I am a feminist. This is a label I proudly wear on a day to day basis. Although I haven’t always chose to define myself as such. For much of my life I was afraid to put that label on myself because I didn’t want to spend my life having to repeatedly defend and explain my position as a feminist. You see, many people, even today do not understand or rather care to understand what feminism is and why we still need feminism today. Much of the world has a very tainted view of what feminism is today based solely on what feminism was 70 years ago. Even 70 years ago feminism was not a bad thing. Feminism birthed from oppression, specifically white, women’s oppression but today it has morphed into a social concept that is much more than an exclusive category for certain women to be a part of and benefit from.
When I look back on my childhood now, I see that I may have always been a feminist. I was a very inquisitive child (and still am as an adult) I constantly questioned authority which was something I believe I learned from my parents. Both my mother and father encouraged me to be a part of their conversations they always told me that being able to ask questions and have an opinion was something that was to be valued. I remember my mother saying that I should never just listen to people I should always ask why. This of course, as you can imagine, caused some interesting parenting issues while I grew up as I would never just listen to anyone. However, I was not a delinquent I simply didn’t take everything an adult told me to heart.
I come from a long line of female family members, in fact, on my mothers side I only have one male cousin. All my other blood relatives on my mom’s side are female (except for my late grandfather). My great grandmother had three sisters, my grandmother had four sisters, my mom has two sisters, each of those sisters have two daughters and I myself have one sister. There’s a running joke that men cannot survive in our family because the female presence is so strong. My Grandmother was a farm wife, but she also had her own sign making business. My aunt has her masters in Nursing and my other aunt is an entrepreneur. My mother served on the town counsel for seven years, she is a first responder, manages the fire department, owns her own dog grooming business and is the first female Reeve of our RM. All of this information may seem boring or unnecessary but as you can see I came from a family where women were big contributors to the household and the community. Because of my strong matrilineal line, I never saw the female gender as a weak one, if anything, I always saw women as strong and powerful. It wasn’t until middle school that I began to see sexism blatantly in my life. Before grade six I don’t have any recollection of seeing or understanding sexism, that all changed when I started band.
I remember the day I started band class as one of the most exciting of my school years. Getting to take band class meant that you were half way to grade 12, it was a milestone. I was so excited to get a chance at playing the one instrument I always wanted to learn how to play, the drums. On my first day of band class we had to write down the three instruments we wanted to play in order of first, second, and third choice. I, of course, wrote drums first, then alto saxophone (because my mom had wanted me to choose it first, but remember I didn’t just listen to adults), then the flute third because it was the instrument my big sister played and although we fought like cats and dogs I always wanted to be like her. Ms. Len*, the band teacher, picked up all the slips of paper and announced to the class that we all would most likely get our first choice but there was a small chance you might get your second choice. I couldn’t wait for my next band class, I wanted so bad to stand up and bang on that snare drum. A few days later I arrived at band class and as I walked in I was handed an alto sax. I was so disappointed, but not only that I was angry too. I noticed that all the people who received drums were boys. I new for a fact that at least me and two other girls asked for drums as our first choice and none of us received a drum. I remember putting up my hand before the teacher had a chance to start the class and I asked, slightly upset, “Ms. Len*, why don’t any of the girls get to play the drums? That’s not really fair!” She replied, that not everyone gets their first choice and that, “The drums are for the boys.” I was livid. Out of the six boys in my class five of them played percussion instruments, the sixth boy wanted to play Tuba and he did. I went home that day and told my parents I was upset about what happened in band. Ms. Len* insisted it wasn’t a gender thing, there simply was enough percussion instruments in the band and we didn’t need anymore. I couldn’t believe that she said it wasn’t a gender issue when she blatantly said in class that the drums were for the boys. My dad told me there was nothing more we could do and I would just have to suck it up and play the saxophone. I remember feeling so defeated in that moment. I didn’t understand how someone could just make up a rule that certain things were for boys and certain things were for girls. It seems silly now that I once couldn’t wrap my head around such discrimination. Today I do understand it, I do see it everywhere, and I plan to spend my life trying to breakdown the walls that are built to marginalize all types of people. There was a similar situation in my grade nine English class when I questioned my male English teacher about why we had no literature from female authors in our curriculum. Although he disliked my open acquisition of his class material he said he would try to find female authors for next years class. I don’t know if he ever did add any female authors to the course, but I felt a small victory in the fact that he considered it.
