I spent most of my twenties passionately focusing on women’s issues that did or could potentially have a direct impact on my life. Things such as: female representation in media and pop culture, inequality in the workforce, self-image and body issues, violence against women and reproductive rights. This was not intentional and it’s only looking back now that I see it. I suppose it’s human nature to care most about things that do or may affect us personally. Of course (and unfortunately) these are all still very much salient issues today.
However, having just entered my third decade I can say that my understanding of the word and what it means to be a feminist have vastly expanded over the years. I see it now as a more inclusive process of letting all women (and men) be a part of the conversation and the solution; of considering different perspectives, being flexible and adaptable; and above all listening and learning.
There are a few things which I can credit for this personal growth, and I think the starting point would have to be Twitter. For all the hate, prejudice and intolerance you can find online, there’s an equal share of awesome, like-minded people coming together to share positive ideas. In recent years, I have discovered a huge community of feminists online and not only has it given me hope but tons of information I didn’t have access to before. It has expanded my horizons and made me recognize some of my own privileges and biases. I am learning about perspectives from feminists who are black, indigenous, gay, queer, men and more. Perspectives I rarely had access to in the past but which continue to enrich me every day.
The second reason is having read Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I was always aware of global issues such sex trafficking and slavery, lack of education for girls and maternal mortality, but I guess it seemed like a far enough away problem that I didn’t focus on it too much. This book really opened my eyes as to how prevalent these and other routine, systematic forms of discrimination against girls/women actually are and how its effects ripple around the world. This book gives a staggering account of the facts without a partisan slant on how to deal with these issues. It was remarkably sensible and non-confrontational in its approach which was a great learning experience for me the die-hard liberal, confrontational feminist I am. One particularly transformative quote for me was “American feminism must become less parochial, so that it is every bit as concerned with sex slavery in Asia as with Title IX sports programs in Illinois.” That was one of many aha moments I had while reading this book. After reading it I have a much deeper appreciation of how ensuring all girls have access to education, family planning tools and micro-finance has a powerful effect on not only their life prospects, but also on the broader population, economy and future generations.
My most recent inspiration is Jane Fonda’s biography, My Life So Far. What a wonderfully complex woman she is and absolutely fascinating life she has led! My eyes were glued to my Kindle reading about her activism, personal relationship struggles and mid-life feminist awakening. I must admit, until I read this book, Jane Fonda was to me the lady in those 1980s workout videos and the mother-in-law from hell in Monster In Law. I can’t tell you how glad I am that my good friend Karen recommended I read her book. Jane Fonda looks back at her life (so far) with a fascinating level of introspection, clarity and honesty seeing in hindsight—as many of us do—the complicated interplay of forces that shaped her life as a woman, professional, wife and mother. Like many women she didn’t always identify as a feminist because she thought it meant being against men. It was fascinating to read about her personal transformation from on-screen sexpot and submissive wife, to outspoken activist and entrepreneur, as well as the ongoing struggle to find her identity independent of a man. Jane Fonda’s story made me realize that life is a journey and we are all constantly evolving as human beings. It’s up to us to educate ourselves, grow and become better citizens of the world, as well as better feminists. In fact, I think I can credit her with giving me the courage to write all this down.