It would be wrong to assume that there is only one definition of Feminism. I don’t think I have the right to define that word on behalf of everyone else. But I can speak for myself. At least for me, it’s a word that has changed its meaning countless times, and still is changing up to this day. Just like many from my generation, it was a word that would at first cause an extremely negative reaction. It would prompt me to think of someone who hated men and was encouraging their elimination. And naturally, that was just something I didn’t want to be associated with.
It wasn’t until my early 20s that I started to learn its true meaning. Funnily enough, at the time I thought I had it all figured out. However, I didn’t realize that my perception of the word was limited. This would cause me, for a long time, to think that someone who chose to wear as little as possible, or to cover up completely, could possibly not have made that choice themselves. For some reason, I felt like I was now entitled to judge how someone else chose to live their lives. I failed to see that my feminist perspective was so heavily influenced by western ideals. That when I first met with a hijabi women who called herself a feminist, my narrow-minded brain just couldn’t fathom it.
If it wasn’t for the video Janelle Ryan posted about her sister’s choice to convert to Islam and wear the hijab, I don’t think I would have realized the same ignorance within myself. Janelle taught me a harsh lesson; one that I think everyone needs to hear. We are not perfect; we all make mistakes, and how we chose to deal with that is what’s important. Through Janelle’s experience, I learned that acceptance is important, and that feminism should be about having a choice. At the end of the day, that’s what we’ve always been fighting for. So why should it only apply to a certain group of people?
Feminism, to me, is the choice to be who you are, regardless of your race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. You might think I’ve finally figured it out, but don’t get me wrong, I’m still learning.
I first came across the idea of feminism in the colourful pages of children’s history books; the struggles of Suffragettes sandwiched between chapters on industrial revolution and war. The battle for the vote and for education were detailed with the shocking tale of Emily Davidson fallen under the King’s horse in protest, the kind of gory image a child can fixate on. Women’s history was outlined in a single chapter with post-it note type mentions of a few admirable figures – women like Marie Curie or Florence Nightingale, who had allowed us to evolve into Modernity. And sadly, for many, this is where the book closes.
For me, feminism is so much more than this. It is a movement that demands that a person’s opportunities, their rights and their liberties should never be negatively affected by their gender. Feminism is the knowledge that humanity is failing itself if it operates by suppressing the female half of its population and denying them the right to share their gifts. It promotes material and political equality and empowers people to demand their full rights over their bodies and minds, whether this be the right to be President or the simple right to walk on the street without getting harassed by strangers because you made the societal mistake of being born a woman.
More than this, feminism allows us to take apart the clichés of what it is to be a man or a woman, which are sometimes so closed that they deny us the opportunity to live fully as a person at all. It allows you to see how your identity is shaped by the world beyond you, not only through your gender, but also through sexuality, race, disability and so many other lenses. Feminism allows us to open these dialogues about society, that are more necessary than ever in the world that we live in today, and to choose openness and change over fear and inertia. It gives us the language to recognise and say when something is not acceptable. It lets us form more meaningful relationships with each other and with the world around us. Feminism is both about recognising the change we have achieved and continuing to evolve with a better understanding of the role that gender plays in our lives. If nothing else, it is the acknowledgement that the future has to be ours to write.
As a queer woman of color, I have learned that feminism looks like a million different things,
In a million different ways. Each woman has a complex identity, and each part of our identity affects the others.
Learning to empower ourselves, and to help empower others. It’s about understanding our own struggles with gender within society, and yet understanding that hyper-masculinity not only affects women but also men, in many different ways.
It is realizing that we have a voice, and that our voice matters.
It is learning how to use our voices, and learning how to make people listen.
It is learning that we too are more than capable,
And that we too are deserving,
We are more than worthy.
It is about embracing our creativity, our minds, and our bodies;
In every shape, in every color, in every language.
Feminism has so many faces,
With women from so many different cultures, ethnicities, races, sexualities, gender identities, disabilities, religions, and spiritualities;
Feminism is about creating empathy and strength in all people,
But also realizing that in many different cultures (I’ll speak for the United States), women
Are seen as less than when compared to men.
