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.