Finding My True Self With Feminism

Here I am reading my personal essay on International Day of the Girl at my school (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).
Here I am talking about Malala Yousafsai on International Day of the Girl at my school (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

Before taking my high school feminism class, I never thought twice about issues regarding women and their rights. I never noticed the rampant presence of inequality towards women.

However, now that I’m in a high school class on feminism, whether it is in the media or in my own family, I’ve noticed a lot of attitudes that ignorantly and unintentionally oppress women, and as Sam, a woman writer of color, says in “Loving Your Body in the Age of Patriarchy,” “we help patriarchy succeed by acting as its co-conspirators.”

Most people are not aware of the limits that they place upon others when they shun women for their unconventional appearances (plump bodies, unstraightened hair, unshaved legs, etc). Feminism is putting a stop to this exploitation and allowing people, men and women, to be their true selves.

Impossible to reach ideas about beauty exist all around the world and are unfairly forced upon girls and women. More times than not, young girls succumb to these images. One reason is not knowing there are alternatives to these narrow expectations. Every girl and woman is beautiful in their own skin and unique in their own minds.

This is what feminism has taught me. Feminism helps girls and women find their root of self-knowledge. It is the understanding of and appreciation for female identity, gender, and sexuality.

But this understanding of self can only stem from receiving a solid education and access to it. “Globally, 66 million girls are out of school,” according to Girl Rising. This means 66 million girls represent voices that may never be heard and minds that may never have the chance to grow.

Feminism is speaking about this fact. Feminism is working to change it.

Earlier this month, my feminism class and I hosted an assembly in our school in honor of International Day of the Girl. I was responsible for introducing the UN speech given by Malala Yousafzai this past July. In October of 2012, Malala was shot on the left side of her face by the Taliban in Pakistan. An avid advocate for increasing access to the education of girls, Malala did not allow the bullet to silence her, rather she spoke even louder. The bullet gave birth to thousands of new voices.

Introducing a speech by someone so young yet so powerful was an honor. It was an honor because Malala was not weakened by a bullet, something that could have taken away her entire life. Even though she cannot return to her home in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, she continues to speak for girls and women all around the world. If Malala can make a difference, so can I.

To me, feminism stems from a great understanding of oneself, which the term womanism embodies in particular. The term itself was introduced by novelist Alice Walker in 1983 and is an attempt to define feminism for women as color. In a recent essay I wrote for my feminism class, I define the term as “female nirvana, trying to reach peace with myself, within myself .. With knowledge and nurturing of self, I was able to nourish [my feminist] seed. Every time I peeled back a layer of feminism, I simultaneously peeled a layer of self.”

Only then can one put forward their best performance. With feminism, can one learn about their true selves.

In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House ,” Audre Lorde acknowledges the fact that people, men and women, are fighting for change. However, she says that we cannot fight for change using patriarchal methods, the ones that our patriarchal society has engrained in our minds. Rather we need to dismantle this entire system and rebuild it. Feminism provides us with the tools to do so. Feminism provides us with the voice to speak out. It also teaches you that as people, we cannot fight our oppression individually, rather we have to fight them together.

Ultimately, coming to a feminist identity is very personal. I remember having a conversation with a male cousin and my uncle. Whenever I ever spoke about liking someone (me, boys and him, girls) I was always scolded and my male cousin was praised. I couldn’t understand it!

I remember one instance when my uncle sat between us and we were catching up about school and sports and things of that nature. Then came the boyfriend/girlfriend subject. Luckily, my cousin was interrogated first. My uncle asked my cousin if he had any female interests and my uncle said that my cousin needed at least five girls and that they needed to be as diverse as possible because he needed to explore all his options as a boy.

Then the same uncle turned to me, and yelled that I shouldn’t be worried about boys until I was 40. This angered me. Feminism has helped me understand why. Society’s narrow and constricting expectations were being forced upon me.

Lorde says, “My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” It’s time to speak up.

17 thoughts on “Finding My True Self With Feminism

  1. Great post! Feminism has really helped me also start to “peel back the layers” of myself, and start to understand my identity. I am continually learning about my privileges and oppressions. Like you mentioned, I now see the world differently: every song lyric, every television show line, every magazine ad. Many media sources send masked messages, or sometimes not so masked, which are extremely misogynistic. Similarly to what you mentioned, I now find it difficult to understand how I could have been so blind about what was happening right in front of me. After taking this class, I hope that we can all start to educate others to make a difference in our own lives and strive to make a difference in the media, because our silences will not protect us.

  2. I like how you say feminism is allowing both men and women to be their true selves. It is unfortunate that young girls often give in to images of beauty but it is important we teach that there are alternatives to “these narrow expectations,” as you said. It is great how you connect the huge issue of girls education and how this needs to be addressed before we can make any progress in changing beauty and body issues. Your definition of feminism seems very personal and unique to yourself and I really appreciate that.

  3. Really like your post and I can see the change in attitude and confidence that you now have. I can truly relate to the conversation you had with your uncle because that is a daily routine in my house, just throw in one extra ingredient. Nonetheless, I also feel as though feminism has allowed me to see myself in a different way. I like that not only are you empowered to be yourself, but you feel prepared and are ample to help othes reach their “female nirvana”.

  4. Samantha, your piece is so powerful. As a women I know what it feels like to think your body is not enough. I think you really hit on that point in your piece. It is a struggle that we as women all face. I think society does place unrealistic ideals of beauty upon us and I don’t think they understand the affect it has on young women and girls. I completely agree when you say that, “Feminism is putting a stop to this exploitation and allowing people, men and women, to be their true selves.” I believe that as a women this is the first step you must take. I am so proud of you for making this crucial realization. I am still in the process of making it but your piece has really helped me in the process.