It is about recreating safe spaces for women in which we are able to not only exist, but to flourish.
Re-emphasizing that all women are not treated equally,
And yet learning how to bridge those gaps because we all are vital to our communities.
It is about women learning how to listen to one another;
To help build each other up.
It is about teaching our men how to respect and honor women,
How to be allies to women,
How to view them as people and nothing less.
Learning how to embrace the vast differences in women and our experiences,
It’s about making education and self expression accessible to all types of women;
Not just the rich/middle class, white, straight, christian women,
But the poor, queer, non christian, disabled, non-educated, women of color.
Feminism is about taking a look at our own privileges and disadvantages,
Understanding our privileges and learning how to use it to be an ally,
And understanding our disadvantages so that we can bans together with other communities in order to help all of us rise together.
For me, feminism has always been this umbrella term that is used to address a lot of the issues that we face. Maybe when I was younger, I thought of it just as gender equality, which is obviously the most important facet of it. But the more I’ve grown, and the more I’ve learnt about it, the more I’ve realised that feminism is much more than that. That you can’t have gender equality without addressing the fact that gender is a very complicated notion. Or that you can’t have gender equality without realising that the way inequality affects a black woman is very different from the way it affects a white woman. Or that gender divisions have adverse effects on men as well.
As well as that, I think discovering feminism when I was young made me an all-around better person. It propelled me to be more aware of the world around me, even now. It continues to make me want to learn, to collaborate, to be active. It’s given me a sense of solidarity with the women around me and I think it’s helped me build really fruitful and important relationships with people.
When we proposed these questions, I did not expect that I would find it so hard to give a straight answer. It was not until fairly recently that I began to understand that feminism is a more complex and broad topic than I originally thought it to be. However, I grew up not very aware of the term, despite being a feminist my whole life. I did not identify myself as one. I did not know that every time I questioned and challenged the sexism and inequality I was being exposed to that it was a feminist act in itself. I became much more familiar with feminism when I started my leaving certificate in Ireland and had the opportunity to have many discussions on the topic with my friends who are all from different countries and backgrounds.
The last couple of years have been very educational. I realised some of my own double standards and how “my feminism” was the “right one” in the back of my mind for quite some time. The joys of living in a city as culturally diverse as Dublin is the opportunities you have of meeting people from all walks of life and from cultures that I would never have the chance of interacting with otherwise. Feminism has been helping me to understand where the sexist mindset comes from and how it is perpetuated. I think the first step towards change is understanding, and I guess that is exactly what feminism has been to me: a platform for learning, growing and for expressing myself. To me, feminism refers to equality. It is not just a movement, it’s a political stand.
Feminism is the idea that women and men are, and should be, equal in all rights. It’s to think that women and men should not be defined by their gender. As a feminist, I consider that your gender, your race, your sexual orientation, or your religion shouldn’t forbid you from living your life the way you want to. For ages, we have been taught by society how to behave depending on our genitals. We have been accepting this as a norm. Women are expected to be caring, pretty, and ready to have children; whereas men have to be strong, not show any emotions, and spend money to get and keep a woman. These “norms” are toxic and dangerous for the wellbeing of individuals, and in general, for our shared future.
Feminism is a collective of movements fighting for the rights of women, so that they are not prejudiced against based on their gender, but are instead afforded the same rights as men. While different feminists differ somewhat in what this entails, I believe feminism is more broadly the belief that people in general should be afforded the same opportunities, regardless of gender. That is, that a person’s gender should not impact the opportunities available to them in life.
To me, feminism means that I can live my life free from constraints; by what we have been told for generations that women should look like, act like, be or aspire to. It means that my career is not determined by the fact that I am a woman, and that, if I choose to have children, it will not be at the price of living a life for myself as well. It means, that I don’t feel the need to fall into the categories of demure and passive, just because society decided that these are the traits of my gender. Furthermore, it means I am disgusted by double standards governing male-female relations, rape culture, and am concerned for women’s safety. Most importantly, it means I support women of all races, beliefs, sexualities and backgrounds around the world in achieving this equality, not just those who are born into privilege and education. Feminism is helping all women to achieve their full potential.