I Need Feminism Because I Want to End Cycles of Oppression

I need feminism because I'm tired of seeing women miss-represented. Photo credit: Rehana Hirji
“I need feminism because I’m tired of seeing women ‘miss-represented.'”(Photo credit: Rehana Hirji)

I need feminism because I want to end cycles of oppression.

I use the word “cycles” instead of “cycle” because I have come to realize that there is more than one cycle of oppression and that it is more than just the fight for equality of women; it is something much deeper and that carries many more categories that are all connected.

In our high school feminism class, we have learned about global issues like acid throwing and women’s education, as well as local issues such sex trafficking of young women and girls in New York, and everyday feminism like women in the mediaslut shaming, and street harassment.

There are so many issues and I wish I could change them all, but as our feminist teacher, Ileana Jiménez, has said, “I don’t want my students to just learn about the work of feminist activism. I want them to participate in it, as well, and to develop a sustained relationship with an issue that is part of a gender justice vision, not flavor-of-the-month activism.

I have becoming passionate about issues regarding everyday feminism because it involves issues I can directly apply to my life and the world I’m living in. Issues going on around me, everyday, before my own eyes, like women in the media, slut shaming, and street harassment are all issues I have learned to care so deeply for.

I have learned that the first step towards making change about these issues was educating myself. It is not guaranteed that anyone is born with a feminist lens, especially in relation to everyday feminism. It isn’t easy because the things I have mentioned are all things we have grown up facing and dealing with everyday of our lives. In some ways, we are taught to see these issues as normal, permanent, or even the way it should be. Of course, in many ways, I have succumbed to the media’s advertising and images, have called someone a slut, or brushed off street harassment, but with this new perspective, what I have learned is that my eyes have been opened, and I cannot go back.

Once you learn about the issues and how they affect the world and your own personal world, it is hard to sit back and not want to do anything. Though I was already aware of it, in this class, I learned how damaging hyper-sexualized images of women and girls in the media and advertising is today. By watching films such as Killing Us Softly 4 and Miss Representation, two great documentaries, I was extremely inspired but also extremely angered. Of course, this anger fueled my inspiration to make change.

In realizing that mostly men control what is being said in the media, it is clear that what is being displayed fails to embody a woman’s voice or perspective. This issue is a consistent cycle. In the media, women are discouraged and disempowered from obtaining positions of power, thus allowing men to control what is being portrayed and decided. A woman’s perspective cannot be told from a man’s point of view. This is true not just within the media, but within politics and other leadership roles.

We are taught that ambitious positions are for men all around the world and when women like Josefina Vázquez Motado of Mexico, who I read about in Ms. Magazine in the article, “A Woman to Watch,” by Victoria Shorr-Perkins, do try to come into power, many men do not take her seriously because of her gender. This article, as well as many articles within the magazine, applied the issues and theories we have been learning about to issues going on around the world today.

Many people deny that advertising affects them directly because they do not realize it is subtle process. We live in a toxic environment in which “concepts of love, sexuality, success, and normalcy” are decided by the media and advertising, by telling us “who we are and who we should be,” as Jean Killbourne says in the film, Killing Us Softly. Unfortunately, we are told in all the wrong ways what we, as women, should be. Women are portrayed as objects, as dismembered, and as dehumanized.

Ads that objectify women

We are told that the most important thing about us is how we look and that spending money on achieving the perfect look is extremely important. We are taught to measure ourselves against these women, but not told that nobody, including the women themselves, look like them. Many are unaware that these ads are so detrimental and contribute to public health issues like eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem, let alone know that these are considered public health issues.

Violent Jimmy Choo advertisment

We are given the message to disappear and become smaller, while men are encouraged to become “bigger” and more powerful. We are silenced and made to look vulnerable in these media images. We are turned into the products being sold. We are turned into sex objects. By becoming objects and turning women into things, we are actually justifying violence and making it inevitable. Masculinity is linked with violence and often times violence is eroticized, further perpetuating violence against women.

The cumulative effect of all these ads is extremely detrimental to the way we see ourselves, and the way much of our younger generation is learning to see themselves. In order to make change, it is necessary for people to realize it is a problem in the first place.

It is necessary for people to be educated and to know that this is an issue, and that it affects everyone. We need to be aware of the impact that this kind of advertising has on us and once that inital step is reached, we can change society’s norms and attitudes by speaking out.

My high school feminism class holding their "Who Needs Feminism" signs (photo credit: Noel Diggs).
My high school feminism class holding their “Who Needs Feminism” signs (photo credit: Noel Diggs).

As for the future of this issue and all of the issues I have become passionate about, I have completed step one, but there’s much more for me to do. I know that this class has introduced me to so many different topics and allowed me to explore my passions so that I can create change myself and in my own ways. Though my high school feminism class has ended, my journey to feminism has just begun!

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