My Journey to Claim the Feminist Label

It wasn’t long ago when I became interested in equality for everyone and started to research this area more in depth. When I moved to United States five years ago my knowledge about feminism and equality was so basic, and I never identified as a feminist. Two years after my arrival to the United States I started my higher education at a community college and would go to school with my aunt. She is an activist for women’s rights and those car rides to campus were full of amazing conversions, questions from me and answers from her. We would talk about many different topics – from education to women’s right, to gender equality, to kids in abusive families. After a year of these amazing car rides I came to the conclusion that I am interested in the topic of equality for everyone, women’s rights, and violence against women and children.

Meanwhile I started working with a foundation in Iran that works with disadvantaged women to help empower themselves and gain control over their lives. After working with these girls and expanding my knowledge about women’s rights and equality, I decided to continue my education in the social sciences. I decided to major in Gender and Women’s Studies and Sociology and it wasn’t until my first course in Women’s Studies that I realized feminism is for me too – but what did that mean for me? I will never forget at some point in the middle of the semester, my professor asked us who identifies as a feminist. I kept my hand in the middle – I wasn’t sure! I thought I knew but I didn’t. As the class progressed, though, and as we talked about this topic more, I did realize I could and would claim the feminist label.

With this identification, though, I realized that the way I define my feminism is different than the way my family members, my classmates, friends, sister and others might define it. When I say I am feminist I mean I am an activist for equality for everyone regardless of gender, race, age, etc. I am saying that I want to promote human rights for everyone – especially those who are from underrepresented identities. “Coming out”  as a someone who is interested in women’s studies was not easy to some of my family members, especially my dad. We live thousands of miles away and our only way of communication is through phone calls. When I told him that I added Gender and Women’s Studies as a second major, a long silence came after. He wasn’t impress or happy about my decision, but he did not stop me at all. Later on I realized that when I told him about my second major, that it implied to him that I was also saying that I am a feminist. His view of feminism and feminists was vastly different than mine, though – he saw it as breaking away from cultural gender norms, and at the same time breaking traditional family values in a damaging way .  Yet, as the months passed by, every time that he would call he would ask me to share something with him about my women’s studies classes. We started having long conversations and arguments on the phone regarding women’s right and women’s issues. They were long, fascinating, and surprisingly enjoyable. Over time, he would often put the phone on speaker just so other people around him would benefit from our talk! It was great to see that how his support for my interests had grown by simply just having conversations with him.

During the same time that this evolution with my father was taking place, I began to discover TED Talks. These short videos would soon become one of my favorite things. One that has stood out to me that most is titled “This Isn’t Her Mother’s Feminism.”  I can relate to her story and her path of getting involved in activism and feminism. I love the diversity of thoughts that she bring up here. How I define and see feminism might be very different of how my classmates or professor defines it, just as it may be different for my various family members.  I believe seeing and understanding these differences, are needed and at the same time beautiful.

What has been your experience of coming to feminism? When did you realize your first identified as a feminist? What conflicts or bridges has this created for you between family members or friends? Share your thoughts via comments… or better yet, join us in person for the International Women’s Day Brown Bag Discussion* on Wednesday, March 10th at 12pm in the Women’s Center!

*Please note this event is co-sponsored with the English Language Institute at UMBC and due to the cultural norms and expectations of several of the students, this event will be open to those who identify as women only. 


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