I grew up primarily surrounded by women and listened to conversations on women’s issues. I’ve heard many stories on the struggles of womanhood, and I’ve been advised on the need for strength to face the world as a young woman. Learning to appreciate the culture of feminism was almost a choiceless choice to me.
In the early years of my life I was left in the care of my grandmother and aunt because my mom traveled for work. At such a young age I couldn’t understand the time apart from my mother was a time she spent gathering women to be a force against war. All I knew was she had a lot of women friends who came to our house and slept on our floor or bed. My first lesson in feminism came from one of her friends. I was about seven or eight years old when my mom came home with a group of women, some of whom were Muslim women. I asked my mum what she was doing with the women and if the women’s husbands were aware that their wives had left their homes. I thought the Muslim women in particular would be beaten up by their husbands for leaving their homes. I don’t remember my mum’s exact response but I do remember her lecturing me on the evils of domestic violence and her saying, men are not the super power. At the time I didn’t understand what I did wrong so listened to the lecture and carried on with my life.
Despite growing up in a dominantly feminine house hold, one would think that my view of men being the bread winner would be disillusioned but home was small compared to school where my friends talked about their daddies driving cars and their mommies staying home to care for them. I didn’t want to be the odd one out so I told stories similar to theirs, I wasn’t proud of my mom working because it made me feel ostracized. I was unhappy that my friends had their moms waiting with them at the bus stop while mine was away working. I continued to dislike my mom working and going to school until I was about ten years old. That’s when I realized my mom working wasn’t a bad thing, but the realization came with a new school headed by a woman, a new house headed by my mom and new friends whose moms worked too.
That year was the first time my siblings and I were living with my mom without my grandma or aunt present. At this point in my life I started to realize that my mom was a feminist, the word came up more and more in conversations. She took us on work trips with her and I watched her give speeches and interact with other women who called themselves feminist. I didn’t understand what the word meant and I wasn’t really interested in finding out at that age. My friends were cool and most of their moms worked too so I didn’t have to lie anymore.
I started to appreciate my mom working and eventually became extremely proud that she worked harder than some men. When I turned twelve my friend who had a library in her house started bringing me books to read, before that year I had made it clear that I strongly disliked anything that resembled a page with multiple words on it. I couldn’t understand why she was wasting her time bringing me books I only read three pages of. As time wore on the books got more interesting and I found myself reading multiple books a week. I was continuously scouring the school library for more books. I eventually read through her library and the schools, I tried to burrow from people but it was a tedious task waiting for them to remember to bring you a book, so I finally gave in and went looking in my mom’s room. Many of the books were boring or looked boring with big words I didn’t understand. I gave up my search and resigned myself to a summer without reading, but a few days later my mom came back from her travels and brought along with her the biography of Somaly Mam. I read her story and was amazed at her success. I thought it was so cool that a woman had been able to come from such a poor background to become an advocate for change in her society. I shared that book with many of my friends and encouraged them to read it too. Eventually I lost track of the book but I was glad someone else was taking the time to learn her story.
Inevitably reading became my link to feminism, I read to understand my mother’s work because the conversations were hard to follow and I read to find out what feminism was. Every summer I find a group of women leaders I’m interested in and I read their stories if it is available. I have surrounded myself with women of power in the form of their writing, from Hilary Clinton to Angelique Kidjo. Each one of them serving as a reminder that women’s leadership is possible and sometimes even more effective that men’s leadership.
In essence I didn’t choose to be interested in feminism. It was a part of my life before I realized its meaning, so I observed its practices and applied it to my life. I took my grandma’s independence, my mother’s sacrifice and courage, my headmistress’s leadership, my friend’s persistence and finally I took the words of the pages of my books on leadership and decided feminism is a way of life and I want it to be my way of life, I want to practice it and not just read about it.
By: Pudu Blamoh