By: Ginger Mayo
In childhood, there’s always a right or wrong answer.
Your parents respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Your math exercises are right or wrong. You can go to the party or you can’t. This dichotomy frames both the basic – and more difficult situations of growing up. While juvenile, it’s comforting to know that you always have a 50% chance of getting it right.
In the 6th grade, I looked up the definition of a term I’d frequently heard. “Feminist; an advocate of women’s rights on the grounds of economic, social and political equality to men.” I was pleasantly surprised to learn the straightforwardness of the definition. Who wouldn’t want to uphold those principles in their lives? When 12 year old me started proudly labeling myself a feminist, adults raised their eyebrows at my audacity. My peers were perplexed and avoided the topic. But I continued to educate myself on Feminism, and admired role models who upheld feminist ideals. I tried to adopt everyday feminist principles, like helping tutor young girls, trying to raise awareness on women’s issues, and exploring feminist media. Being a ‘feminist’ was easy; just as the definition stated, it was as simple as equality.
Earlier this year I read an article in Everyday Feminism about building a Transgender* inclusive feminist movement. I stumbled on this article by chance, and only started reading it out of casual interest. I was blindsided by how profoundly it impacted me, and how it sparked a realization about how little I incorporated Transgender* awareness in my own feminist mission. Instantly I realized that the feminist authors I read were largely white and old, and that the empowering music I listened to was from straight, thin feminists. The scope of my feminist experience was therefore limited and stereotypical of my socio-economic status. Like my childhood, my feminism was black or white – I had chosen to stay in a simplified corner of a multifaceted and complex movement. If I were to liberate my gender I needed an understanding of more than a minuscule component of it.
That article, however informal, forced me to contemplate a radically different side of my feminist identity – a reality outside the restrictive perspective of cisgender, white, western oppression.
It also put into perspective how my 13 years spent abroad contributed to my views on the female identity, and the complexities and importance of the global feminist movement. In France I witnessed the Islamophobic banning of female Muslim headscarves. In Tokyo I was exposed to the history of Geishas and domestic oppression. In Singapore, I actively observed the illegality of homosexuality and restrictions on LGBTQ activists to speak out.
No longer were there black and white, defined lines between what is or isn’t feminist – but rather a blurred realization of intersectional ties between peoples’ identities. This didn’t make things clearer, which is precisely why it affected me so profoundly. Feminism isn’t as easy as only ‘believing’ in equality – it is about understanding and living the overlaps of global female history, the cultural implications of feminism, and accepting bodily manifestations of race and gender. It is a world of depth, humanity and diversity. Through this feminist lens, I can now fully engage myself as an activist who not only takes a holistic view in the fight against gender discrimination, but also advocates for environmental justice, racial equality and rights to religious and social freedoms. Feminism needsto be more than what I had previously thought it was. Realizing my responsibilityto become an ally for all facets of feminism as part of my move into the grey that is adulthood.
Adulthood isn’t easy. Answers aren’t obvious. It’s about delving into the complexities. It’s about taking challenges and digging deeper. It’s about understanding our histories, our genders, our race, our nationalities. These things define us. As a feminist, and as an adult, I embrace that.