Guest Post: Feminism: Much More Than Women’s Rights

Meiling Jabbaar, former high school feminism student, and Ileana Jiménez (Feminist Teacher).

Last year, I launched an on-going guest post series written by my former high school students reflecting on the impact of learning feminism(s) in high school. To mark the beginning of the school year and to inspire teachers to bring a feminist vision to their curricula, I’m posting a piece written by my former student, Meiling Jabbaar, who took my course on feminism her senior year last fall. In this essay, Meiling teaches all of us that learning about feminism in high school made an impact on finding her voice. Meiling will be attending Brown University this fall.

Growing up as a young woman in today’s society, I have always been aware of issues that women, teenage girls, and even young girls face.  When I learned about the feminism course offered by Ileana Jiménez, who teaches in the English department at my high school, I realized that I would have the chance to discuss topics to which I could relate.  But little did I know how much of an impact the class would have on me.

My Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists class, which I took during the first trimester of my senior year, did much more than expose me to the world of feminism.  In providing the space to talk about issues important to me, such as female stereotypes, issues of beauty, and how women are portrayed in the media, I learned ways in which I could solve these problems, while at the same time, I learned a lot about myself.

Before taking the class, the only thing that came to mind when I thought about feminism was women’s rights.  I soon learned that feminism entails so much more.  First, we focused on feminist theory.  We read the works of various renowned feminist writers, including bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, and Virginia Woolf.  I was overwhelmed and moved by their powerful pieces that analyze the history and roots of the struggles that plague the lives of women.  After reading these writers, my eyes were opened to what feminism truly represents.

One significant recurring theme throughout our readings was the idea of intersectionality, which pulls together the central focus of feminism.  One cannot analyze women’s issues without considering race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc., because each affects one another and plays a major role in our lives.  Through intersectionality, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for all types of women from all walks of life.

Following the multiple feminist readings we did, we wrote personal essays on intersectionality where we had to reflect on the ways in which race, class, gender, etc., have influenced our own lives, something I had never thought about before.  Writing my intersectionality essay helped me come to a better understanding of my identity.  I reflected on being racially mixed, being a woman of color, and the role of socio-economic class in my life.  I took a risk and shared experiences and emotions I had never expressed to anyone.  However, it was both uplifting and self-rewarding to have done so.

Aside from feminist theory, feminist activism was a major part of the class and my favorite as well.  One of the many activist projects we took part in was our work with Hollaback!, whose mission is to end street harassment using mobile technology.  Out of all the activist work we did as a class, Hollaback! had the biggest influence on me because street harassment is an issue I have personally experienced and stand against strongly.

Growing up as a girl in New York City, I have been sexually harassed countless number of times, but have never known what to do.  Hollaback! introduced me to a way I could finally take a stand and stop street harassment. As a part of our work with Hollaback!, we had the great opportunity to write testimonies for a New York City council hearing on street harassment.  This meant a lot to me as it gave me the opportunity to have my voice heard as a young person and make a difference.

At the end of the trimester, I was not the same person I was when I first walked into my feminism class. My newly gained knowledge of feminism’s theories and principles gave me a greater understanding of the world I live in and the problems surrounding me everyday.

With the intent to dismantle the inequalities that exist towards women, feminism has helped me realize my potential to create change by offering the opportunity to stand up against issues about which I am passionate.  As a result, my feminism class led to the realization of my feminist voice I did not know existed within me.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Feminism: Much More Than Women’s Rights

  1. As 50% of the human population, women experience “intersectionality” on a scale unparalleled. Women exist in every OTHER kind of sub-group on earth: race, class, culture, age, size, disability, you-name-it! It’s important for us to understand how this incredible diversity allows people to dismiss our *similarities* (which are primarily rooted in the mandates of hetero-normativity/gender– which spans time, space and culture).

    As such, I think it’s really important that women be allowed space to focus on what makes our SEX-based oppression different than other kinds of social oppression (it’s distinctly SEX-ual). I understand that many women are more interested in and/or affected by other kinds of social hierarchies, but I want to resist the impulse to describe all political analysis as “feminism.” Feminism was created and should be practiced for the benefit of women as the SEX class, or in other words, as persons who are defined BY our SEX.

    • While I agree that women certainly need spaces to talk about gender-based oppression, the importance of an intersectional analysis of experience is essential for any kind of political consciousness and social change to occur. Not all women have the same experience, which is why intersectionality is so important and is so indispensable to feminist analysis. As bell hooks writes in her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center: “As a black woman interested in feminist movement, I am often asked whether being black is more important than being a woman; whether feminist struggle to end sexist oppression is more important than the struggle to end racism and vice versa. All such questions are rooted in competitive either/or thinking . . . Most people are socialized to think in terms of opposition rather than compatibility.” I think this is passage is as true today in 2011 as it was when she published her book in 1984. We should not remain stuck in “either/or” thinking, but instead move towards making our analysis about all the ways in which systems of oppression work together, or what bell hooks refers to here as the “compatibility” of political and feminist consciousness. It is only then when we can really work towards liberation for all of us.

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