By Gerry Carolina Rivadeneira, Guest Writer
I didn’t realize I was a feminist until I met my seventh grade teacher in civics class. She was a white womxn from Texas who was in the process of divorcing her husband and ended up in the middle of Miami, Florida. The first Friday of the school year, she wore a hot pink shirt that read in black letters, “well behaved women seldom make history.” At the time I thought that quote was genius, because it would serve as a great response to my parent’s reproaches for not finishing my chores. “Who said that quote?” I asked my teacher, Ms. LG. “The feminist, Thatcher Ulrich,” she replied as she closed her old public school textbook and dismissed our class. Such a simple answer, but such a puzzling response for my thirteen-year-old self.
Feminism was not part of my vocabulary when I was thirteen. Feminismo was not a word that my mother had ever used while I was growing up in Ibarra, Ecuador. It was not a word for me when I was born to my eighteen-year-old college drop out mother. It was not a word for me as a four year old when I became a survivor. It was not a word for me as a seven year old when my family left our home in search for better opportunities in the US. In fact, it was not something I thought I could actually be until I was thirteen and Ms. LG said that anyone could become a feminist as long as you believed in feminism. I knew then that I wanted to be a feminist.
But for queer immigrant womxn of color that share my experience, feminism is a form of survival. It starts in my heart, and not my mind. Feminism has always manifested itself in the everyday resistance of the womxn in my family. My feminism did not care if my parents bought my school supplies in gendered shades of pink. But it mattered that my parents believed I deserved an education and that they should have the economic opportunity to afford my school supplies. Feminism meant that my mother could be the legal head of my household in our immigration procedures, and that my undocumented father trusted her to lead. It meant that my grandmothers successfully raised their families alone and that my family has honored their work and celebrated their roots unapologetically.
In my twenty-one years of age, feminism remains essential, but has a new sense of radical urgency. I have had the privilege of being exposed to theories, statistics, policies and pronouns. While the work of Thatcher Ulrich has become accessible to me - and I can now argue in favor of, or against, her ideas - it is the words of Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa that move my heart and speak to me. If womxn do not know that the desire for an education is a right, the desire for economic autonomy is a right, and the desire to a safe and healthy home is a right, then feminism is not succeeding. I believe in being a radical unapologetic feminist. A feminist that does not blame marginalized people for structural inequalities, but rather understands that we live in an oppressive system and marginalized people need to be supported.
Audre Lorde states, “Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.” Traditional white middle class feminism often ignores its privilege and has defined feminism in terms of its own experience. Feminism that “others” the marginalized does not work. My radical feminism demands that those of us who benefit from power structures of oppression take responsibility and use our position to lift up the voices of the most oppressed. My radical feminism demands all of us to be conscious beings.
My feminism is multi-dimensional and inclusive of all my identities. As such, it cannot be isolated from my politics or my community. My feminism is welcoming to my latinidad, spirituality, survival, vegetarianism, queerness, and femininity. My feminism is one that all womxn can understand and use as a tool for liberation. Yes, my feminism believes in the equality of the sexes and celebrates the progress that liberal theorists and academic activists have made in the political, economic, and social arena. However, my feminism pushes for a more radical agenda that demands feminists to go beyond traditional feminism, to adopt a visionary theory that believes in the necessity of a future free from the chains of oppression and full of radical, transformative love.
Photo courtesy of In Other Words Feminist Community Center