Coming to Feminism, Coming of Age

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Here I am (black jacket) awaiting my turn to read my personal essay during our high school feminism class assembly for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

In the last month, I have gone through another coming of age, and this one was is titled: Feminism.

I have to be honest, at the beginning of the year, I truly was not expecting that within a few months time, I would have labeled myself a womanist. Mostly because I did not know it existed.

In the last month, my world has been shattered as I have taken off my rosy-colored glasses and realized exactly what was happening directly in front of my eyes. The feelings and yearnings I have always possessed, have been age old feelings that other powerful and beautiful women have fought to make come true.

I had naively thought that it was over, that we did not need feminism anymore, because the way of the world was the way it should be. The only way. How mistaken I had been. Upon entering my high school feminism class, I had been equipped with all of the feminist stereotypes. The she-man man hater, the butch lesbian, the woman who does not shave or bathe (not sure where the no washing came from, but nonetheless) and the most important, the feminist who burned her bras, and who did not wear heels or make-up. These last few stereotypes had been particularly terrifying as those are all of my favorite things!

Imagine my surprise when I first laid eyes on the beautiful Gloria Steinem. I mean, come on, shattered that stereotype. But the first real connection I had with feminism was through her documentary, Gloria: In Her Own Words , which we  watched in class. It presented a raw and true side to the stereotypes I had seen, except that feminism was deeper than the stereotypes and stories I had heard.

In one of the scenes from the 1970’s, two women are speaking to two male journalists at the Democratic National Convention about media outlets not covering women’s issues. One of the men constantly waved the women off. One of the black women got so upset that she got in the man’s face and he proceeded to physically “put her in her place,” by pushing her to the side. She hit him the chest. She exclaimed: “Get your fucking hands off of me!”

One of the other men sitting behind them stated that the women had “taken it too far.” I was hooked right then.

Tears had began to collect in my eyes while watching because both the words and the physicality of the scene explained so much. One man felt it was OK for him to move the woman to the side, and another man mentioned that she had taken everything too far. I left class that day heartbroken, only to be reminded that not too much has changed.

Connection number two had the same heartbreaking feeling. In class, we read the Combahee River Collective’s Black Feminist Statement. Through this piece, I found a connection that I did not even know existed in the line:

We reject pedestals, queen-hood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human levelly human is enough.

I had been aware of racism my entire life, but I had never taken into consideration the role of a black woman in the midst of it all. When reading this piece, the reoccurring theme that had kept kicking me in the heart had been that these women were asking to be acknowledged as humans, to be acknowledged as people. And here I was, sitting in a very progressive school environment enjoying freedoms these women did not feel.

In that moment, I felt as though I should only try my hardest to continue to strive to complete their vision, as that’s the least I could do. These women had a vision of a world that could be better, but again something in my gut told me, that there was so much more to do. So much more work needs to be done.

Black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett (in blue dress) visited our high school feminism class (photo credit: Heather Brubaker).
Black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett (in blue dress) visited our high school feminism class (photo credit: Heather Brubaker).

The third connection emerged from meeting the beautiful Jasmine Burnett. She walked into our classroom wearing  bright colors, heels, and lipstick! (a triple threat). She had come in and shared her experiences and her work.

But it soon became a personal matter when she asked, “Who would we be if society didn’t limit us?”

At that point in time, I hadn’t had an answer. To me it had been hard to even imagine, even for a second, a world that did not have limits.

But Jasmine and Alice Walker’s definition of womanism have helped me answer that question.

Jasmine described womanism as the:

embodiment of self-care: the work you do for yourself so you can be stronger. So you cannot just show up but show out.  A personal way of life.

Alice Walker’s definition of womanism includes this phrasing: “Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility [values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter], and woman’s strength.” This had an huge effect on me, making me understand the importance of personal self, and how I need to take care of myself before I can try to change the world, which I plan on doing.

So, I consider coming into my feminism and womanism as a coming of age ritual mainly because when you are a little kid, people constantly tell you what it’s like to be a grown up. You’re told of things that you see every day but you don’t understand them on the same level as a grown up does. You label adults as crazy, worrisome, and even say they are “taking it too far.”

