Feminism to me is like oxygen; I don’t want it. I need it.
Feminism has awakened some giant in me that has been sleeping for the past 16 years and I refuse to let go of it now because there is absolutely no turning back.
I know that over the course of my life, I have always been a quiet person. I used to like to keep my opinions and experiences to myself and not analyze them. They would just be a part of my life without my truly understanding them.
Over the past two months, while being taught by my feminist teacher Ileana Jiménez, I have learned that to understand feminism is to understand the oppression of others, and the only way to begin that is to start with myself.
As Chicana feminist and activist Cherríe Moraga writes in her essay, “La Güera,” “Silence is like starvation. It is from this starvation that other starvations can be recognized- if one is willing to take the risk of making the connection.”
For my whole life, I never made the connection between my oppression and those that I have oppressed. Before this class, I did not have an avenue through which I could look at oppression until we had to write our intersectionality essays, and then I realized that I couldn’t go about understanding myself through one force of oppression; I had to look at all of them.
As activist Audre Lorde writes in her essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,““I was forced to look upon myself” and it was very uncomfortable, but I realized so many truths about me, and because of this, I felt like I was able to understand others and the world around me.
As the class progressed, we began to look at global issues and to me, it seemed impossible that a girl born on earth had a 1 in 4 chance of being born into poverty and that in one year, 150 million girls are victims of sexual violence, and 80% of all human trafficking victims are girls.
It was shocking because I truly didn’t know this and it felt like my little safe bubble that I lived in was being popped. As we watched documentaries such as Saving Face and Very Young Girls , I really questioned the world in which I live. I knew that I was safe, but many around me were not. It was extremely disturbing to see the harsh realities of some, but at the same time, I felt like I needed these reality poppers more than ever. I wanted to see more and more because my little safe bubble was being exposed, and I wanted to see the real world; the world where the faces of women are burned with acid because they’re not obedient enough to their husbands, and a world where millions of women and girls are commercially and sexually exploited.
It was a frightening experience because my safe bubble was gone. Even in my own city less than an hour from where I lived, girls were being lined up on the blocks of Hunts Point to make money for their pimps.
Over the course of time, I’ve realized that we live in a blame game society. Our society likes to oppress those who are considered threats. In a Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks talk that recently took place at the New School in New York, Tanya Fields, an African-American woman talks about how “other sisters tear [her] down” and how she “suffers in shame and silence” because she has three children from different men. In response, Melissa Harris-Perry mentions that the ones who are the most vulnerable are the ones who will want to shame you; the ones who feel threatened by you are the ones that will want to tear you down.
Instantly, my mind went to Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the face by the Taliban because she was an advocate for girls’ education. Even now, they continue to threaten her because they know that if girls are able to get an education, then these girls will become powerful and strong and break free of the shackles that hold them down.
Relating this example back to Tanya Fields in the Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks talk, shaming is a defense mechanism that is used by imperialists. Shame produces trauma which produces paralysis, and there are many examples of this in the history of our culture. When slaves would disobey their masters, slave owners would use this strategy of shame which would blind slaves from seeing their masters’ own vulnerability. In “La Güera,” Moraga states that “it is not really difference the oppressor fears so much as similarity.” The oppressor shames others because they are afraid of seeing themselves.
What I have realized as a young woman, is that we need to unite as fighters for equality in all dimensions. As Moraga states, “We are afraid to see how we have taken the values of the oppressor into our hearts and turned them against ourselves and one another.” However, we need to look past that and be reminded that time goes on and the future still awaits us.
On the last day of my high school feminism class, we celebrated with one last hoorah by going to see “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago at the Brooklyn Museum.
As we walked through the exhibit talking about each plate, I felt such a strong sense of unity among the women that were represented, along with the millions of women who were and are not represented at the table. We need to keep fighting so there can be more than one dinner party.
I cannot truly explain what feminism has done for me, but I know for a fact that there is absolutely no turning back. I need feminism because I can’t afford to close my eyes again and be blind to the world. I know that this will forever be a part of my life that will keep growing, and I know that I’m going to keep moving forward. I know that I will always keep fighting the good fight.