A feminist’s work is never done. It is a daily struggle and a full time job. It is acknowledging the past and finding a way forward. It is about equity vs. equality. It is about political, economic, and social justice. It is about having a fair shot; a chance to follow your dreams, be who you want to be, and live how you want to live. It is diverse, but the message seems cohesive: I will not be held back, I will not be discriminated against, and I will stand up for what I believe is right.
The issues of feminism are all encompassing; it is not limited by gender alone. Feminism embraces differences related to race, sex, sexuality, gender, ethnic, and economic status (just to name a few). It battles patriarchy, power, discrimination, racism, classism, homophobia, and wrongdoings all around the world. It sticks up for the little girl/guy, gives voice to the silenced, power to the weak, and agency to the oppressed. Feminism is a way of seeing the world and it is a way forward. To not acknowledge feminism is to be stuck in the past, or at the very least – the present.
Living this sort of feminism is a process. The first step in this process is to ask questions. We must reflect on situations and become reflexive in our own beliefs and actions. Challenge the premise of a situation. What are the customs and social standards? Why is this so? Why do you believe what you believe? Question when there is silence, ask when there is certainty, and always discuss. Just as we must ask why, we must also ask, why not? This may cause some uncomfortable situations, but that is good. Why are you uncomfortable? It’s easy to see the ways we are oppressed, but it’s often harder to see how we oppress others.
The second step in this process is identification. Know why you believe what you believe and why you act the way you act. Realizing there is no right answer here, you must at least be willing to answer to yourself. By acknowledging it, however, is it ok to accept it? Do not accept the status quo simply for what it is. Do not be afraid to go against the grain. Call out patriarchy, discrimination, and injustice where you see it. Do not turn a blind eye or run from the uncomfortable.
The third step is to be a role model. Use invitational and inclusive language. Don’t laugh at jokes that come at the expense of others and don’t be accepting of intolerance or bigotry. This may mean not being fun at parties. Realize the great power and great responsibility that comes with using language. As communicators, we must be careful with our language and the language we surround ourselves with. Also realize the power of naming and the significance it has: the significance to cause personal, social, and political harm as well as the significance to do good. We must be careful of generalizations and we must be careful of focusing on commonalities at the expense of differences or vice versa. They are not mutually exclusive. Can we find a way that embraces both? In any given situation, we should be willing to flip the social roles, stand in the other person’s shoes, realize that we are not the same, acknowledge different circumstances, and embrace differences.
We must also be careful of our actions. In doing so, we must be willing to take responsibility for them and accept consequences. How do we treat our family, our friends, our co-workers, and strangers? This is not a utopian world and the “system” is not going away any time soon, but can we push back in a way that is more inclusive? Can I create relationships based on the values that I hold dear? Am I silent when there is wrong being done? Am I speaking for others? What are the implications for speaking for others? Am I a voyeur and am I appropriating, or am I calling attention to something important? What are my intentions? Do intentions matter? Do actions speak louder than words? How loudly does silence speak?
With this, we must be willing to do our homework. We must be willing to challenge ourselves and we must be willing to grow. We should try to learn different cultural languages and try not to use the backs of others in doing so. Am I a PR person for any one group? Do I ever ask someone to be a PR person for me? How do I learn what I know? What are the implications of this?
The power of feminism begins with the individual and it starts with a choice. We can accept reality, make it our own, and/or try to change it. All battles cannot be won, and to be honest, all battles are not worth the effort. We must pick and choose our battles carefully, but when we do choose, we must not give up. The questions and steps presented here only begin to scratch the surface of what feminism is and how to live my version of a feminist lifestyle. Through the years, however, I have been challenged – emotionally and intellectually – and today I feel awakened. Today, I am choosing to take up the work of a feminist. Today, I am choosing to move forward.
Aaron Keel was born in Flint, Michigan and lived in the Flint area for much of his life where his mother, with the help of his grandmother and twin uncles, raised him into the man he is today. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan – Flint in 2009 where he studied interpersonal and organizational communication and earned a minor in Political Science.
Currently, Aaron is moments away from completing his Master’s degree at Colorado State University in the department of Communication Studies. His thesis is on public memory of the Flint Sit-down strike between the United Auto Workers and General Motors and a park that was built to commemorate it. He is especially interested in how gender and agency are represented in public memorials, labor rhetoric, politics, and the Detroit Tigers. He also has one younger sister, many great friends, and an extremely close family. He is engaged to be married in the summer of 2012, believes that the glass is half full, and is optimistic that the best is yet to come.