This Is What A Feminist Looks Like: Ellen

Name: Ellen  M. Lacey
Age: 26
Occupation: Sociology Researcher/Master’s Student
Location: Lexington, KY


How do you define feminism?
Feminism is making a personal choice not to be less than another human being. Feminism means not working harder than your male partner – the second shift. It means uncovering the meanings and history behind cultural norms – like a Father walking his daughter down the aisle –  and making an informed choice about your own participation. Feminism is the opposite of ignorance and the status quo. It’s about taking time to think about each assumption and actively choosing your path rather than accepting one that came before you.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
When I was in elementary school I told my Aunt Margaret that I wanted to be the 1st woman president of the United States. She responded with “I hope we don’t have to wait that long.” I knew then that equal status for men and women in our culture was overdue and being the first was no longer what little girls needed. Rather we needed (and still need) a society where ALL children, regardless of sex, gender, race, etc, can feel free to dream of success in any field without first qualifying their wish. This is only possible if women are present in arenas they have yet to enter. Being the first is not longer important, rather we want many women to have access to many spheres.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
When I was growing up my version of feminism was militant. I felt angry, probably because the culture that I came from is extremely sexist. Because I felt threatened by the male-dominated culture around me I used feminism to protect myself. Today I am still angry, but as a means of motivation rather than the kind of emotional upset that isn’t productive. I suppose I’ve matured into a passionate feminist.

I believe the foundation of today’s feminism must be individual in nature. Each woman needs to stand up for her own liberties – in the home, at work – and we must support our sisters the way team-mates do. We are not fighting men, we are working toward lives that suit us without making us work harder than men. Every woman that stays up to clean the house long after her husband is asleep, who doesn’t consider the cultural ramifications of changing her last name, who chooses not to pursue her dream job for lack of support from her partner – each of these women is choosing to stand by cultural norms that hurt all of us.

It’s not about a clear set of goals today (except pay equality of course) but rather about informed choices that are in line with our values as individual women. We must remember though that every choice we make effects another woman and more likely many other women.

Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
I’ve experienced resistance even without formally identifying as a feminist. I live in Kentucky and am regularly asked if I’m a feminist – LIKE IT’S A DISEASE. Here it seems (even though the vast majority of Kentucky women work after only about 6 weeks off for maternity leave – they are bad ass here!) that being a feminist goes hand-in-hand with being angry-spinster material and perhaps even man-hating or lesbian. In many circles it’s a scarlet letter.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
I used to be full of optimism – about women presidents and egalitarian families. I am heartened when I read stories of stay-at-home-Dads and even conservative women running for president. What I’m experiencing in this phase of my life gives me pause however. Many of my close friends are getting married and starting families – a wonderful time! These Ivy League educated women are making choices that I view as counter-feminist. Some are moving far from their work for their husbands lower-paying-less-demanding jobs. Some are changing their names while their husbands change nothing of theirs. One friend explained to me that hyphenating her name was symbolic of becoming a team. Her husband did not change his name at all. To me this is symbolic of him owning the team. My cousin is staying home with her little girls but she is not investing in a retirement or savings account for herself. Women are at an overwhelmingly higher risk of falling below the poverty line after a catastrophic event like the death of a spouse or divorce. So why do we continue to do things like my cousin is doing? I don’t mean that mothers shouldn’t stay home, but by protecting their future interests they are protecting their children too. That is feminism, divorcing yourself from the idea that some choices are unromantic (like separate retirement accounts) and making conscious choices to do what is in your best interest.

I worry that we are resting on the progress of the feminists that came before us. Just because we have more choices by no means suggests that we have equality. Equality (or parity) is a state of being free to choose any path (even one traditionally “male”) and make choices that are in our best interest without risking scorn or judgement. We are not there yet and I worry we may not arrive in my lifetime.

Ellen Lacey attended Barnard College, a women’s college in the heart of New York City, where she studied Latin American history and psychology. At Barnard she met the women that would become her chosen family – Strong, Beautiful, Barnard Women. These girlfriends have taught her what it means to be loyal, how to properly set a dinner table, and the most effective way to pack for a semester abroad, among so many other things. She is currently building behavioral science research databases and working on an MPH (2013) at the University of Kentucky. Ellen is a member of the UK Staff Senate, on the Board of the University of Kentucky Women’s Forum, the founder of the Barnard Club of Kentucky, and a White House Project GO Run alumna (Denver, Colorado).

Ellen comes from a family of amazing women, the ones who braved the professional world in the 1980s and managed to raise wonderful children while building strong careers – and never sleeping. Her Mom is still living in New York City, immunizing high schools students in rough neighborhoods, and helping to run a day-care center for teenage mothers. Ellen is fully aware that she will not top that resume. Her Father was a feminist too. He changed the family’s church because the priest would not allow women on the alter when she was in elementary school. Arriving in Kentucky two years ago, she realized that feminism looks different everywhere and had the opportunity to examine her convictions about women and our place in society.

Ellen is an active member of Temple Adath Israel, a reform synagogue in Lexington, KY. She loves to play with her fur-child Spencer in the park in her free time, or when she’s ignoring the homework piling up. Ellen is blessed with the presence of her youngest sister in her home. She is studying to be a dairy-farming professor and not taking out her trash. She has a generous boyfriend who listens attentively to her rants, cooks, and does laundry. Ellen plays club rugby at University of Kentucky. She recently started a youth cheerleading program with the YMCA of Central Kentucky. Team sports are her passion and the avenue she believes saved her from getting stuck in her neighborhood in Staten Island, NY in high school.

More than anything else, Ellen is a grateful Sister to two feminists, Daughter, Friend, and Girlfriend – and well aware that it’s the people in her life that make everything work while. 

If you would like to participate in this series, please contact me for more details! 

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