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.
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.”