How I Became a Feminist

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By Kaila Ru Eckstein

 

No one ever told me that I could do anything. No one ever said that even I, a curly haired wide-eyed little girl, could grow up to be President or an astronaut. No one ever told me that I could do anything because they never let the world teach me I couldn’t. I grew up with dinosaur pajamas and racially diverse baby dolls. I had small wooden furniture so that the normal sized table and chairs didn’t make me feel like my four year old body was too small, and that by extension I was inferior. My love for princesses that went on great adventures and jewelry-making were never discouraged because I was never taught that inherent femininity was wrong or less than. My love for climbing trees and playing pretend were encouraged even if I had on a dress and tights.  I was described as strong, smart, fearless, outspoken, and a leader. I was taught that my intelligence was important and what I had to say was worth listening too. I was raised, as they say, by a village. This village was made up of strong women who overcame past turmoil and supportive husbands with no fears of emotion and no tolerance for toxic masculinity. This village went out of their way to make sure the world didn’t get the chance to teach me that feminism was not the norm. They made sure that I grew up holding feminist values as obvious and inarguable truths. This village told me that I was worthy of being taken seriously. Strangers told me I was pretty. I wanted to be called smart.

 

Secondary school told me that I talked too much. Also, I was not as pretty as the strangers told me and that was something that I should take very seriously. I learned that the world that never let me believe there was anything I couldn’t do was a bubble that had burst. This new world was filled with dichotomies and standards that seemed to be always just out of reach.  In this new world (my introduction to the “real world”) my leadership was bossiness. My body was something that I was required to shield from the world lest it distracted other’s ability to learn. My shoulders were to be covered at all times, but that didn’t stop older males from giving them a squeeze that turned my stomach into knots. However, I still desired to grow into the curvy shape that I was taught would make me desirable. My instincts lead me to shrink away from the male gaze, but did not prevent me from desiring a body that grew into it. I was still called smart, but seemingly never quite smart enough. Intelligence was no longer something that was shared, celebrated, used to grow with others. Now, intelligence was a zero sum game. Only one person could be the smartest, only a certain amount would make it into the top 10%. It was in this new world that I began to see the oppression and inequality that was shielded from me in my youth. The world was neither a perfect nor a fair place. There were certain people who had less just because of who they were or what they looked like. This world taught me that I was not enough. I refused to accept it.

 

College taught me that I was privileged. I learned through classes, people, reading, and experiences that my life was much more charmed than I had grown to believe. I learned about inequality as it interconnects through systems. I learned how to name the inequalities that had so long plagued my conscious. I began to recognize myself as problematic and see myself as complexly as I saw others. I gave myself the room to be both the adventurous leader or my youth and the self-conscious social floater of my most recent history. I began to recognize that while the mantras of my childhood were true, that what I had to say was worth listening to, it did not mean that I was always the person meant to be heard. I learned not to overcompensate for my oppressions by silencing the voices of those more oppressed than me. I started to listen more, to learn more, and to feel more confident navigating the complex world of injustice. It was in this complex world of college that at twenty-one years old I was afraid of the police for the first time. It was with my newfound complexity of understanding that I recognized the validity of me feeling proud for showing up to support others in their fight for justice and ashamed that I had let my privilege blind me for so long. I vowed to show up for all instances of inequality and what I saw as right.

 

I am a feminist because my world has made me one. I am a feminist because I grew up believing that feminist values were standard and was appalled when I was proven wrong. I am a feminist because upon learning that I was part of the problem I recognized, accepted, and changed that reality. I am a feminist because I believe that women are magical beings whose potential has not yet been fully realized. I am a feminist and I can’t wait to become even more educated about what I am.




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