Taking Feminism to the Next Step

Photo credit: Ileana Jimenez
“I need feminism because everyone deserves to be proud of who they are and not feel pressured to be who they ‘should’ be.” (Photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

As the feminism class comes to a close, Ileana Jiménez, our teacher, handed us a paper of quotes we had written on our first day of class. I couldn’t help but read over the comments we had written only three months ago and think, “look how different we are now.”

Though it may seem like an overstatement, I honestly think the whole class has taken a huge leap in the path towards feminism and will step out looking at the world through a new lens.

We started the class filled with a passion to learn more,  looking for ways to express feminism, and wanting a way to explain in our own terms what feminism is and  how it is relevant today.

In my piece, I explained how I believed feminism was relevant today:

My older sister was telling me how disrespected she felt in the workplace. Everyday she would hear “you should model,” “you should really try modeling.” Sure this is a compliment in our society, but really what they are saying is that she doesn’t belong. As if because she’s “model pretty,” she can’t possibly be smart enough to work in such a space. As if because she’s “female pretty,” the only job she should do is modeling. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an insult.”

I realize now that what my sister was encountering was pure sexism. Telling my sister she should be a model in an office environment is equivalent to telling a woman they belong in the kitchen. I’m in no way trying to downgrade modeling as a viable career but instead explaining how my sister was immediately categorized. All one could see from her as she walked into her workplace was a skinny, tall woman of color. They didn’t care if she could do the job well. She didn’t belong there as a worker. To them, she didn’t fit the stereotypical business person working in a professional setting.

My sister’s experience relates to bell hooks’s statement in her recent conversation with  Melissa Harris-Perry captured in the video below titled “Black Female Voices” at the New School in New York. bell hooks stated, “How much power we don’t have is in how we are perceived.”

Just like Judy Chicago, the artist behind the The Dinner Party who would often yell at her fellow Dinner Party associates due to her frustration on how women need to stop being “ignorant” about how women are oppressed, I too have had the urge to shout about how uninviting the workplace can be for a women. But screaming at someone is not the way to get a message. To get the message out, it takes a different type of action. 

Though the feminism class is coming to a close, this in no way means that my participation in the feminist movement is over. I have and will keep trying to spread what I have learned in class to my family and friends. I have joined a program called StopSlut in which we are currently producing a short film about the way the word “slut” is used to dehumanize girls and women.  A few classmates and I are planning to interview students, teachers, and our parents to create a piece in order to let people know the seriousness in using a word that has a large effect on every girl.

What’s challenging about the project is finding a way to really get students in our school to listen because feminism accounts for race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. From episodes of Law and Order: SVU, to my favorite show SNL, Orange is the New Black, and even from my favorite book, Harry Potter, all of these types of media are raising awareness on different societal issues.

However, it is still important to discuss the ways in which they give in to societal norms. We shouldn’t look at pieces of popular literature, movies, or even magazines and say, “Well they aren’t that sexist, racist, etc,” and be satisfied. Instead, we should keep looking at these different texts and discuss the ways they are successful and the ways in which they may still need work.

Watch as this Rachel Rostad reveals something that millions of people who have read Harry Potter probably haven’t even noticed:

Believe it or not, her piece caused much scrutiny from Harry Potter fans:  “J.K. Rowling got to where she is because she wrote down what people wanted to read” and to be satisfied that there even was an Asian character. It’s understandably difficult to hear something that could seem like it “ruins” something you love.

Similar to Rachel Rostad, the author of the angry poem criticizing J.K. Rowling, I have been labeled as “too serious,” ever since I’ve been publicly expressing my views. I’ve been told “it’s only a joke,” and my most favorite line: “are you a feminist or something?” I can tell you now these remarks didn’t spark from me going on an angry rampage about street harassment or the sexual exploitation of girls but simply from asking someone to not call someone a slut.

I never thought I’d be able to relate to Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche who said in her TEDxEuston talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” that people call feminists “people who can’t find husbands…people who hate bras, and men.”

I realize that being a feminist is definitely not an easy route, nor is it the popular route.

But I will pull through because I can’t sit around and ignore that some women today still have no right to an education, no right to walking down the street without being harassed, no voice, no power, no safety, no freedom, and no right to their body.

I’m ready to take on the hate, the scrutiny, the backfire, the denial, and even the put downs. I’m ready to stick up for what’s right because the price I will have to pay is worth it. And you know what, it feels a heck of a lot better speaking up for myself when I tell someone to stop if they think it’s okay to touch me, than sitting there quietly letting them, or feeling weak and humiliated and embarrassed for something they should be ashamed of.

I shouldn’t be ashamed. I shouldn’t think “what did I do wrong that they have no respect for me?” I shouldn’t have to shrink into myself and feel like dirt. I’ve had enough of being silent. As Audre Lorde has said, “The transformation of silence into language and action is always an act of self-revelation.”

So thank you, Ileana, for pushing that last straw. For breaking me out and letting me be able to take the next step towards becoming a feminist.

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