I’m a feminist. It actually took me a while to claim the title, feminist. There was a period when I would say I only promoted feminism. Mainstream media’s negative portrayal of what being a feminist means was successful in putting a bad taste in my mouth. The term to my knowledge at the time was synonymous with man hating, and all I knew of feminists was that they helped get women the right to vote, fought to free women's sexuality, and preach pro-choice. After my first year of studying feminist theory in University, I finally discovered bell hooks and Audre Lorde. It was then and being introduced to intersectional feminism that I finally (deeply) connected with feminism. I became engulfed within it, it felt like the missing piece to put a finger on of all my frustrations and sorrows in the world. Like Betty Frieden's "The Problem That Has No Name" my experiences were given a name and with that, I found the tools to examine them in. I finally learned that feminism is much more than equal pay and reproductive rights. A that point, in 2009, colleagues had already began recognizing a “fourth wave” of feminism. This fourth wave spoke to broader issues of gender, race, colonialism, male feminism, spirituality, and so on and so forth. Little had I known then, that the work had been done, it just took some time to discover. I write this post to those of you who are disconnected to feminism, who are interested in feminism, who have dipped your toes into feminism, and/or currently claim to be a feminist. It's a call to action, of urging all of you to either begin to or continue to educate or activate yourself. Now more than ever do I feel that the United States, nay the world, needs feminism.
In 2010 had I said the word “intersectionality" to anyone who wasn’t in my feminism circles, they would have had no clue what I was talking about. The term was coined way before my time, and is wonderfully now recognize by more and more people. Feminism has a long history, and slowly, we (women) have made big changes. I'm in awe when I remind myself that the women's suffrage movement began in 1848, and it wasn't until 1920 that we got the right to vote. The movement has undergone many phases, and there are many branches of it. Yet then, and still today, the idea of feminism, specifically the mainstream view (through corporate media and social media) of feminism, is sometimes limited to such a shallow version of itself, depending on your individual social media echoing chamber. Feminism isn't only for and about women (although it may have started that way), but it now fights for the end of oppression towards many identities. Today, it serves women just as much as men. It is now not only a women's movement, but it is a movement that works to dismantle systems in place that are the shackles to all people, of all race, gender, sexuality, and class.
Back in July my friend, Rodellee, asked me if I would write out my definition of feminism. I’ve been working on it since then, and although it’s always changing (as I’m only a constant growing human), this is what I have. It was built on my education of feminist theory, as well as own personal experience as a heterosexual, middle class, immigrant Asian American woman.
Ultimately, feminism is an movement that works towards ending social, political, and economic oppression.
First, I want to highlight that feminism is a social movement. It is not simply a title. A feminist is a person who actively participates in working towards ending social, economic, and political oppression. I believe one of many duties of a feminist is to constantly check oneself, one's environment, and the way those exist independently and interdependently in the schema of feminist values. Along with that, I believe a feminist continues to educate oneself and seek ways one is capable and willing to fight the good fight. I want to note that I do not believe there are requirements or bullet checkpoints to being a feminist. There is not some list you have to follow, and if you fall short of one of the items, it does not means you're not a feminist. I do, however, believe claiming to be a part of a movement holds self implicated responsibilities. Since feminism is a social movement, social change is inherent within it. In order to create social change, action is necessary. Feminism grew out of action. I find inaction so common among many people I know who identify as feminist. Because of the current political climate of the United States, I wanted to put action at the forefront of this definition. Action has many different faces, which I'll be touching on further down.
That being said, feminism, originally started by woman activists, is now absolutely inclusive and serves all genders, sexualities, classes, races, nationalities, spiritualities, and many other identities. When thinking about feminism and the social, economic, and political state western society is in, I use bell hooks' claim of society as an imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. These are the hegemonic systems and narratives I believe to be intact right now, and that have been, and if we do nothing, will continue to be. Feminism works to examine and question these narratives that have been set, and strives to assign the freedom to redefine them for ourselves and individually, so no person experiences the bind and shame of not fitting into prior boxes created by outside parties. In short, it works to dismantle social norms. To show us that normalizing racism, sexism, islamophobia, homophobia, and many other ideologies existing in the world that are rooted in hate is not normal. Feminism is intersectional, recognizing that oppression is not a linear binary, rather a multidimensional spectrum.
I believe that ideology that promote hierarchy, prejudice, hatred, and exclusivity are not feminist.
