Discovering My Feminist Toolbox

I cannot accept how prevalent injustice has become. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).
I need feminism because I cannot accept how prevalent injustice has become. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

I need feminism because I cannot accept how prevalent injustice has become in our society. I need feminism because I cannot come to terms with the contemporary acceptance of women’s political, economic, and social inequality, not only worldwide but in a country that prides itself on being as democratic as ours.

Since I began taking a feminism course at my high school only four months ago, I have shifted and changed as a person. In the beginning, I had serious misconceptions about feminism. I thought it was simply a movement about women wanting to take on roles primarily given to men. I also thought that the struggle for equality had long been solved when women achieved the right to vote, own their homes, have their own bank accounts, and obtain divorces.

I did not realize that this mindset is exactly what the media and our society purposely push us to believe. I am now aware that the struggles women go through everyday are as important as the ones they had to face in the past. The difference between now and then is that this patriarchal system of sexism and misogyny is now beneath the surface.

These attacks on women and on minorities are not visible; they are sometimes unconscious and therefore unrecognizable and internalized by many. They are shown to us through everyday images and thought of as “normal.”  The most preposterous thing is that since images on television and magazines are not restricted, we are exposed to these messages from the time we are children.

Since feminism has become a part of my life, I have developed a passion for social justice and for equality. With this passion also comes the ability to examine media critically. I cannot ignore the real effects and devastation that the media has had on women and girls everyday.

My interest in learning about feminism all started out as a curiosity. I realized that I was interested in feminism from conversations with the girls at my school who had taken the course before I did, as well as from watching my mother’s work throughout the years. Eventually, I came to the realization that I had practically no notion of what feminism was. I saw my peers’ sense of empowerment develop and I realized I could relate to or agree with most of the struggles these girls began fighting for.

In this feminism course, through pieces of writing and reflections such as “Organizing 101” by Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, “La Güera” by Cherríe Moraga and “How to tame a wild tongue” by Gloria Anzaldúa, I came to the conclusion that all those issues I wanted to fight for, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, are deeply connected to the work of feminism. 

Other pieces of writing that changed my initial idea of feminism and shaped my current opinion were texts, films, and documentaries that reject the master narrative of white male domination. Magazines such as Ms., documentaries such as The Invisible War and Miss Representation, and books like Girls Like Us  have opened my eyes. They have helped construct the lens though which I am able to be more critical towards our society.

Through the idea of intersectionality, I have realized that women are not defined solely by their gender, and that feminism connects race to class to ethnicity and even sexuality.  In my intersectionality essay,  I explored the different aspects of myself and realized that I am not only female but also multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-ethnic as well as open-minded about my sexual identity.

As Moraga writes in her piece “La Güera,” “In this country, lesbianism is a poverty–as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression.”

You cannot separate individual parts of a person. Our society would do anything and everything to put us into boxes, to classify us, and to simplify us, but this is not possible. Audre Lorde writes, “Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression. ”

I believe that Lorde is the perfect example of how intersectionality works because her life story shows how she cannot be split into black, lesbian or female, as all three are a part of her. This is why there is “no hierarchy of oppression,” as feminism includes all of these issues, and all minorities, because feminism is about ending injustice.

A poster about why we need feminism Photo from http://lipmag.com/opinion/broadening-feminisms-intersectionality-101/
A poster about why we need feminism
Photo from http://lipmag.com/opinion/broadening-feminisms-intersectionality-101/

Another great example of intersectionality, and a reading I completely connected to was “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” by Anzaldúa, in which she describes her decision to not translate certain words or sentences in Spanish in her essays. She purposely writes in Spanglish because by doing so she does not have to choose between her two selves; when she writes, she puts down her whole self.

The original piece begins with a quote by Ray Gwyn Smith, “Who is to say that robbing a people of its language is less violent than war?” Since I identify as Italo-Palestinian, I absolutely know what Smith means, and what Anzaldúa’s intention is by quoting this line. I always regret not being able to speak Arabic, especially when visiting my family, but to have the opportunity to mix some Italian into my intersectionality essay was a truly incredible  moment. I felt free, free to used the best fitting words, the words that most easily came to mind and I did not bother to translate every time. For once, I did not feel like I was choosing one part of me over another.

