I went to a mostly white high school in a suburban area where feminism was only mentioned in text books.
I don’t remember materializing the word into something that I could actually use or be, but my grandmother said she was a feminist so it must’ve meant I was one too. Mind you If a boy caught drift of that word I’d have been teased for it. To them, saying I was a feminist was the same as saying I was stiff. ‘Independence’ was about as far as my understanding of the word went. So I played sports aggressively and didn’t back out of challenges, yet continued to stand by while boyfriends made sexist jokes.
As I progressed through high school, the feminist label became more applicable, more trendy, at which point my understanding grew to two words. Independence and empowerment.
I’ll explain later why that these words are problematic.
To the point of this column, it wasn’t until my first year of University that I could really shape the definition of feminism. Just over a year ago. I became close friends with a girl who not only identified with the word but actualized it. She had been a notably successful activist living in New Brunswick, fighting to keep her local abortion clinic open and educating young women about their rights. Flare Magazine named her a ‘Canadian game changer’ in a 30 under 30 article from 2015. Knowing her was the first step in truly acknowledging my privilege as a white woman. It made me realize that feminism was much more about standing up for marginalized groups as it was about individual empowerment, especially in a multicultural city like Toronto. As a result, I now understand that feminism cannot exist solely in a label. It is a social movement that requires action. It is not a fight for equality with men since all humans are inherently equal. Rather it is a fight for the liberation of any person from social, political, economic in all extending forms of oppression.
Independence can be a problematic word because it neglects the collective effort that is the movement. Empowerment also can be problematic because of the suggestion that the goal of feminism is to empower women and not liberate them. While a woman should experience empowerment as a side affect of her efforts, her efforts should not aim solely to achieve empowerment.
Particularly as a white cis-gender woman, I need to be hyper aware of my privilege in society. It is a privilege that could be used just as easily to seek individual empowerment by neglecting minorities as it could be to defend and give voice to those groups. Even in writing this article, my words mean nothing without action. I aim to reiterate throughout this series that feminism that only empowers white women is not feminism. Nor is feminism as a trend.
Because: It is easy to where a t-shirt that calls you a feminist. It is not easy to break down a system that oppresses minority figures.
So why an intro level feminism column? Self education is my first prerogative. I realized that actively correcting ignorant or politically incorrect statements is the best way to educate people to stop using stereotypes and common misnomers. Since in many cases, they’re built into us, it takes a lot of self monitoring to learn why a certain assumption is wrong and what the proper approach is. Effort. It really always comes down to that in the end. I plan to continuously educate myself on the movement in order to better participate. In turn I’ll share my growing understanding of feminism with you through a bi-weekly column.
Of course no one can teach feminism. We can only share our own learnings, wisdom through experience. At the internal start of my journey, I called myself a feminist because I wanted to prove myself to a boy who broke my heart. I didn’t understand what it meant then. Now I have an accountability to a movement that extends beyond myself. With that understanding, I’ve not only made efforts to change the way I interact with other women but also the ways I interact with men. My beliefs in equality are not specific to gender, especially in a generation where gender is not so simply identified. I expect equality for humans in general and I refuse to give respect to any person who won’t return it.