Lastly, I believe that the opposite of patriarchy isn't matriarchy; it is fraternity and sorority. Yes, empowerment is important and crucial, but the end goal is ultimately mutuality, equality, and support. In continuing to make allies and build community, we are winning. When we become aware and share that awareness, we are winning. Social change is happening. When we love one another, we are fighting patriarchy and hatred. When we listen to each other's stories we are overcoming ignorance. Do not let anyone tell you feminism doesn't work or is irrelevant. When you hear your own voice rise out of you and you feel the urge to share it with others, feminism is doing its job.
I spent the early part of my adult life in university, studying Sociology (the study of how society developed, is structured, and ways it functions, and of social issues) and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (essentially feminist studies). If you follow me on Instagram, you may have read a small post I made about it once. What I also mentioned in that post, was that for most of my life, I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. That turned into journalist, which turned into teacher. Somewhere down the road, I began to despise academia and could not see myself in law school, or any type of schooling really.
My professor from my Intro to Sociology class, Randy Blazak (actually the first proclaimed male feminist I had ever met), began the course saying something along the lines of, “You will never see and walk in the world the same again.” He was right. It was like a seeing the sun for the first time, everything exposed. From then on, my world view was tainted. Every movie I watch, advertisement I saw, conversation I had, all of it I filter through a sociological perspective. The way I view language will never be as it was.
People say things like, “It’s just gender, just don’t think about it.” Or, “I don't know how people get so worked up about this stuff, it doesn’t affect me.” But in reality, it affects everyone. It affects all of us. To say one is outside of it, means one has not opened their eyes. Have you ever felt ashamed of something because you felt it would question your gender? I’ve dated men who won’t talk about their feelings, because it’s not masculine to do so. I’ve also heard women bash other women for not wearing dresses or “getting ready” because it makes them not “pretty”, which is essentially discrediting to their femininity. And these are only examples to tackle ideas of gender. In both cases, one doesn’t automatically think, “I feel this way because patriarchy is a dominant force that makes me feel this shame. I should challenge patriarchy and define what gender means to myself.” Simply by looking at these examples, and examples similar to them, through a feminist lens, one can begin to recognize and ultimately dismantle patriarchy’s effects in our lives. Because imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy resonates within all of us.
Academia molded my mind to analyze the way which all of society interacts, and how we fit into that. Much of it focusing on power dynamics, how social norms created and implemented by people are oppressive. The air I breathed was all about social change and justice. I contributed in every way I could and camped at the park during Occupy Portland (I’d get ready at my University’s Recreational Center bathroom before class), attempting to infiltrating myself in the movement. I walked the streets of many protests. I got angry, frustrated, and eventually burnt out.
I have learned that activism comes in many different forms and that social change is not a utopia one reaches, rather it’s a slow process. Activism can be volunteering at a women’s support center, marching the streets, paying attention to patriarchal themes used in films, sparking conversations with family members on feminism, teaching your child about consent, speaking up against someone at a bar, not buying products from specific companies, and even loving oneself’s physical appearance despite the many different ways beauty companies tell us not to. Like I said before, it has many different faces. Whats important isn’t what others are doing, rather the ways you can make change in your life. Rumi has a quote that I love and was influential towards my outlook of activism. He said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” True change comes from within. It is not one person's burden to change the entire world. Along the road, I found that my activism doesn’t come in the form of being a lawyer. It’s in the form of reclaiming my femininity and engulfing myself within the ancient, traditionally feminine, practice of floral design. It’s my way of reconnecting to nature, of slowing down, of being present in this time, in this season, of supporting local, of finding community, of creating, of challenging myself, of bringing beauty into the world, of echoing the voices of my matrilineal line, of connecting with my sisters, and it has become a platform to share all this with others.
And so, because feminism is now an all inclusive movement, it's important to continue making allies and fighting patriarchy and oppression in many angles, any that apply to us. As Audre Lorde famously said, “For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support." If there's anything I've learned as a self proclaimed feminist for the last seven years, it's the importance of stories and sharing them. I do believe our individual world views must be shared, and in doing so we create a rich form of education for others. It can allow us to build bridges and branch outside of the hegemonic narratives. It gives us a platform of awareness, understanding, and compassion. Many of us do not identify with imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It is a system that was built to and actively oppresses so many of us. We find ourselves outside of it. Therefore, we must strengthen those narratives outside of it. I urge you, reader, if you've gotten this far, tell your story. The personal is political, do not forget that. Find ways to infiltrate feminism into your life. Find meaning within it, restructure your relationships around it, use it as an outline to raising your children, or like myself and many others, build a business from it or incorporate it into your business.