“I think I’m a feminist,” I tell my mom on the phone. I smile because I feel like I’ve just become that girl.
She barely misses a beat, “Everyone’s a feminist in college, honey.”
Thinking back, I don’t quite remember what spurred it on. I hadn’t yet met many people nor had any of my classes focused on women or feminism. Yet all the same, I remember sitting at my desk, hit by the realization that I was a feminist. Although I didn’t quite know how to be a feminist, or what the role would demand of me, oddly, it didn’t feel foreign. It felt unexpectedly natural, and anticlimactic. If that moment had been a scene in a movie, I felt like the narrator would have called out, “Finally.”
Two semesters later, I’ve proudly grown into the role. I finally saw The Vagina Monologues––a play my London activist group of girlfriends had cited so sparingly that I felt too intimidated to question. “I probably wouldn’t like it anyway,” I thought, “it sounds vulgar and like it’s a bit extremist.” Little did I know, two years later, I would wish to travel back in time to those evening pub conversations, and gush about The Vagina Monologues.
The play features various monologues in which women narrate their sexual experiences. It’s purposely explicit so as to address societal taboos around female sexuality. Sadly, society makes female sexuality a taboo, and so girls grow up ashamed of their bodies and their sensuality. These women speak about real issues: sexual abuse, sexual orientation, and sexual ignorance. It wasn’t vulgar in the least, I realized; it was liberating.
Within the classroom, thanks to my French class, I studied the controversial topic of gender equality this semester. We learned about female underrepresentation in the workforce; the salary gap between men and women who did the same work; and unearthed the lingering patriarchal traditions within society. We read excerpts of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and discussed the impact of stereotypes. Then, we traced the advancement of equality through laws, and debated their success. We talked about the current habits of men and women, and wondered whether outdated gender values would someday disappear.
These were hard conversations I had never been forced to think about in my bubble of white middle class naïve young adult privilege. As I became more aware of global injustices against women, I immersed deeper into the feminist role.
In Spring 2015, I may not have had these experiences yet, but merely going to college had spurred on my espousal of feminism. I lived on my own while a wealth of new experiences awaited me on my doorstep, and I belonged to a campus that invited critical thinking and political discussion (being a Philosophy major also probably helped). I went to social events flooded with students and their raging hormones, and I observed interactions––some amusing, others slightly disturbing. Guys badgered girls to go out with them, and both guys and girls got drunk in the name of freedom. As a result, experiencing the associated risks of college life and of being a woman sensitized me to female issues and urged me to meditate on them.
The road to feminism is simple. It’s about awareness––a heightened awareness––of issues that concern and affect women. It’s about seeing the world from a new angle. It’s about feeling the need to change what hurts women, emotionally and physically, and to promote change.
For a girl, becoming a feminist in college is the natural progression of becoming a woman.
Of course growing into manhood and accepting responsibility for one’s actions ignites this feeling too. (What respectable man remains a male chauvinist?)
In other words, if the environment is right so that you have exposure to a breadth and depth of ideas and current issues; if your surroundings urge you to think for yourself; and if the people you interact with empower you to discuss hard topics, speak your opinion, and make your own choices, then chances are––you too, will and should become a feminist.