Initially in school the discrimination I saw was mainly sexism, classism and some racism. Although the racism was probably much more prominent however, I myself was unaware of it because I am white. It wasn’t until I graduated and started to live, work and go to university on my own that I began to realize how grand social discrimination is.
In 2009 I began to work as a nanny. It truly was the greatest job I have ever had except for the constant bigotry displayed by one of the adult family members I worked for. Bill* often made racist, anti semitic and homophobic comments. Everyday he had a new terrible thing to say about a different race, class, sexuality, political party, religion, or gender etc. I recall very vividly the day he told me homosexuals were pedophiles. This put me in a very peculiar situation as I myself am gay (although he did not know this and today still does not). Ethically I felt very wrong working for someone who had these terrible views but ethically I could not leave their children to be raised in an environment where they were subject to these opinions. Instead, I began to teach the children about marginalized people and about privilege, about their privilege as light skinned Canadian people. I taught them that all people are different but at the same time we are all the similar because we are human. I discussed how we should respect all humans regardless of the clothes they where, the people they love, the money they have or the way they look. Believe it or not even though they were surrounded by negative ideas about people they took what I said and began to apply it to their little three year old lives. I would hear them at the play ground saying, people aren’t colours, they’re just people or you can love whoever you want as long as they are nice to you and you love them and they love you back. A few months ago when I told them I was dating someone the first question the kids asked me was “is it a boy or a girl?” at this time they had just turned seven and I knew in my heart what I had taught them had stuck.
Again all of this information may seem unimportant in relation to how I came to define myself as a feminist, however, it is all too important. Working with those children and seeing that the walls and barriers that are created in young minds to hate, dislike, and discriminate against certain people, can be deconstructed. People can unlearn stereotypes, they can unlearn hate, it is possible and I saw it with my own eyes. For five years I watched the cycle be broken and it gave me hope that if I/we can stand up and help people unlearn and be aware of marginalization and privilege that we/I can truly change the world. Now some people may want to challenge what I am saying here, maybe some would suggest that these things don’t go hand in hand with their definition of feminism but that doesn’t matter because these things go hand in hand with my definition of feminism.
The work I did with the children I cared for inspired me to put my thoughts onto digital paper. In 2010 I started a blog called wordsofhonestunwisdom.com. This is where I began my journey of identifying as a feminist and activist. I strongly believe that a big part of being both a feminist and activist is talking about the things that make people uncomfortable, things like racism, classism, sexism, agesim, ableism etc. Through my blog I have been able to explore and discuss these concepts with all types of people all over the world and it has kept my fire to fight for the global equality of all people alive, even in the instances where I feel like giving up.
Many dictionaries loosely define feminism as the social and political advocacy of women’s rights in equality with men’s rights or as the social and political equality of the sexes. In some senses those definitions of feminism were correct in the early nineteenth century. However, as a Women and Gender Studies major I have come to learn that feminism in many ways is multi definitional. For me, feminism is defined as the act of deconstructing social discourse to find the root of marginalization. Once we can find out the root cause of the marginalization we can then move forward in stopping social inequality. For instance, some may argue that poverty is a big social issue, but I believe poverty doesn’t just exist in and of itself. Poverty is created through marginalization of people and nations, therefore we must first demolish marginalization do to race, class, sex, gender, etc before we can fix poverty. Feminism, for me is being aware of my privilege and my voice. I am aware that being in an institution like University, and being able to study Women and Gender studies is not simply my doing. My place in this institution is part of a long line of social privileges that I was born into and these privileges are simply false structures created by race and class divisions. Feminism, for me is fighting for the equality of all things on this planet. And it’s not just about people, I personally see the environment as a living being and it too deserves to be respected instead of constantly being raped of its resources, resources we all need to survive. Feminism, for me is knowing that what I learnt in my 13 years of primary and secondary schooling is not the whole truth. Feminism, for me is constantly unlearning and rebuilding my opinions not based on stereotypes and prejudices. I know there may be people in this very class, that disagree with my definition of feminism but I know that my feminism comes from a place of social acceptance not discrimination and that is what’s most important to me.
I am not a scientist, or a world renowned scholar but I do believe that to fix the inequality in the world to produce a society of freedom we cannot not simply to give people the things they need but rather we must know in our beings that it is a basic human right that all people regardless of race, class, gender, age, culture or nation deserve clean drinking water. All people deserve the opportunity to access adequate education. All people deserve to speak for themselves and not be grouped together into categories and then labeled as a problem. All people have a voice and all people deserve to be heard. Feminism for me is a vehicle to educate people on the concept that everyones voice is important, all seven billion of us.