How Indiana Jones Helped Me Discover My Feminism

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I’ve seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” more times than I count, I’ve read the series of books based on his character. I had a shirt with the Raiders movie poster on it and I wore a fedora around everywhere my mom would let me.  

And I absolutely had to be Indiana Jones for Halloween when I was 11.

My dad and I had it planned; he would put makeup on my face to make it look like I had beard stubble and I would wear my fedora.  We’d find a leather jacket and some rope to fashion a make-shift whip. I was absolutely stoked, and could barely hold in my excitement when I told my mom my plans.

But, she replied, “You can’t do that, that’s a boy’s costume.”  

So, that year for Halloween I was a “Girly Pirate” instead.  At the time, I was angry with my mom for letting not me do as I pleased.  Now, of course, I have since forgiven her and she will remain my hero forever, but I’ll never forget what she said that Halloween.  

And more importantly, I’ll never forget the frustration and confusion I experienced after she denied me my dream costume.  I didn’t know then that I would hold onto this moment with such significance as the earliest precursor to my feminist journey.

I know now that she was prescribing gender norms onto my body, my body.  I know that she wasn’t thinking about this when she told me I couldn’t be Indy. It wasn’t going through her mind that she needed to force me to conform to specific female gender norms.  She didn’t nastily forbid it, nor was she belligerent in her opposition. She was just following what she knew. In her mind, why would (or should) a girl want to be anything other than a girl?  

Girls are girls, boys are boys, and that’s that.

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Lady vs. Woman

Not only was I kept from dressing up in a classically "boy costume," but I also had to assume an identity as the most feminine version of a woman: a genuine lady.


Throughout the years, how to be a lady was drilled into me with passing comments. “Stand with your shoulders back,” “Walk with your feet pointed straight ahead,” “Close your legs when you sit,” “Suck in your stomach.”  I’m reminded of all of this everytime I look in the mirror or try on clothes in fitting rooms. But most of all, I’m reminded of these sort of comments when I think of how I would later build my feminism.

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Trial and Error to Find Feminism

Marni Grossman wrote a piece called, “Beating Anorexia and Gaining Feminism” where she unashamedly discusses her eating disorder in terms of feminism.  

She writes, “If this piece is disjointed and piecemeal, it’s because that is how I came to feminism.  There was no straight line. It was confusing and unpolished. I made mistakes. I will make more mistakes.”  

My path to discovering feminism started in my all-girls high school and was just as disjointed.  I was surrounded by strong women, and perhaps for the first time, I was taught that I could be any sort of woman that I wanted.  

I discovered this through a series of trial and error.  I had to think about what it meant to be strong and independent and I surrounded myself with like-minded friends with whom I could discuss my feelings, but it wasn’t always easy.  I had to balance my feminist power at school with my family’s attitude toward such liberal ideas that were so very different from their own.

For me, this is where the construction of my feminism met some challenges.  

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Finding a Balance Between Feminist Me and My Family

I struggled with becoming my own person, dare I say, my own woman, in the shadow of my family’s conflicting ideologies.  I didn’t want to disappoint them, and I still don’t.

I had to be an individual, somewhat separate from my family.  I had to be a person with individual beliefs and a personal code.  However, this didn’t mean that I necessarily had to cut myself off from my family.  It didn’t mean that I had to keep my mouth shut for the sake of familial peace. No one, let alone women, can be silenced for what they believe.  

It only meant that I had to adapt, based on who I was becoming and how my family was staying the same.  The realization hit that there would always be opposition to my personal brand of feminism in my family, but that never has to be an opposition that isolates me completely from them, even when it seems like it is.

Echoes of the Past

Back at school, eventually my friends and I brought each other to a place where we could understand our capabilities and our strengths.  But, I’m still learning and I’m still affected by norms that are inscribed on my body by others.

I still walk with my stomach sucked in and still I hear from my family ways in which I need to make myself more into a lady, ways in which I should act in the presence of others, ways in which I need to be more confident to gain the attention of men.  

Echoes of their words will stay with me for the rest of my life, and that’s why I think it’s so important for the future of our society to be inspired by changing ideologies, instead of destroying and dismissing them simply because we haven’t seen them before.  To educate and motivate children of all identities to strive for equality so no little girl is told she can’t be Indiana Jones for Halloween ever again.


Author: Kelly Friday

Kelly is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a major in Health Information Management and a minor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. She is dedicated to the University’s Handbell Ensemble, of which she is the Vice President and currently holds a student position in the Infectious Diseases Division at Pitt. When she isn’t trolling for new music for the Ensemble, she spends her free time wandering bookstores, always on the hunt for the next gripping page-turner. As part of the Make Muse Team, she uses her experience in the male-dominated professional sphere to empower more women to join the competitive workforce, particularly in underrepresented fields.