I need feminism because I refuse to be defined by the master narrative, which tells our society that white, male patriarchy is the ultimate norm. With feminism, I believe I can break the chains society places upon me because I am female. Feminism trains my mind to see, understand, and correct such oppressions.
The first step towards breaking down the patriarchy occurs when viewing media through a feminist lens. My high school feminism class recently viewed Killing Us Softly 4, the fourth in a series of documentaries about the sexualization of women and girls in advertisements by feminist media critic Jean Kilbourne.
This series aims to unmask sexism embedded within American advertisments. Her words reveal the misogynist, sexist, and materialistic qualities of American culture. It is a culture that expects women to be virgins and whores at the same time and expects men to be big, strong, and unfeeling. Kilbourne reveals how polarized men and women are expected to behave in terms of emotions and characteristics; there is no room for overlap.
Yet, we all know that this is not true. All men have a feminine side and to hide and suppress it does not make you more of a man, rather it makes you a victim, limited to doing only that which society deems “acceptable” of man. The case is the same for women. The idea of a world that is made up of only masculine men and feminine women robs people of substance and of diversity, ultimately making us robots instead of unique individuals.
Kilbourne asserts that there are three steps to fixing this kind of oppression. The first is acknowledging that this issue is part of a public health problem. The second is awareness and education. The third is speaking out about the issue.
We need to teach every generation to be their unique selves. We need to change our media and our attitudes. After watching Killing Us Softly 4, my class and I viewed Miss Representation a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Her documentary is a “controversial exploration of the misrepresentation of women” in the media and politics. Siebel says that people are placed in “boxes” that cartoonize each individual.
Women are socialized to have a hostile “Pick me! Pick me!” attitude. We are taught to fight with each other for the ultimate prize, a man. Feminism has taught me that this animal-like nature is not who I really am, nor is it who my fellow women are. We are not animals, we are women.
Watching these films was a critical experience for me because they both explore issues that I deal with everyday. As a young African-American woman, I am often approached by people who expect me to be loud or “ghetto,” and this is not who I am. I don’t twerk to every song I hear or wear the tightest clothes I can find. These are just some of the expectations that keep me limited and that keep me in a box.
Feminism has trained my mind to notice and correct the ways I am placed in a box. Physically, living in a box would be a pretty difficult situation, as we would not be able to see and there would be barely any room for movement. This is what we are doing when we judge others: we are taking away their ability to move and their ability to express themselves. I think it’s time to start breaking down these boxes.
In “Loving Yourself in the Age of Patriarchy,” woman of color author Sam speaks about hating her body because it was not ideal. Her body did not match those in magazines or on television. As Sam writes, we act as patriarchy’s “c0-conspirators,” not allowing people to know and love their true selves. We need to learn to value our differences and quit policing each other. We need to love each other, and this starts with loving ourselves.
We are not all skinny, and do not all have the prettiest teeth or prettiest skin. No one is just male or just female. We all have feelings and emotions. Feminism has helped me to understand that people are multidimensional.
Feminism is the tool to uproot the little seeds of oppressions. Feminism is the tool to transform our mindset and eventually, our world. Obviously, such a transformation will not happen overnight. Nor will happen over one generation, as it will take lots of time. However, that does not mean we cannot start now.
The wonderful feminist and founder of Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem, recently asked, ” What is the future of feminism?”
To answer Steinem’s question, the future of feminism is me.