Future of Feminism Depends on Me

I need feminism because I deserve to be a valued member of society. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)
I need feminism because I deserve to be a valued member of society. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

As I sit down to write this post, I plug in my iPod, choose a song that will suit the mood I’m going for and I turn it up, blocking out

all the distractions around me.

I know this post is important, I know it has to somehow, magically, sum up everything I’ve learnt over the past few months in my high school feminism class.

I’ve been given the near impossible task of writing about these two topics: “I need feminism because . . . ” and “What is the future of feminism?” all in one blog post.

It would be an easy thing to do, you’d think. After all, how much can one person really learn in such a short amount of time?

I can’t quite explain how much this course has taught me. It’s opened my eyes to the world around me, a world that I never saw before. Feminism in itself, has helped me realise things I’d never realised before. I’ve learnt about history, I’ve learnt about important figures in the feminist movement – heck, I’ve even met some of them!

I’ve read so many incredible stories, I’ve felt as if I’ve been put in the shoes of the oppressed and have walked a mile in them. I can empathize with people I never thought I could. I’ve celebrated people and accomplishments that I’d never known of before.

I’ve even discovered things about myself that I had been so oblivious to. All of this and more has happened, thanks to one class that I took for the short amount of time of three months.

I remember when I was asked to write down my definition of feminism at the start of the class in September. I wrote: “For women to be equal to men.” I thought I had it in the bag, it was such an easy question . . .  Oh, how naive I was!

From that point on, I’ve realised that though we may think feminism is easy to define, it turns out to be something much more complicated and much more important than I originally thought.

SPARK - what feminism is, and why it's still important.
What feminism is and why it’s still important.

It was learnt from early on in the course—that feminism isn’t just about a woman being equal to a man—but is rather about creating an equal world for all people. We also learned a theory to help us understand the goals of feminism, namely, intersectionality.

When someone says, “women should be equal to men,” a whole series of questions become apparent. First off, what men are women meant to be equal to?

There is oppression evident within our own gender, so to say women should be equal to men is an impossible task. Women can’t be equal to something, when they aren’t even equal amongst themselves.

Secondly, what kind of women is considered “equal” to men? Does this statement,  “women should be equal to men” include lesbians? Women of colour? Women from poor communities? The same goes for men.

We live in a world where people can’t just be who they are. We have to divide ourselves in order to suit the people around us. When we go out with one particular group of people, we have to mould ourselves to fit them. We hide the parts of us that we know will cause differences. We can never be “whole.”

As Audre Lorde wrote in “There is no hierarchy of oppression“: “Within the lesbian community I am black and within the black community I am a lesbian.” Sometimes people around us discover their true selves and they don’t like it. This causes them to only pay attention to the things that separate us, instead of all the things that bring us together.

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde

Women are expected to act like “ladies,” implying that there is a natural way for us to act. What does that even mean, to act like a “lady”? Why is it that we have to act like this?

Sometimes, I want to tie back my hair and get my knees dirty. I don’t want to always have to worry about my appearance in the mirror, nor do I want to worry about how “gracious” I am when eating or walking from place to place. And I’m sure men feel the same way, in the sense that they don’t always want to “act like a man.”

Men might sometimes want to show emotion, they might want to take care of their appearance. But they can’t do this without being labeled a “fag”or a “pussy.” The same goes for women; if they don’t act like ladies, they are  labeled “bitch” and “slut.”

Depending on how we identify, we may think it’s easier for men or women,  but in fact both men and women face barriers in their lives. As Julius Lester wrote in his essay “Men: Being a Boy”: “No, it wasn’t easy for any of us, girls and boys, as we forced our beautiful, free-flowing child-selves, into those narrow, constricting labels of  female and male.”

Why is it that we feel the need to fit into these stereotypes that have been created for us? Why is it that women are seen as “lesser-value” than men? Who’s to say that sexism doesn’t still exist?

Women all over the world have constantly been degraded, humiliated, and made to feel as if they can’t do the same as men. One girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15, simply because the “husband”  gave the father a dowry that was “decent” enough.

