Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not Just My Mother's Feminism

I have heard it said that as times change, we need a new kind of feminism. These feminists did amazing things. If we look back to the Seneca Falls Convention we are reminded of the tremendous advances that feminists made in increasing women's rights in the United States. The suffrage movement was an incredible victory not to be overlooked. As time went on, we saw further victories. Not least of which center on working conditions and opportunities for women.

Our country has changed. Each generation brings new challenges. What were important social issues to women when my grandmother was my age are not necessarily relevant to me and my peers. I identify closest to liberal feminism. I believe that women and men and everyone in between and outside of those binary roles are equal. I like the inclusiveness of third wave feminism, and I appreciate its modern approaches to modern issues. At the same time, I identify strongly with many earlier feminist ideals.

When I think about my feminism, I think about women whom I have known and considered to be strong. I believe in the importance of mentoring. In my life I have known some very powerful women who have helped shape my feminist perspective. These women helped support me in times when I did not feel like I had anyone to reach out to. They also challenged me. They made me answer questions that I had never even considered. I observed each of them closely when we interacted. I picked up on their perspectives and I incorporated their deep thinking into my own opinions.

I met Mrs. Vida in Hungary. She taught English as a second language. Needless to say, I who spoke minimal Hungarian, was immediately interested in seeking her out. Mrs. Vida proved an irreplaceable confident and friend. I respect her immensely. Never before have I met someone of sharper intellect and refreshing directness. Mrs. Vida is very much a problem-solver. I spent many afternoons in her office, sipping instant coffee and conversing. She enthralled me with her knowledge of literature, art, theatre, and musicians. She never hesitated to ask for my thoughts, and she, unlike many authority figures, engaged my opinion. She treated me as an equal. In fact, I am still at odds with the idea that Mrs. Vida whom I respected so greatly for her wisdom and wit, was so willing to indulge my babbling. I appreciate her more than I can articulate.

In retrospect, I placed her in mind in a maternal role. She very much acted as host mother to me. In a lot of ways she filled my secret desire for a mother-daughter relationship that I had not truly felt I had had in a long while. More than teaching me about books and plays, she taught me a lot about womanhood. Mrs. Vida encouraged me to be assertive, honest, and intelligent. When I was going through a rough time on exchange,
Mrs. Vida demanded that I fight for what was the right thing in the situation. She would not let me back down.

I associate many of the perspectives I learned from Mrs. Vida with first wave feminism. Women during this movement sought to improve their situation through organized and diplomatic ways. The Declaration of Sentiments was a document drawn up highlighting the inequality faced and solutions to these issues. At the same time, these women were not about to back down if their work were ill received. Mrs. Vida taught me to stand by what I know is right; much like these women did at the Seneca Falls Convention.

Within the second wave movement, I relate most to Eco-Feminism and Liberal Feminism. I mention the two together because the same two women helped to teach me both. They showed me through their actions a deep respect for our planet and its creatures. I observed what to my family would have been completely alien conservation minded practices. They reused everything they could and recycled the rest. They bought very little, not ascribing to our consumer culture. What struck me most about these women is that they did not flaunt their conscientiousness, but instead subtly instructed others about conservation so that they may refashion the practices in ways that fit their lifestyle. I never found either of them to be pushy or harried. Instead they were sincere, kind, gentle, and confident.

They taught me a lot about nature and where I fit within it. I gained self-confidence from them. I became comfortable with my body and my position as woman. Where in my childhood I had distaste for femininity, they taught me that to be feminine did not mean you had to ascribe to the harsh cultural boxes our genders are placed in. These women were beautiful to me in a natural, fantastic, powerful way. Furthermore, through their love of the earth I gained my own understanding of our planet. Before I met them I thought I understood the interconnectedness of humanity and earth. I realize now that they instilled in me a passion to love the earth and to protect it.

Along with loving nature, from these two women I gained a love of diversity. It was in part due to them that I found a passion for different cultures, even within the larger American one. Their unfailing acceptance of anyone who crossed their path was so powerful that it rubbed off on me a little. I know I would not be as open to new experiences and perspectives if not for their influence.

I believe in equality for all. Despite a person’s background, they are still human. Discrimination is linked. Racism, sexism, homophobia, are all examples of intolerance towards diversity. I know that diversity is the key to solving problems just as much as it seems the ingredient to create them. Without differing perspectives a solution is hard to find. When people bring new things to the table, those ideas can be explored and expounded upon until something progressive comes of it.

I love the ideas of third feminism. Not only does its fluidity appeal to me, as well as the focus on individuality, but also third wave feminism embraces diversity. This newest wave is still in its early stages. I am excited to see what social issues it seeks to tackle. Admittedly, the scattered nature of this wave makes focus on an issue and therefore change difficult. However, as more people join the movement I feel that we will be able to discover that many of our concerns are interrelated. If we can find common ground and move forward in a more united way as was the case in previous feminist waves, amazing things could result.

As with most things in life, I identify with a balance of feminist movements. I think it is important to draw from past waves as well as our modern feminism and to apply these ideas in a cohesive movement towards equality. As I grow into my own activism, I think on the women who have inspired me. I will carry their lessons forward and add my own into the mix.

No comments:

Post a Comment