This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

I’m the youngest of five girls and the daughter of a fiercely independent mother and a father who drilled it into my head that the world was mine for the taking.

In other words, I was a feminist the day I was born. It just took me 23 years to realize it.

The discovery process wasn’t dramatic by any means. It all started last year when I started picking up books like When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost : My Life as A Hip Hop Feminist, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness, and Women, Race, & Class. Within a period of three months I continued to devour as many books recommended to me as I possibly could and had introduced myself to the works of women like Alice Walker, Bell Hooks, Angela Davis, and Ntozake Shange.

It’s like I had discovered a new world.

You see, I’ve always been passionate about women and girls. I’ve always been acutely aware of the impact having older, confident and successful sisters had on me. I have also been aware (and insanely proud) of the impact attending an all-girls high school had on my personal development. These things spelled empowerment for me, and as a result it has always been my focus while working with women and girls, especially teenagers.

What saddens me is that I don’t remember ever learning about feminism in school. (Maybe I should just chalk it up to my general struggle to remember any type of history as a student?) So now as I spend a lot of my time soaking up as much information as I can from books, articles and other people I find myself noticing levels of ignorance about feminism that I previously hadn’t.

My favorite interaction with my peers, especially men, is receiving the “You’re a feminist?” question followed by a comment expressing their disbelief like “I would’ve never guessed...” Whenever I dig deeper the response always seems to be a reflection of their impression of some woman they know/knew/heard of who is a man-hater or who got angry when men opened doors for them.

In their eyes, these women are real feminists. And me? I’m just confusing to them.

This is why I love the concept of Feminist Coming Out Day. Organized on International Women's Day, it’s about providing a space for all of us to say, “Hey, forget what you heard. THIS is feminism.” A feminist can look like me: a nail-polish wearing, pink loving, house-wife wanna-be, professionally driven woman. And a feminist can look very unlike me: a rugby playing, bar hopping, cooking-in-the-kitchen kinda man.

The point? Anyone you pass on the street could be a feminist. We don’t look a certain way, talk a certain way or act a certain way. We don’t all hold the exact same political beliefs or practice the same religions. And – get this – most of us don’t believe that men are scum of the earth. To say that “feminists hate men” is to equate Islam to terrorism. (Please say you understood that analogy…)

What I want people to know is that feminism is much bigger than the stereotypes so often played over and over in people’s minds.

Bell Hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I love the simplicity of this definition because it succinctly captures the full range of feminist issues, from women having control over their own bodies to equal pay to ending violence against women.

Sometimes I just smile when I think about one of my favorite childhood books, Amazing Grace. It’s about a young black girl who was told by the kids in her class that she couldn’t be Peter Pan in the play because she doesn’t look the part. I vividly remember the frustration and empathy I felt for Grace when she goes home disappointed after school, almost believing what she was told. But more importantly, I remember feeling empowered when she ultimately lands the role of Peter Pan, much to her classmates’ surprise.

There was no stopping Grace. And as a result, I felt like there was no stopping me. Fast forward almost 20 years later and that same little girl resides in me. It’s a wonder it took me so long to let the world know that this, in fact, is what a feminist looks like.


Happy Women’s History Month folks! Check out these other Feminist Coming Out Day blog posts (this list will grow throughout the day):