I had never heard of the word ‘feminism’ before I went to college. When I did, the word carried with it the unappealing stigma of bra-burning, man hating women. However, the idea of what feminism really meant to me as an individual woman gnawed at my young mind.
Having been raised in, what most would consider, a relatively conservative home I had never been introduced to this ‘worldly’ theory. Please, don’t for a second think that my parents sheltered me or that they ever disparaged my womanhood. In fact, both my parents continue to be my biggest champions and best friends. My parents raised my three sisters and me as most parents do; the best they can based on what they know and have personally experienced. For them, this meant based on a life during a tumultuous time in southern Africa – then, a racially divided and socially stunted region. That aside and to their credit, my parents raised us to think critically, sustain independent lives, and showed us how to love.
In college I started taking courses that challenged how I thought, what I had been taught, and who I was told was right and wrong. College also brought with it ongoing opportunities to meet new people and exchange ideas and thoughts I had never encountered before. For some, college is filled with physical experimentation. No doubt this can provide an important opportunity for self-identification, but for me, most of my exploration and self-discovery was within the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual realm.
I would be betraying myself if I tried to identify what feminism means to me without mentioning my faith. Within my ‘conservative’ upbringing I was also raised as a Christian. My parents encouraged me to take my faith on as my own at a young age and not experience, what I now call a Relationship instead of a Religion, through their eyes. This Relationship continues to be challenged because of the interpretation of the Bible, an ancient book written through the male perspective at a time when women were valued only by the number of cattle their father could gain through their dowry – oh wait, that view still holds true all over the world today! However, I believe God used those willing and able at a certain point in time to document history so that believers could gain wisdom and hope from those words. Historical context is vital to the interpretation of any written word and blind acceptance without question is foolishness. That said, I am a woman of faith who believes that men and women were created equally.
I often felt throughout college that my faith and my studies battled within my head and my heart to claim stake to my identity. As I trudged through the battle field of womanhood I met strong and amazing women in the trenches fighting the same war of self-actualization.
‘Was what I was raised to believe about myself and women what I should strive for in my life?’
‘What does it mean to be an independent woman today?’
‘What does a female feminist look like in a heterosexual relationship?’
‘Dose my faith clash with feminism?’
The answers? There is no one right answer. That’s the beauty. Sure, there’s sound unshakable truths to base your answers from; women are 100% human, uniquely and individually made people to be respected as such and capable of immeasurable greatness, but these truths only lay the foundation for each person to build their own answer.
My answer; I am a woman created to love, learn, lead, and laugh. The only thing special about me is that there is no one else like me. No man, no woman, just like me.
The definition of what it means to be a feminist evolves with me as I change and grow. A season or two from now my view of what it means may change as I find myself at different places along my path. Right now, as a bachelor degree holding, single, 24-year old, English teacher in north-east China I view feminism through a very specific lens. I lead a life where at the end of the day if I did my job well, ate healthy food, and got a decent amount of exercise I can call it a success. However, two of my sisters, on the other side of the planet, lead very different looking lives as full time mothers and wives, cooking and cleaning and not to mention also making an income on the side. Not one of us is more of a feminist than the other. My sisters are raising their daughters to think critically, sustain independent lives, and showing them how to love others.
Feminism means I can dream big, work hard, have fun, and love wildly.
Ruth Douglas was born in Windhoek, Namibia in January 1990, two months before it gained independence from South Africa. In 1997 her family permanently moved to the mid-Michigan area where she grew up and pursued her bachelor’s degree at Alma College. After she graduated in 2012 she spent two years in Lansing, MI serving as an AmeriCorps member and now finds herself in Benxi, China teaching English as a second language.