I am a feminist. When I claim this identity, I merely am asserting that I have the right to be treated in the way I treat others: as a unique person of integrity and worth to be afforded consideration and dignity and judged on my merits and shortcomings, not on the basis of stereotype-based prejudices. In an ideal world it would be that simple. The cosmos we dwell in, however, is very good at complicating matters.

For one thing, a myriad facets play into our lives, including some we may not even think about. As a woman, I can expect to earn less than men with comparable titles and educations and have male politicians overly interested in legislating my reproductive life. However, being a cisgendered heterosexual gives me privilege. Because I am fine with the sex trappings I was born with, people aren’t afraid of sharing a public restroom or locker room with me. Because I fell in love with a man, our decision to get married was never questioned or seen as a threat to other people’s marriages.

Because my family can check off “white” on a census, we’re not subject to undue suspicion. My husband can walk down a street without arousing fear in people or having his right to be in certain neighborhoods challenged. As a Methodist, I can be as upfront with my religious affiliation as I wish without having people jump to terrorist conclusions.

I was raised by educated parents in a home full of learning opportunities. I entered school more equipped to excel academically than most of my peers. Over the years the gap widened. In turn I was able to give my children an enriched growing up environment and the confidence to achieve their dreams.

Another complicating factor is life’s tendency to throw us curve balls — situations no amount of contemplating can prepare us for because they involve a great deal of uncertainty and fear. A couple of decades ago, I discovered a lump on my breast the same day I found out I was pregnant. Whatever I decided carried a risk. If the lump was malignant, pregnancy hormones would speed up its growth and possibly leave my already born child half-orphaned. But aborting a viable fetus and later learning the lump was benign would have left me feeling guilty the rest of my life. I won the gamble with a beautiful baby girl and no malignancy. But during the time I didn’t know even if I’d live I was operating purely on emotion, higher ethical frameworks being decidedly missing in action.

The third factor I introduce here is the very common experience of participating in institutions that totally go against one’s values. I do not shop at Wal-Mart because I have a lot of concern for the environment and working conditions here and in third-world countries but I also hate seeing local stores that operate ethically and keep money in the community being undercut and often shut down by their low prices. Although I do my shopping at local stores, I very much against my will enable Wal-Mart to enjoy an unfair advantage just by paying taxes. Tax money enables them to pay less than a living wage and encourage associates to go on food stamps and Medicaid. I do not begrudge a cent to those working people and their families. I want Wal-Mart to have to pay a living wage and not enjoy this unfair advantage over companies that do so.

What does all this have to do with my being a feminist? Everything. I am not a feminist by virtue of getting all the right answers on a check list. I most certainly am not by virtue of being holier than thou. I am a complex, far from perfect, often not consistent person living in a messy and challenging world that sometimes pulls the rug out from under my feet. I am a feminist because I do my best to follow a credo I find at the essence of feminism. It’s a little thing Methodism and Christianity share with every other major world religion and many ethically minded atheists: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and do not treat your fellow human beings in a way you yourself would find distasteful.

Julia Emily Hathaway is the vice chair of the Veazie School Committee, a poet and a proud mother of three.