Have you ever played an Icebreaker game? A little exercise that your classmates or coworkers are forced to engage in so that you can all get to know each other a bit better? Maybe you’ve had to come up with your favorite flavor of ice cream and three unique facts about yourself to share with the group, and as you’re thinking about what makes you special and different from everyone else, you realize that you actually have no idea what you’re going to say. How can you possibly deconstruct who you are into three facts? Who are you? What are the parts in the sum of the whole that is you?
To me, feminism is like the act of putting together pieces of the puzzle that define a feminist agenda.
There are so many ways to build your feminism: volunteering at a woman’s shelter, or attending the Women’s March every year. Subscribing to every feminist content provider you can get your hands on, or maybe perhaps providing the content. Each activity becomes a part of your feminism. And there are even more ways to build upon it, and more things to add.
You don’t need to be in the middle of all the action to be an advocate for change. There are endless ways to be an activist for equality, especially in the age of social media.
One of the best ways you can use social media for activism is to raise awareness for your cause, and you don’t need to be part of a larger organization to have your voice heard.
Volunteering is another way to be a feminist activist and it takes many forms- from devoting time to an internship with a feminist website to lending your time to raise funds for a women’s shelter or crisis center. You can even challenge offensive and discriminatory marketing and advertising campaigns all from the comfort of your home, and all through the use of your social media platforms.
One of the best ways to be a feminist activist is simply using your voice. Have conversations with like-minded people. Even better, have conversations with people who disagree with you. Educate yourself, and educate others. Being informed is one of the most powerful tools if you want to advocate for, and achieve true change.
Feminism at Work
We all know the scope of the #MeToo movement and what it represents. It’s a collection of people (not just women) who strive to demonstrate the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace. The movement was founded by Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist, and popularized widely by celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Uma Thurman, and even most recently, Terry Crews. But, if you’re not a celebrity, how can you do your part?
Historically, women have been wary of speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace for fear of losing their jobs or credibility. However, more and more women are standing up and speaking out for the right to safety at work.
While there is still a long way to go, the argument could be made that it is becoming increasingly commonplace to see companies taking a stricter stance against sexual harassment. Policies are changing and so is company culture. Lawsuits are taken out and new workplace environments are being built around the idea that shockingly, harassment is bad and inappropriate. This is happening because of strong women who want to fight for their careers.
As with most things, communication is key. Ask about your company’s sexual harassment policies. Find out what your organization is doing to prevent it from happening. Advocate for yourself. Tell men how they can support women in the workplace and do their part to stop this harassment. Encourage people to speak up. Find like-minded allies. Most importantly, strive for leadership and recognize the power you hold.
Feminism at Home
A home should be a safe space for you to feel like you can be yourself. Doesn’t it sound nice to sit in the comfort of your own home, pouring over feminist literature and having lively conversations about the feminist topics of the day with your family? Sure it does.
But, for many, this is not possible. For many, “feminist” is still a dirty word among their families and households. So how can you build your feminism in a place that is working to tear down everything you believe to be true about equality?How can you feel safe to freely discuss these topics?
Turn the tables. . Try to use the adversity and ignorance in your life to build a stronger foundation for your beliefs.
Turn the tables. Try to use the adversity and ignorance of others to build a stronger foundation for your beliefs. Often, people come for feminists in anger. They may see feminism as a movement of man-haters wanting to abolish the patriarchy, and in doing so, take all men down with it. This is an opportunity to educate and inform. A chance to show those who don’t fully grasp what feminism is and how it strives for universal and intersectional equality.
You may encounter friends and family who don’t understand feminism and no matter how hard you try, you can’t change their minds. Use this to make yourself even more steadfastly rooted than you thought possible. Use this to teach your own children about equality and activism. It can be a great experience to delve into the social beliefs of other people and have conversations. Not only can you educate, but you might just learn something yourself.
In my own family, I’ve come face to face with gender stereotyping, preconceived gender roles, and socially constructed expectations.
I choose to be a feminist in spite of these things. I’ve also come face to face with my own white privilege, which has made me see more and more the need for intersectional feminism. Everyday, I learn more and more that there is more than one kind of woman, more than one kind of feminist. And they all come from different homes and backgrounds.
Your homelife is often what can influence you the most.
Picking Your Battles
“Pick your battles.” My mom says this to me all the time, and she’s been right every time. Not every conflict warrants swift action. Sometimes you have to let things go and push them aside for the bigger picture, the end game. Sometimes you have to focus your efforts on the more substantial issue at hand, rather than the small sexist comment someone might have made, no matter how frustrating it can be. Sometimes you have to save your energy.
Every now and then, it might be better to beef up your arsenal as much as you can before starting the war. Gather information, educate yourself and others. Build up an unstoppable force of feminist power. Afterall, you do want to show the world how powerful a feminist can be. A united educated front can strike harder when properly equipped.
Living Your Truth
Being a feminist can be hard. Constructing your feminism from the bottom up can be even harder. Sometimes it’s messy and you make mistakes. Maybe you came to feminism a little bit later than others, and that’s just fine.
One of the most beautiful things about feminism is that your feminist experience can be based on so many different things. It is unique to you and who you want to be. The important thing to remember is that your feminism is a part of you, and however you choose to live, it will always stay with you.
Author: Kelly Friday
Kelly is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a major in Health Information Management and a minor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. She is dedicated to the University’s Handbell Ensemble, of which she is the Vice President and currently holds a student position in the Infectious Diseases Division at Pitt. When she isn’t trolling for new music for the Ensemble, she spends her free time wandering bookstores, always on the hunt for the next gripping page-turner. As part of the Make Muse Team, she uses her experience in the male-dominated professional sphere to empower more women to join the competitive workforce, particularly in underrepresented fields.