Until recently, I had no idea what the word “feminist” even meant, let alone identify myself as one. The word “feminism” held no real significance for me, and none of my friends or family considered themselves feminists. I had all the stereotypical images in my head; angry women protesting and burning bras. I believed that feminism was a movement that was important in the seventies, but had no value for a 21st century woman like myself. This all changed last year when I took a Women’s Studies class. On our first day, the professor asked us to write one page about the role our gender has played in our lives and how this has contributed to our oppression. I was a little confused by this assignment. I just stared at the empty sheet in front of me and thought to myself, “Well, I don’t really feel oppressed.” As I sat there and reflected on my life, I started to recognize all the experiences that had been influenced by my gender. I began to recognize events in my life that I had always assumed were a part of growing up, but are actually just part of growing up as a girl. These experiences began to reveal a very different picture of my life. By looking past my preconceived notions about what life is supposed to be like, I immediately started to recognize all the ways my life was determined by my gender. Everything, from the stories I read in school to images I saw in the media, created and reinforced images in my head of what a girl should be like. Without knowing it, these images influenced my decisions, both big and small.
When I tell someone that I am a feminist, I am usually met with a confused look. Most of these people think that feminism is a radical, out of date movement. My parents even asked me if there was some trauma in my childhood that made me so “vehement” about feminism. The truth is that its just the opposite; I lived a normal childhood and I never felt oppressed or slighted because of my gender. This is part of the problem, because, in my opinion, the biggest roadblock to gender equality is that most people think that it has already been achieved. We accept life as “the way it is”, and we’ve stopped thinking about the way it should be. Accepting the fact that women are “almost equal” is preventing us from going the rest of the way. I am a feminist because the fight for gender equality is far from over. If you take a critical look at your life, you will recognize the opportunities that you missed while you were trying to fulfill society’s expectations. I am a feminist because we all take for granted the rights that past feminists earned for us, and if we don’t remember why feminism was important in the first place, we cannot guarantee those rights for our daughters. I am a feminist because even though I have the right to vote and get an education, there are women in the world who don’t, and the fight for gender equality isn’t over until it’s universal. I am a feminist because I believe in a future where every girl will be able to fulfill her potential and where women will have equal representation in government. I am a feminist because I refuse to believe that making 85 cents to every dollar that a man makes is the best we can do. I am a feminist and I am not ashamed of it, because you know that we live in a patriarchal society when you are judged for believing that women should be equal and autonomous citizens.