But as you grow up, you realize the things adults once told you are actually true. The same happens in the light of equality, you’re told things are bad, you see them everyday, but you reach an age where you actually feel it.

Through feminism and womanism, I’ve passed another realm of coming of age, perhaps the most important. I have reached the age where I know things are bad, where I see bad things happening everyday and now I can do something about it all. As Jasmine Burnett simply put it, “Feminism is the muscle that I’ve developed to say: feminism is power and positivity.”

18 thoughts on “Coming to Feminism, Coming of Age

  1. I have also been enlightened by the feminism class and I am so glad that we have both had the opportunity to take the class (in high school)! I really relate to your last few paragraphs. I feel like as a child I was completely misguided about what was happening around me. I saw it around me, but I didn’t understand what was actually happening. It is entirely different, and very groundbreaking experience when we experience a form of injustice or discrimination ourselves. I think your last few sentences really sum it up, bad things do happen, but the important part is what we do about it. Injustice is inevitability going to happen, but I hope that we will both have the courage to stand up and speak out!

  2. I appreciate your honesty in saying that you didn’t think feminism was still an issue, and how this class has made you realize that is simply not true. I like hearing how important your three connections of Gloria Steinem’s film, the Combahee River Collective’s piece, and hearing Jasmine Burnett were to you. It is really important that we understand stereotypes and how they come into play when learning about issues of feminism, racism, etc. It is great to hear that you “strive to complete their vision, as that’s the least [you] could do,” because in this way you are honoring them and that is very powerful!

  3. Your piece is very intense; it collects many topics in a very visual way. It’s very interesting to see your development since you discovered feminism; it was quite a mystery to me at first, so I can relate to your initial approach. We are, unconsciously, brought to think that what we see around us is the ultimate image of reality; it takes much criticism and a diversity through experiences and confrontations to start seeing beyond conventionality. I think many can relate to your perspective. What I particularly liked, was how you decided to articulate the infringement of the stereotypes you had heard of through a series of images; Gloria Steinem, the images of the violence of men in the movie, Jasmine Burnett and, ultimately, yourself. I think it’s very effective and strongly communicative. Great post!

  4. I as well have been enlightened by this feminism course. It feels as if I have reached nirvana as well. I was also able to take off the “rosy colored glasses” and see the world for what it truly is. I think it is fabulous that you are able to call yourself a “womanist” in a sense I feel it embodies what this class is about more than feminism does. I believe that I am on the path to becoming a womanist but I am so happy that you were able to find that seed in you during Jasmine’s visit. I think your piece is inspiring and I know that coming of age means a lot to you as i experienced your bracelets that you earned before your sweet sixteen. I hope you continue to come of age in life, i believe it is a process that is not over until you are on your death bed. Learning is a process of life and I think your piece really embodies that.

  5. Your blog post hit me from the start at you started out explaining how you are a feminist. Something you never imagined a course that lasted two months could do. I, similarly to you thought I knew almost everything there was to learn about the oppression of women. But once again, I was glad fully proven wrong when I realized I didn’t see what was happening right before my eyes. I couldn’t agree more when you said “as you grow up, you realize the things adults once told you are actually true.” As a teenage (half-joking), this is one of the hardest things to admit.

  6. I really like how you admitted that you went through another wave of coming to age because as people, we never stop learning. Also, I really appreciate your honesty when talking about the stereotypes you had about feminists because I had them too. I think this is a really honest and great piece and I admire your courage to complete their vision.

  7. I think that your comparing of this class to a coming of age ritual is spot on. It really reflects all the eye opening things we’ve learned so far about the truth of feminism and the introducing of womanism. I think it’s great that we have gotten this opportunity to become more aware in high school because it is definitely something that will help us all later in life. I am also very interested by your line “To me it had been hard to even imagine, even for a second, a world that did not have limits.” This really shows what womanism can do for everyone in breaking down the way we limit ourselves before even trying things.

