that all changed in November of my sophomore year in high school. I was bored one night when I couldn't sleep, and so I decided to watch some TED talks, because why not? Since I had recently become obsessed with Fleetwood Mac, I decided to search the TED website for something related to Stevie Nicks. Because, again, why not? What I came across, by total chance, was probably the single TED talk that completely changed my life (Jane McGonigal's talk about playing games that lengthen your life is a close second place). The talk was given by Tavi Gevinson (who came up as a search result due to her declaration to "just be Stevie Nicks"), and discussed feminism, popular culture, the blog that made her famous, and Rookie. I had never before heard of Tavi, Style Rookie, or Rookiemag.com, but something about that talk turned me back on to feminism.
In the following months since I watched that TED talk, I become less and less afraid of calling myself a feminist. I also began to view feminism in a whole new light: I not only recognize gender roles as an issue, but also rape culture, representation of women in media and pop culture, sexual objectification, wage inequality, etc. Aside from Rookie and Tavi Gevinson, influences such as older girls who were in drama club with me that identified as feminists, reading feminist blogs and articles on the internet, Laci Green's videos about feminism, my discovery of Bikini Kill and riot grrrl, and many other things were instrumental to my development as a feminist.
I have also stopped associating femininity with anti-feminism and oppressive gender roles, and now deem it as an expression of gender. In middle school, I hardly wore makeup, and I loved wearing pants and not putting much effort into making my hair look gorgeous. Now, I love love love eyeliner, skirts, curling my hair, wearing perfume, etc. Because now, I'm secure in the fact that I am a feminist, and wanting to be girly and feminine does not make me any less of a feminist.
What a fantastic evolution.