Nine years ago I donned a hot pink T-shirt with the exclamation that ‘This is what a FEMINIST looks like’. I understood feminism to be about giving women power. Power over what, I wasn’t too sure about. I had been told that women’s voices are often silenced. That women’s actions and freedoms were not defined by themselves, but by men (and to some extent, the older women who endured the same levels of sexism and gender discrimination – and who knew no other norm). Perhaps that’s what I came to understand feminism to be – the power to control my actions and define my freedoms.
But even this was a flimsy understanding of feminism. At 21 years old, I felt accomplished and undiscriminated against on the basis of my sex. I got the jobs that I wanted, I got into the universities that I liked, and I landed the competitive internships that I vied for. I felt unaffected by the discriminatory norms against women. Thus feminism was not a major priority in my life. Gender inequality was not so evident in my naïve 21 year old eyes and in my California lifestyle.
Nine years later, my nearly 30 year old self is constantly frustrated and angered by the treatment that I receive as a woman. Frustrated by the unsolicited comments of “you’re beautiful” when I go about my everyday life without asking to be judged (and definitely not by anyone’s definition of beauty but my own). Frustrated when I am told by men to accept these remarks as compliments as if I am incapable of identifying my own feelings and the discomfort, the irritation, and the underlying malice that can come from such remarks.
Frustrated when I have to re-assess whether or not I want a position because the man that would be supervising me and who I would be working with on a daily basis keeps giving me eyes.
And incredibly frustrated and ANGERED when a man excuses his bad behaviour towards me, his reluctance to work together, to share information, to communicate, and overall desire to see me fail as my fault for my eloquence, confidence, and level of education “intimidated” him.
Thus at 29, I have come to understand more and more what it means to be a feminist. Feminism does not end at giving women equality. Nor does it end at giving women the power to do things or to become something. Feminism is also about acceptance. Accepting women’s power, our power within, our power over, and our power with. And not just to be accepted either, but to be made comfortable in having this power. For it to be okay for us to accumulate knowledge and to display our knowledge, to display our strengths, to display our confidence without being judged and without fear of a backlash.
It is a fight to be accepted as a multi-dimensional human being, with opinions. Opinions that matter. That has weight. That has value.
We have VALUE.