Another major problem in the struggle for women is that all women are unique, and not all women have had the same experiences. I strongly agree with Lorde’s essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,”in which she states that “difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.”

The differences between women should be used as a new tool to fight oppression. Instead, the media shows women fighting each other. The documentary Miss Representation addresses this issue directly: “women are not to be trusted, they are seen as catty, revengeful, bitchy…” After seeing this film, I have noticed this pattern too. In television shows such as The Jersey Shore—a show that is embarrassing for every Italian I know, including me—girls attack each other physically or call each other names. These fights are mostly if not always over a man. I strongly believe this is purposely made to avoid any female unity against the injustice of sexism and misogyny.

Furthermore, with this feminism course I have not only found a key part of myself that has helped me become more secure and empowered, but I have found passions and causes I want to fight for.

This is my vision of the future of feminism: we, queer, colored, female individuals are not going to back down, because once you see the problem, once you have been shown the way, once you have seen through the lens, there is simply no going back. As Lorde writes, “Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

I truly believe it has began to illuminate my every action.

Society is not meant to regress, it is meant to progress, and the changes we are asking for are not impossible or preposterous. A woman who joins the Army to serve her country but ends up getting sexually assaulted is within her rights to demand justice, and should not be denied her rights because of governmental pride (or ignorance). A queer man who wants to visit his lifelong partner in the hospital should not be challenged because of religion in a country in which religion and government have supposedly been long separated. A student with a low socio-economic status should be able to get birth control in order to not to get pregnant while in high school or college, or even just for medical purposes.

As Lorde writes in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House: “Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears.”

All of this and much more should not be going on, but it is and with it there are people like Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem, my high school feminism teacher Ileana Jiménez, my classmates, and me pushing to make social change.

On my part, I am starting small by talking to my friends, writing this blog post, doing an honors project on feminist blogging, and requesting an after-school girls empowerment program.

I want to be a part of the change and have a deep desire to bring what I have learned in this high school feminism class into action, maybe even to where I am from in Italy, where there is a lack of strong female leaders or respect for women, or in Palestine, where no one seems to realize that women and children are always the ones to suffer the most during wartime.

Finally, I need feminism because I need to hang on to the hope that this world can be a better place for the next generation of strong women to come, a place in which we have the same political, economic, and social opportunities as men.

4 thoughts on “Discovering My Feminist Toolbox

  1. First, I just have to start by bringing attention to this one line you wrote, that really caught my attention: “The difference between now and then is that this patriarchal system of sexism and misogyny is now beneath the surface.”

    This line alone, perfectly sums up our need for feminism. This line, I feel should be in the dictionary – under the definition of feminism! I really found it brilliant… Okay, I’ll move on now!

    Your blog post was a detailed insight into your understanding and feelings toward feminism, before and after taking this course.

    Your uses of texts that have helped shape your understanding of what feminism is was a great way to figure out what you connect too, and how everyone has their own ways and personal connection to feminism.

    I hope you can continue to be a part of the change, and that you can live a life that you are 100% happy to live.

  2. Your passion for these issues really shines through in this blog post and I absolutely love you how you made it very personal to you. I think it’s really interesting how you talked about language. As someone who speaks only English, I hadn’t really realized how difficult it may be for someone who although speaks English fluently, has to put a side their first language and consequently has to put aside half of their identity.
    Great job!

  3. I love the play on words in the title correlates with the quote “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. So now with your feminism toolbox equipped with a new mindset and new tools you will be able to begin to break apart “the Master’s house”.

    It was fascinating how you said “the changes we are asking for are not impossible or preposterous. A woman who joins the Army to serve her country but ends up getting sexually assaulted is within her rights to demand justice, and should not be denied her rights because of governmental pride (or ignorance). A queer man who wants to visit his lifelong partner in the hospital should not be challenged because of religion in a country in which religion and government have supposedly been long separated. A student with a low socio-economic status should be able to get birth control in order to not to get pregnant while in high school or college, or even just for medical purposes”.

    You brought up all these great examples of controversy in America through an intersectional lens: race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, which really shows how much your definition of feminism has expanded over the course.

    GREAT WORK!

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