  5. I agree with your comment : “Most people are not aware of the limits that they place upon others when they shun women for their unconventional appearances (plump bodies, unstraightened hair, unshaved legs, etc).” This was one of the first things I learned about and thought about when I thought of feminism. Through songs, advertisements, and TV shows, I’m glad to be able to recognize the messages that continue to oppress women.

  6. I agree with your line “Feminism is putting a stop to this exploitation and allowing people, men and women, to be their true selves.” I think it does a good job of describing the impact feminism has on self esteem and self value. I am also really interested by your personal story about your uncle’s polarized advice he gave you and a male cousin about dating. I think it is a great example of how we are treated differently than men and how there are different expectations of us.

  7. I think this is a great post and I really relate to the part where you share your experience with your uncle and cousin. I think it’s really infuriating to see how unfair and how ignorant people can be but we should let that motivate us to strive forward to make change.

  8. I liked that you identified distinctly with two aspects of feminism. The first is related to activism and speaking about the reality of oppression that women find themselves in, whether in their relationships or in their appearances. It’s an irrational cycle, yet as you said, young girls do succumb to the expectations of unwritten conventions. It’s terrible to notice that very few girls seem to perceive that there should be an opportunity to discover the love of self where they can only see hatred for their own image and the silence of their roles.
    The second aspect is the solution to the cycle, a search for self-definition. As you said, “feminism stems from a great understanding of oneself”: I think it’s a very effective interpretation. From this experience of self-discovery, girls can gain the tools and the support to “dismantle this entire system and rebuild it”, whether discussing with their families about inexplicable double standards or learning to see beauty outside of others’ beliefs.

  9. The moment you cite about your uncle and your cousin was very interesting. I think your experience there really expresses how our societies view of women is very hypocritical and that it simply just doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately for us there are people who don’t understand that but exactly like you said we cannot let our silence get the better of us we need to speak up for what is truly right.

  10. I like that you share your experiences with family. It makes your post unique. When you talk about your uncle telling you that you shouldn’t worry about boys until you are 40, I couldn’t get the thought in my head that if he was talking to a boy, he wouldn’t have the same attitude towards this topic. Gender plays a huge part in whats “ok” in society, and it is great that you address this. Activism is one of the largest discussions in feminism. How to take action, and expand on this action. In our class we have discussed a few different ways, and I think that you will continue to address feminist issues, and take a stand in what you believe in.

  11. Samantha this post is very powerful. I love your explanation of your realization of the world dynamic that we live in. When you wrote, “However, now that I’m in a high school class on feminism, whether it is in the media or in my own family, I’ve noticed a lot of attitudes that ignorantly and unintentionally oppress women,” I immediately related. After taking this course, I have seen and noticed things around me and as close to me as my family, that I was not aware of before. I felt as though you have clearly showed that through feminism you have found your sense of self and can continue to show how to go about fixing the inequalities in this world.

  12. I like when you say “Society’s narrow and constricting expectations were being forced upon me” because it happens to me as well. In my family I am seen as a baby and for even having a boyfriend now will be hard for me to tell my family. My oldest sister had a boyfriend at 16 yet for me I can not look at guys yet because “I am too young.” I believe part of being a feminist starts off with speaking up in your own family but yet the hardest thing to do as a feminist.

  13. Samantha, it is really interesting that you had never thought about women’s issues before this class because you seem very passionate about the issues we talk about in class. I really like how you say “people are not aware of the limits that they place upon others”. I love how you use the word “limits” because I had never thought of describing it like that. This idea that others enforce onto women traps and limits us. I also love your own personal understanding of Feminism.

  14. Samantha, I found your connection of feminism to womanism and humanism powerful and riveting. A major part in the reason that we oppress others, you can see this in bullying in schools to political power is because there are these institutions set up trying to silence us, and everyone below them. There is a social hierarchy of oppression, those at the top are the most privileged, and as the pyramid goes down each group oppresses the one below them instead of fighting against the institution itself. This internalized oppression translates to how we see ourselves and how we try to climb up the social hierarchy of oppression by oppressing others and never being our true selves. Your quote on feminism for women as “female nirvana, trying to reach peace with myself, within myself ..” inspired me and I am glad that” With knowledge and nurturing of self, I was able to nourish [my feminist] seed. Every time I peeled back a layer of feminism”, because feminism and activism can only prevail when we are our truest selves.

  15. I loved the transition in your piece from revelations and sense of self through feminism, and recognizing that this can “only stem from receiving a solid education and access to it.” I think it’s very important to realize how lucky we are to be learning these lessons of feminism in this course, when so many girls are still without a basic education. I appreciate how personal this piece is, and how much credit you give feminism in how it helped you find your best self. I loved when you said “Feminism helps girls and women find their root of self-knowledge. It is the understanding of and appreciation for female identity, gender, and sexuality.” This piece really emphasizes the personal impact this course has had on you, and that is awesome to read about.

  16. I enjoyed reading this because you spoke a lot about the feminism behind physical appearance. I think that it’s very important that both girls and women, boys and men, feel comfortable and content in their own skin. This is a very personal topic for me because I remember dealing first hand with wanting to change myself. It’s that moment for a girl when she thinks certain things on her body aren’t big enough, or small enough, or tightened enough, or straight enough. It’s the feeling of trying to please people fearing that you won’t be excepted while trying conquering the ultimate fear of simply not being enough.

  17. I found your post extremely inspiring, and I love how you stressed that “every girl and woman is beautiful in their own skin and unique in their own minds.” I can definitely relate to your experience of noticing everywhere, particularly in my family and the media, how demeaning society’s attitude toward women is. You are absolutely right that “Feminism is putting a stop to this exploitation and allowing people, men and women, to be their true selves” and “helps girls and women find their root of self-knowledge.” In my opinion, this is a perfect definition of Feminism.

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