I grew up with in a family of very strong women. My mother raised me mostly with the help of my grandmother and her example taught me a great deal about feminism. Growing up, I don’t think she, nor I, realized how that example shaped the person I am today. She put herself through school, worked, and still managed to spend time with me. She gave me so many opportunities to explore myself as a person—taking me to dance classes, paying for music lessons, indulging my love of books, and patronizing my artistic endeavors. I remember growing up being told that I was smart more than I was pretty or beautiful. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that to say that I was lacking in anyway. In fact, that narrative pushed me to do well in school. There was never any doubt I’d go to college and be successful.
My grandmother retired and kept me while my mother worked. She cooked every night and sat on the porch while my cousin and I played up and down the street. We went to church on Sundays. In the summer, we traveled with her to our native Bossier City, Louisiana. She taught me how to cook and that quite frankly, you shouldn’t need to depend on a man. That fierce sense of independence was instilled in me from a very young age. Of course, I am married now, but my sense of self-worth was never tied to the affection of another person. I never felt the need to consistently date so I wouldn’t be or feel alone.
Along with my mother and grandmother, I had a host of female aunts and cousins who influenced me in some way, shape, or form. What I have learned is that I have been blessed and privileged to have many options and choices. That, combined with the positive influences in my life shaped how I came to believe so much in the need for feminism.
Feminism boils down to choices. More than that, it’s about the availability of choices. My favorite definition of feminism comes from Bell Hooks. She writes in her book, Feminism Is for Everybody, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” When people are exploited and oppressed, they have fewer options and few choices. Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t be where I am today because the odds were stacked against me. However, I had many options because of my mother and family.
So many young women grow up with a lack of choices. They have been in my mother’s situation and didn’t fare half as well. Either they don’t have the family or social support they need, or other circumstances hinder their ability to succeed. I think a great deal about how many people quit school because they do not have the resources. More children in the U.S. are currently growing up in poverty than during the Great Depression. This brings me to my second point.
Feminism needs intersectionality. It isn’t just about women; men are equally subject to sexist exploitation and oppression. Young boys are forced into child slavery. Men are looked down upon because they chose to stay home with their children. Because of the United States’ lack of parental leave, my husband didn’t have the option of taking off to stay home when our son was born. Lack of parental leave left me resigned to halt my job hunt because I knew no one would hire a pregnant woman. My choices were limited and that lack of choice impacted not just me, but my family and financial situation.
Socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, sexual identity, religion, and ability need to be considered when we think about defining feminism. Without intersectionality, feminism as a movement cannot advance. It is so critical that we think about how these factors shape the choices we have. Because for so many people, their choices are limited.
Intersectionality has opened my eyes to some amazing feminists. Bell Hooks, who I mentioned earlier, helped me discover how feminism and race blend. There is a woman who blogs about feminism and how that fits into her faith as a Christian (http://feministchristian.tumblr.com/). So many authors have opened my eyes to how wealth (or lack thereof) impacts feminism. The blog world is filled with authors talking about gender identity impact feminism.
At the end of the day, every one should have choices. But we cannot see how our ability to have choices are hindered unless we consider a feminism that is intersectional.