“Feminism articulates political opposition to the subordination of women as women, whether that subordination is ascribed by law, imposed by social convention, or inflicted by individual men and women…. Feminism generally springs from each woman’s own lived experience…. Feminism thus challenges women to respect differences among us and to honor, rather than appropriate, other women’s triumphs and tragedies.”1 This quotation says formally what I would informally, and sums up my feminist theory. To me, there is no blanket “feminism,” but rather as many feminisms as there are feminists. My feminism is a commitment to live life as a participant, not an observer. It’s a promise I make to keep my eyes open, even when elucidation is uncomfortable; it’s a commitment to fight oppression by recognizing it and struggling with it. I have taken up my torch as a Feminist realizing that there will be days when merely recognizing the injustice in the world will be crippling, but committing to employ that struggle to feed the fire of response is worth the discomfort. Rather than be disheartened by adversity, I will acknowledge opposition as the fodder I need to keep my feminist fire blazing robustly.
Keeping my eyes open is the first step. In many cases, this cognizance of my surroundings means combating the self-centeredness that our culture so readily promotes. It requires a questioning of what, to me, are the “givens” in life. For example, the awareness of the extent to which my race entitles me to significant privileges has escaped me until recently. Reflecting back to my first think piece, books like Charolette Pierce-Baker’s Surviving the Silence tell the stories of black rape victims, and her text reveals racial undertones to rape which I, as a Caucasian, would have never fathomed encountering. On page 38, one rape survivor writes,
“Even now, thirteen years later, it is difficult to say I was raped and that my husband and child were there. It still hurts so badly. Did they think we would just become another black-on-black statistic? [Emphasis mine] I have no idea why they didn’t kill us. I have always been amazed.”2
Keeping my eyes open means not only seeing my privileges, but also recognizing my victimage. Over the course of the semester my eyes have been open to the ripples of patriarchy, many of which I had long been oblivious to. Without recognizing oppression, it’s impossible to attempt to combat it. In her book Pilgrimages/Pelegrinajes, María Lugones explains how difficult it can be to recognize oppression. She writes, “One of the factors that makes oppression inescapable…is the inability to form liberatory syllogisms in the world of the oppressor, given the logic of oppression.”3 The important part to note here is “given the logic of oppression.” The very nature of oppression lies within the dominator removing the tools of resistance from the oppressed, because the victims’ ignorance of their injustice serves as a means of containment. Therefore, keeping my eyes open proves to be a formidable task, but the role it plays in jump-starting the fight against patriarchy makes it indispensible and earns it a place within my feminist theory.
After recognizing moments of oppression and victimage, my feminist theory becomes even more challenging. Along with recognition comes a duty to do something about it, and this struggle becomes the second step. I chose the term “struggle” intentionally. At first, I chose “act,” but after giving it more thought, I realized that sometimes not acting can be as powerful as acting, and, therefore, the struggle comes in determining which result it appropriate. As I mentioned in my third think piece, leaving an instance of harassment unaddressed only perpetuates the problem. However, in the weeks since then I’ve been testing out responses to such instances and determined that often, the harasser’s intention is to get a rile out of the harassee and not acknowledging him or her stifles their intended result and serves as the most powerful discouragement. I also have come to acknowledge that there are some battles that must be conceded as unwinnable, and sometimes silence is a means of preventing an altercation in which I’m certain I won’t come out on top. This lesson was one of the hardest I’ve been forced to face this semester, and I’m hopeful that within my lifetime this won’t always be the case. However, until then I’ve decided that my energy is better spent on instances that I believe I can make a difference. My family and friends are my largest sphere of influence, and just living my life according to these two principles is, in itself, helping promote feminism (as I see it). Pointing out instances of patriarchy when they might otherwise go undetected is all a part of my struggle. Sometimes, people don’t want to see, but these small victories pave the way to larger ones. In fact, if I can persuade my friends and family to see the light of feminism and integrate it into their own lives, then maybe we, collectively, can tackle instances of oppression that I couldn’t influence alone.
With these two principles in place, I embark on my journey of feminism. I define for myself the path less traveled, and undoubtedly a road of more resistance, but I’m determined to not let adversity hinder my progress. This semester has equipped me with the tools necessary to see privilege and oppression, and with that knowledge comes the responsibility to use that knowledge to empower both myself and others to be active participants in my world. By naming oppression in my own life and the lives of those within my sphere of influence, and by considering each instance to ascertain the best course of action I aim to embody my feminist thinking. The journey starts today.
- Wilma Mankiller, “Feminism and Feminisms,” The Reader’s Companion of U.S. Women’s History (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998),192.
- Charolette Pierce-Baker, Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), 38.
- María Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003), 59.