  8. What your wrote is just fantastic. I have often cited the idea of perspective as a crucial part of any education and I think you see it too. I am really glad that this class has been able to help you redefine who you are. In the beginning of your post you say you are now a womanist and the reason you know that term is because of the experiences you have had in this class which is just awesome. This class has given you a new perspective that has allowed you to add a new term to who you are and how you define yourself.

  9. I agree with your “To me it had been hard to even imagine, even for a second, a world that did not have limits.” response to Ms. Burnett’s question. Indeed, a world without limits may be unfathomable but I would not say impossible. I think it is this possibility that makes Feminism so essential to our learning. Our eyes are being opened to these invisible limits so that we can work to eliminate them, so that we can do something.

  10. Nyasa, I loved your post. I can completely relate to you about falling in love with the class. Seeing the immidiate change it has made on the lens we view society, race, and gender has been amazing. It is great to see you writing about this idea of coming of age. As we grow older we take in so much, which adds to our character. I have seen such growth in how I judge since starting this class, and I am so glad that you can relate. I like that you included the picture of Jasmine. It fits well with your blog post.

  11. Nyasa! This piece is very touching and I related to many of your points. When you wrote, “In the last month, my world has been shattered,” as an introduction to your discovery of feminism, it occurred to me that through feminism, not only do we feel more empowered, but we also go through very deep revelations that show us the horrors that are very present in our world. I appreciated your description of your connection to womanish and I could not agree more. Loving yourself and having a sense of personal self is so important as we try and more forward as feminists. Additionally, I related to your preconceived notions of feminists and like you, I have gladly been proven wrong!

  12. First off I love how you say that Feminism is “another coming of age,” its a new perspective that I have never thought of but automatically agree with.
    It is also interesting when you talk about Combahee River Collective’s Black Feminist Statement, that women and girls don’t want to be put on a pedestal and worshiped, they just want to be equal to men. I think that sometimes people think that feminism is women working to be “better” than men, however all women want is to be treated equally.

  13. I really related to your post! I thought your use of the quote : “We reject pedestals, queen-hood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human levelly human is enough” was extremely powerful. Reflecting on the meaning with this quote in relation to what happened at the DNC with the two men and women, I reflected on how we as women give up the respect that we should get for all that we go through and do despite the gender biased society we live in, and instead of asking for a reward all we really want is to be though of as humans. I think that women and girls as well as boys and men should be taught to praise each other for their actions not for their gender.

  14. I like when you say “To me it had been hard to even imagine, even for a second, a world that did not have limits” because similarly to you I did not know what I would be. I am who I am because of my family’s beliefs and the way I was raised in a judgmental society. Also, when you say you did not know womanism existed I did not as well. Being apart of this feminism class has made me aware of things I did not know about.

  15. Nyasa, I loved reading your piece! It flowed beautifully, and I could really track your thoughts, and experience this new ‘coming of age through feminism’ for myself. Your use of the texts from class bring new perspectives to my mind, and I think more intensely about the scene you described in the Gloria Steinem documentary. Your piece shines through with your own personality, making it engaging to read. Feminism should be a part of every adolescents coming of age. If this was the case, we would be moving much farther ahead, and could someday experience that world without limits!

  16. I agree that feminism has been a coming of age experience. Taking a feminism class has opened my eyes to different perspectives and terms and ideas. I can relate to when you said, “I have to be honest, at the beginning of the year, I truly was not expecting that within a few months’ time, I would have labeled myself a womanist. Mostly because I did not know it existed.” Me not knowing what Womanism was and then finding out about it, I realized that there were points in time that I had been practicing and letting people on to it without knowing the specific term for it.

  17. I love how you ended your post with Jasmine Burnett’s quote “Feminism is the muscle that I’ve developed to say: feminism is power and positivity.” It made your piece even more powerful, explaining that even though so much is bad, we have the ability to do something about it. As you discussed, it is so important that people realize feminism is “deeper than the stereotypes and stories,” that all of us hear. I completely agree with how you describe “feminism and womanism as a coming of age ritual,” and that it is “perhaps the most important.”

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