There are as many versions of feminism as there are women. The messages we receive — in childhood, in school, at the workplace, in society — shapes how we see equity. When we prioritize our values as feminists or womanists, our perspective on inequities varies depending on our own experiences, and who we have conversations with.

This issue explores the many viewpoints of powerful, everyday Minnesota women working for equity. I asked the team behind Minnesota Women’s Press to respond to this question: “What messages made you the feminist that you are today?”




Sarah Whiting directs our design and structure. She grew up in an egalitarian environment. “I was shocked to learn of disparities in pay. Issues of equal pay, along with the longstanding cultural acceptance of violence against women made me a feminist.”

Shelly Damm, who leads our ad sales team, was raised by two feminists. Her mother’s messages started early. “She told my sisters and I that we could do anything men can do, and maybe even do it better.” When Shelly was a downhill ski racer, her father noticed some of her discomfort. “He tapped into that part of me that was juggling being capable and powerful versus being soft and feminine. He advised me to grit my teeth and attack, including any task in what was considered to be the domain of masculinity.”

Ashlee Moser, ad sales specialist and social media reporter, was raised in a small town with traditional gender roles. “There had always been expectations based on gender that did not sit right with me. It wasn’t until I left for college and learned about feminism that I finally had the words to describe what was wrong about those limitations. It felt empowering, knowing my biological sex had little to do with anything.”



Bookkeeper Fariba Sanikhatam grew up in a family of strong women in a male- dominated country. One of her aunts became the first female gynecologist in Iran. Her grandmother was the first in her family to stop wearing a headscarf. “My mother managed everything from daily food to finances. After negotiating any deal, she would give the paper to my father to sign.”

Fariba moved to the U.S. alone when she was 16 for school. “It was their examples that made me work tirelessly through the hard times I was facing.”

The mother of Selena Moon, fact- checker, was the first woman in her Japanese family to attend college, and who became a doctor. As a graduate of Smith College — led by women — Selena feels power standing in the footsteps of feminist alumni who have broken barriers worldwide.

Distribution coordinator Kari Larson says she and her brother were raised with both dolls and trucks. Chores and interests were based on skills, interests, and needs, not gender. “As I got older, I noticed my Dad had a less strict attitude toward my brother with curfews and freedoms. I pointed out that if men were stricter with their boys, they wouldn’t have to worry as much about their girls.”

Copy editor Kelly Gryting spent most of her life reconciling mixed messages. “Mom made sure I knew that I was equal to anyone and could hold my own in a male-dominated IT career. Outside, I was valued more for my appearance. I got the message that I should be interested in mani-pedis, not use my brain. Thank goodness for my rebel mom.”

Events coordinator Karen Olson Johnson says, “At the age of five, at my request, I was given a dissection kit filled with specimens and tools. No judgment about my extreme interest in science came from my parents and I was encouraged to explore and get messy. I am the feminist I am today because my sense of boundaries and inclusion were born out of a freedom to explore.”

Proofreader Quinn Dreasler grew up with “equitable and justice-seeking feminism. Every experience is an opportunity to fine tune a sense of feminism and intersectionality. Listening to the Spice Girls, protesting the Iraq War, playing roller derby, and everything in between gives me a clearer lens with which to see the world.”


Your turn: How did you learn to be a powerful woman? Send up to 200 words to editor@womenspress.com