At what point in your life did you consider yourself a feminist? Was it an event or a process?
I was raised in the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) faith. I never really thought about feminism until I took a class called "Women's Lives" for elective credit as a sophomore at Brigham Young University. The seminar was taught by two amazing instructors, Tomi Ann Roberts and Cecilia Konchar Farr, and it opened my eyes to all kinds of gender issues, which were especially apparent at a conservative religious school in the early 1990s. I continued to explore gender constructs in my academic work, writing my undergraduate thesis about the programmatic use of women as metaphors in the Latin poet Martial's epigrams. But I think feminism is a journey rather than a destination. At every stage of my life, I've encountered different challenges, as a student, a wife, a mother, then a single mother, and now as a college instructor. Right now, for example, I am re-reading Bel Hooks's "Teaching to Transgress," and it's almost as if I'm discovering feminism all over again. There's always something new to learn and discover.
Who most influenced your awareness of your feminism?
Though I wouldn't have thought this at the time, I have to credit my father, a U.S. Marine and Mormon bishop, for continually reinforcing the idea of women's equality throughout my formative years. He never called it feminism, but we often had long talks about gender inequality, including the wage gap, which he saw as fundamentally unfair, and the limited role of women in the LDS church. My dad even pushed me toward STEM, encouraging my interests in physics and computer programming. My father would have had no problem identifying himself as a feminist if he had known the word.
In what ways has your feminism informed your life choices?
I wish feminism had informed my life choices more, especially in my young adult years. I chose to be a stay-at-home mother for 13 years, leaving a competitive Ph.D. program and the promise of an academic career. While this choice may be right for some women, it was not right for me. After my divorce, I felt a sense of tremendous relief; I had been given a second chance to live the life I wanted. But I became acutely aware of the challenges that working women face, especially the dearth of high quality, affordable childcare. And opportunities to pursue employment in traditional academia were no longer available to me because I had chosen to have my children young.
In what ways do you share your feminism with others?
The most obvious way is by fighting for social justice for marginalized groups. I write, I teach, and I embrace opportunities to talk about feminism in everyday conversation, especially with my husband and my three sons. I think there's a cultural misunderstanding that identifying as a feminist means that you hate men. Nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism means that everyone can live an authentic life, express appropriate emotion, and develop intimacy. Recently a male friend posted on his Facebook page, "I just bought a pumpkin spice latte. Do I have to give up my man card?" People chimed in with the usual inappropriate stereotypes, but I commented, "No. Thanks to feminism, you can enjoy pumpkin spice lattes without shame." Far from demonizing men, feminism actually frees men--and women--to be themselves. Toxic societal "norms" of masculinity hurt everyone, including men.
Describe your vision of a feminist world.
Recently, I've come to understand mental health advocacy as inextricably intertwined with feminist advocacy, because caregiving is primarily a women's issue. One thing that mental health advocacy unfortunately shares with feminism, however, is a sometimes rigid insistence on ideological purity. I think we've all felt like we weren't "feminist enough" at some point, because we haven't read (X, Y, Z) or we have made choices that some people think are not feminist. My vision of a feminist world is one where women are equally represented in all spheres, from government to academia to corporate C suites to church pulpits. We are not really that close, unfortunately. But there are so many brave and brilliant voices speaking in this space today.
How I Define Feminism:
For me, feminism is equal treatment and respect for all people regardless of their gender identity, skin color, educational level, employment, religion, nationality, health challenges, etc. Feminism starts with self-respect and includes advocating for social justice for all marginalized peoples.
Liza Long is an author, educator, and mother of four children based in Boise, Idaho. Her book, The Price of Silence: A Mom's Perspective on Mental Illness (Hudson Street Press, 2014), was a 2015 "Books for a Better Life" award winner. Liza's essays have appeared in USA Today, the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Time.com, The Mighty, MindBodyGreen, Good Men Project, and Boise State University's "The Blue Review," among others. Since her essay “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” went viral, she has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Erin Burnett Out Front, Anderson Cooper 360, Dr. Oz, the Diane Rehm Show, NPR's Weekend Edition, and other programs. She presented talks on children’s mental health and stigma at TEDx San Antonio in October 2013 and at the National Council for Behavioral Health in March 2016. Liza holds an M.A. in Classics from UCLA and an Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University. Her dissertation research focused on mental health advocacy and leadership strengths.