Here are more facts: Women are still expected to bear children, even if they don’t want to. 75 percent of 15-to 24-year-olds living with HIV in Africa are female, up from 62 percent in 2001. Dammit, in some countries, infanticide is still a big deal because some cultures don’t value giving birth girls!

Now, I’m sorry – but how the hell is all this still happening?

Below, you can see a video made by The Girl Effect which we used during our International Day of the Girl assembly. This video is a strong reminder that a whole lot is still wrong internationally in regards to women’s rights, however it also shows an alternative way – a better way, in which the world can be.

In our country, the sexualization of girls and women in the media has become one of the biggest feminist issues of our time. Media has taken the reins of people’s opinions and has disrupted the public’s morals. Media is one of the largest and most influential forums for women and in particular young girls.

We see in media what is meant to be seen in ourselves. However, what we don’t realise is that the images we do see are not doing anything positive for us, instead they are doing a whole lot of damage.

I go into further detail about the negative effects of media in my previous blog post, however, I feel the need to mention it here, as it is something that has strongly shaped my own opinions regarding women’s rights and feminist issues.

Media has created massive amounts of depression and desperation among young girls, as it sends the constant message of what to look like and how to act. We are taught to love ourselves, but how can we when what we see in the world around us is the complete opposite to what we are? As Lee Damsky writes in Body Outlaws, “The notion that I should love myself the way I am feels hopelessly ambiguous.”

Finally, I have somehow managed to come full circle and am back to my original question of “Why do I need feminism?”

Still, the answer is not simple. Taking into consideration all I have learnt, and what I have mentioned above, I can answer this question with certainty when I say: I need feminism because I want to be ungrateful. As Susan B. Anthony once said, “Our job is not to make young women grateful. It’s to make them ungrateful.”

I want to live a life where I don’t have to worry about going out alone at night. I want to live a life where a women of any colour and sexuality can be elected president and it will be a normal thing. I want to live a life, where women have control over their own bodies and where they have access to contraception and other medical needs if necessary without being shunned or questioned as if they were the devil’s spawn. I want to be able to get a job, and not worry about earning a lower income than men or have to worry about workplace harassment. I want to be able to watch television shows and read magazines and not come out of it with an even more negative view of myself.

I need feminism because I want to live a life where everything I once feared is a thing of the past and everything I once dreamed of is happening here and now.

The future of feminism is bright and is needed. However, what it entails, I can’t say. All I do know is that feminist issues are still very much present in our world, in our country and in our time. The future of feminism, I feel, will still be a reflection of what we are aiming for now. Feminism will still be people trying to recreate the moulds of the patriarchal society we live in.

I see myself in the feminist future.

A symbol I will stick by, during my future feminist years!
A symbol I will stick by, during my future feminist years!

3 thoughts on “Future of Feminism Depends on Me

  1. I love the picture you posted with the quote “feminism is the radical notion that women are people”. I think that this in itself is a great answer to the question “why is feminism important/relevant?”. This idea goes back to other blog posts I read discussing how without feminism society would regress. To me, society is moving in one direction (the perpetuation of the degradation of women) while feminism is trying to push it in the other direction. Without that force pushing it, society would move quicker in the direction that objectifies women.

  2. You covered the whole scope of everything we need to improve upon in our society, the gender stereotypes and binaries, the media’s portrayal of women, the danger girls without an education face. All this while covering all these authors like Audre Lorde and Julius Lester.

  3. Eliza, your pieces continue to impress me! It was great for you to explain what you thought feminism was before you were seriously engaged into it and explained what you learned it really is. You’ve included a lot in your piece that I would like to talk about. I thought it was a great idea to bring up feminist Audre Lorde talking about intersectionality. Then, you wrote about how people should not be called inappropriate words because of the things they like or the way the act. You also wrote about what girls outside this country face, such as no education or early marriage. Lastly, you wrote about how the media plays a role in corrupting the minds of people. It is clear that you have learned a lot from this class and that you do wish to make a difference. You keep a positive mind on the future of feminism and that is great to have. Great work!

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