Feminism, while often misunderstood, has played a key role in shaping who I am today and how I think about wellness and wellbeing. Read to learn how I first started to truly understand feminism, what the word means to me, and why I consider myself a proud feminist today.
Until I was in college, I honestly never thought much about feminism. I obviously knew the basic history of the women’s movement that I had learned in my history and English classes, but it wasn’t until I picked up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg in 2013 that I really started to understand why feminism was still necessary and how far we still have to go.
I know Lean In is divisive and while there are certainly issues with it, it opened my eyes to feminism in a new way. When I read it, I was newly in a serious relationship that I could see turning into marriage (spoiler alert – I’m getting married to him in a few months!) and at 21 I was starting to think about my future as a wife and mother. But that book came to me at the right time, because the real reason I became a self-proclaimed feminist (and have never looked back) was mainly because I was disheartened by how I saw femininity and masculinity playing out in fraternities and sororities when I was a college student.
My experiences with a toxic system
I think everyone was surprised when I joined a sorority in college – in high school I was extremely artsy and was very focused on my studies. But when I got to college, I wanted the quintessential college experience, and a sorority seemed part of that. I also found a sorority I thought was much more down-to-earth than the stereotypical images I’d seen on TV, so I went through rush and was selected to join.
While I do think my sorority was less “typical sorority” than others, we were still enmeshed in a larger system that was essentially based on physical attractiveness, vanity, status, comparison, and toxic gender stereotypes. I drank the Koolaid for a few years, and then suddenly, when I was faced with graduation and life beyond college, I began to realize how strange this system really was. I began to question why the men and women were so separated and why we bought into these stereotypes in the first place.
Why gender make us feel comfortable (and how to escape them)
So, why do we? I think one reason is because it makes us comfortable. It puts us in a box – man/woman – and once we’ve categorized someone as a man or a woman we then know how they’re supposed to behave, feel, think, and act. So, in a backwards way, playing into all the typical “female” stereotypes made me much more aware of them and helped me realize all the ways they were designed to keep women small.
Once I began learning about feminism, I never wanted to stop. To this day I’m still learning, and I want to always continue learning, because feminism is never “finished.” It’s a constant process, and there are always ways to learn and to be better, especially as a white feminist with a very privileged perspective of women’s issues.
I was lucky to have lots of amazing but often difficult conversations about intersectional feminism in graduate school, and anytime I got to choose a topic for a research paper, I focused on women’s leadership. It was at times disheartening to read all the research about the barriers (internal and external) that women have faced and still face, and it was disappointing on a level deeper than I realized when we lost the chance to have our first female president of the United States, but I believe we’re making progress each day in small and sometimes large ways.
The power of women’s stories
I now work at a women’s college (97% women) that is also a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI), meaning that the population is over 60% Latina. Working in this environment has invigorated and energized me in many ways – ways I couldn’t have previously even imagined. I have seen amazing examples of female leadership that have reassured me that women can have a fulfilling family life and a successful career, too. I have had wonderful conversations, have attended empowering conferences on women’s leadership, am reading more books centered around feminism than ever before, and I’m so happy to see that there are so many incredible startups that focus on supporting women in their careers, supporting female entrepreneurs, and telling women’s stories. Because they need to be told.
So, in the name of supporting other women and sharing other women’s stories and not just my own, I’m starting a monthly feature called Well Wild Women where I’ll be featuring one amazing woman each few months who is currently inspiring me to push past the patriarchy and go for my dreams. Stay tuned to see who I chose as November’s Well Wild Woman!
Oh, and please, please, please GO VOTE on Tuesday!