By Norma Nyhoff, Field Intern
There’s been a lot of yammering recently about the death of feminism, how feminists are all old upper-middle class white women, and how women have achieved equality and need to stop whining about sexism because it’s a personal problem.
So why, then, do I identify as a feminist, and why should you? Why be a feminist at all?
First of all, sexism is far from over. Women continue to face sexual and physical violence, pay and hiring discrimination, objectification, higher healthcare costs, restrictions on our reproductive liberty and any number of other oppressions. These are not oppressions that individual women bring on themselves — they are systemic.
And that garbage about the feminist movement being exclusively run by privileged old white women? The media could probably help clear this up if they actually spoke with young women and women of color who identify as feminists rather than making sweeping generalizations. (Hint: we are not hard to find. I am available for discussion anytime.)
I am a young feminist. This is an identity that found me rather than me finding it — it found me in street harassment and sexual assault, in being patronized and discounted by men in authority, in the media bludgeoning telling me everyday that I am, at best, decorative. I am a feminist because I don’t enjoy the gendered injustices that I face and because I believe that every woman deserves equal treatment rather than degradation. I am a feminist because everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
NOW’s mission statement perfectly describes my understanding of the feminist movement: “
The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”
If you trust women, if you believe that every woman’s body is her sovereign territory, if you yearn for equality, then you are a feminist. Openly identifying as a feminist is a radical act — and one of solidarity. Identifying as a feminist allows you to contribute to a collective voice and to share in a collective identity organized against oppression.
That’s all well and good, you say, but then, why engage in feminist activism?
If you experience oppression or witness the oppression of others and don’t like it, then do something about it! Civil rights activists have been known to use the metaphor of a moving sidewalk in the fight against racist oppression, and I would apply the same metaphor to the fight against sexism: That is, we can either remain passive and be swept along, implicated and oppressed by sexist social institutions, or actively challenge them and regain some ground by moving against the status quo.
Engaging in activism gives you personal satisfaction and strength, helps build empowering and supportive communities for women and gives voice to the concerns of all who are affected by sexism and other intersectional oppressions.
Activist engagement also enables you to contribute to an evolving feminist dialogue and to shape the direction of the movement to come. Whatever issue inspires you — reproductive rights, economic justice, fighting racism, LGBT rights, women’s health, ending violence against women, disability, ageism, promoting body positivity or something else — you can organize with feminists who are passionate about it and will build coalitions on a variety of issues affecting women and other communities.
Find your niche, and work it! Use your abilities, your networks and your resources to rally for women and for all who are affected by oppression. There’s any number of things you can do! Organize fundraisers and protests, petition your lawmakers, create discussion and action groups, write blog posts or use online social networks to publicize feminist issues, plan events that affirm women’s dignity or get involved in your local NOW chapter.
Anyone can get involved in feminist activism and join the grassroots. What’s stopping you?
This is the first of a series on engaging in feminist activism, so stay tuned for future posts on gaining awareness of feminist issues, local NOW chapter activism, and more!