Rise up: Understanding my feminism
When I think about my perspective of my gender, my first thought is that it hasn’t played too significant a role in my life. What I mean is that, I always did everything I wanted. Whether that was playing sports with my brother or singing in the school play, no activity felt off limits because I was a female.
There are a few times where I have been very aware of my womanhood and the positive impact it was having on my life and on others. Some of these moments include graduating with a masters’ degree, working with Planned Parenthood to educate young women about their health rights, working with vulnerable female populations in multiple nonprofit organizations, and hosting a female empowerment podcast (yes, this one!).
During these experiences and other times like them, I felt happy and proud of my womanhood, particularly my being a woman born in the United States. However, as I spent more time thinking about it, I came to realize that there have also been many times throughout my life where my gender has impacted me in a far different way. Sadly, none of these experiences have been positive. Perhaps these moments weren’t the first thoughts to come into my mind because I have categorizes them as ‘normal’ for so long.
For example, the hundreds of times I have been legitimately scared walking to my car alone in a parking lot, or walking into gas station alone in a foreign town, or walking to my house alone after a night downtown, or going for a long run alone. And then there is the immeasurable amount of unwarranted harassment I’ve received from men over the years: the cat calls out car windows, the ass grabs in crowded bars, the fingers that slid up my skirt and into my underwear or up my shirt while dancing in a club, the eye winks, the creepy comments, and the forceful body language. There are times when being a woman invokes far less appeal and far more fear. These are those times.
In these moments I’d find myself doing all of the things I was ‘supposed’ to do: shrugging off the gross comments and giggling uncomfortably, shoving aggressive hands off of me, walking with my keys wedged between my fingers so they protruded like a knife, walking and talking to no one on the phone because heaven forbid I actually walk alone, or walking with my finger on the button of the pepper spray on my key-chain (yes, I have that) ready to spray it if I must. When running alone for long periods of time, it is not uncommon for me to think, “Okay, if someone comes after me, at least I can out run them”.
Luckily, I have never had to spray, stab, out run, actually call someone for help, or get out from under the strength of a man; and aside from these unfortunate but very typical examples, I have been very lucky. I know this now.
However aware I was of my own womanhood, feminism has always been a little bit confusing to me. “OF COURSE I am a feminist” I’d always say. I am a liberal democrat through and through, so I automatically assumed that this fact alone let me in the club. I suppose you could call me a ‘feminist by association’. But if I’m getting honest here, I don’t think it was fair to give myself that title. Sure, I believed in the political, economic, and social equality of women, but I never fully understood what that meant. See, when you come from a neighborhood and a culture that is privileged, are taught by your parents that you can literally do anything you want, and you view all of your female experiences (both good and bad) as normal, your perspective gets a little skewed. How can it not?
But now, I’m reaching an awakening. Maybe it’s getting older, maybe it’s the current political climate, or maybe it’s the bravery of my sisters coming forward with their own stories (#metoo), but I am ready to see things differently. I am ready to have the hard and uncomfortable conversations, and I am ready to walk in the shoes of my fellow females, and I am ready to challenge my own perspectives in order to understand true feminism on a deeper level.
But where do I start? I can only speak for myself and what I believe will work for me and the evolution of my own feminism. If these tips and advice speak to you, then I urge you to follow them. If they don’t, then create your own. Living our truth and daring to change starts with us. With that in mind, here are the concepts I believe can help us all get to a better place of understanding in order to raise the collective sisterhood.
First, I think we start by admitting we don’t know it all and by forgiving each other for not. If you come from a place of privilege and you have not experienced things others have, that is okay. Not all of us have walked through pain. We don’t have to. It is not your fault if you cannot know or relate to what someone else has experienced. Instead, it is about a willingness to learn, to listen, and to stop shouting over each other. It is about how much you love, empathize and feel, not about how much you read, march, or lobby. In order to grow as one we have to commit to meeting each other where we are. Ostracizing women for not knowing what we believe they should only deepens the divide.
Second, we have to lean on sisterhood. We must commit to connecting with each other. Women need other women, particularly in times of struggle, triumph, or adversity. Hell, we need each other all of the time. This means more safe spaces for women to come together, more vulnerable friendships, and more embracing of those women we may not typically have friendships with. Every single time we share our pain we free ourselves a little bit and we open the doors for other people to do the same. Thinking no one understands what we are going through is naïve. There are thousands of women who understand, but we’ll never know if we never ask.
Third, we must let go of shame and blame. We cannot shame ourselves for not showing up earlier, not fighting harder, not saying something when we should have, and for not knowing what we do not know. Additionally, we cannot blame other women for the choices they have made, for their perspectives, or for their behavior. This perpetuates the cycle of pinning women against each other, and of tormenting ourselves. For women, there is enough self-deprecating behavior happening as is, we certainly don’t need to add more to the mix. Easier said than done, I know. But the more we practice, the easier it will become.
Fourth and finally, we become an ally. It is time to proclaim to ourselves, to our sisters, to our partners, to our communities, and to our families that we are here to help. It’s simple. Share your story, listen to others, and break the negative cycle in order to help other women (and yourself) heal.
To every single woman out there who has been too scared to speak up, who has felt shameful of her behavior, who has battled harassment and assault on the front-lines like a soldier, who has felt the pains of oppression, who has been demoralized, stereotyped, treated (and paid) less than, who has never once felt an ounce of privilege, and who has no idea what it means to feel safe, I bow to you all. We are all sisters. We are all humans, and we can all do this. We are stronger in numbers, and we are stronger together