I was raised as a very traditional Catholic. I went to Sunday school, I served as an usher and at some point, I even did a brief stint with the choir. Later on in life after graduating from an all-girls high school and going to college in a foreign land, in my early twenties, far from the prying eyes and wagging fingers of nuns around me, I indulged relationships and friendships that left me with varying but nonetheless deep scars. Through all of this, my mother, with whom I share an unorthodox relationship, impressed upon me the vulnerabilities and turmoil of being a working single mother of three girls, of whom I was the youngest, in Ethiopia.
When I first came to learn the less than obvious ways gender inequality affected me and those around me, it was a shock. A shock with a slow and continuous onset. Though not without resistance and certainly not overnight, it made me question and investigate so many of my complex experiences and emotions, few of which I mentioned above. I had to do this all the while I grew my understanding of feminism, and growing up myself. This meant a slow evolution and customization of what feminism meant/means/will mean to me.
What I enjoy and appreciate the most about the movement that hopes to inspire and achieve gender equality is the personal liberty it offers. It shatters glass ceilings I have put up for myself, it opens up new territories of perspective and understanding, and, most importantly, makes available to me options of how to be a feminist for my own self. Feminism is so liberating that, having understood and internalized it, it is within the provision of its vision for me to reject it, or parts of it, for myself.
However, feminism also makes us check ourselves, our individual history, our context and our beliefs. The belief that men and women are equal, that even though they both deserve equal rights, women have lived in historical and institutional oppression, makes me question all the times I did not think this to be true or relevant, and why, while also making me evaluate how the lack of such mentality affected my life. This faces me off with values I have lived with all my life, such as my faith, forcing me to either reconcile feminism with my convictions or cut ties with life-long traditions and beliefs. It also forces me to revisit lived experiences and context, like the ones mentioned in the beginning, and reevaluate the overt and covert impact feminism— or the lack thereof— has brought into my life. These are a slow, continuous and arduous processes, transformative and rewarding as they are as I move from one season of my life into the next.
Our personal brand of feminism is a slow unraveling; crashing like a high tide with our ever-changing experiences, convictions, and deeply personal challenges. Even when we feel it’s resolute and permanent, it is often progressive and evolutionary. As we grow and change, so it grows and changes with us. This is why my best friend and I have wildly varying views on feminism. But we bear with each other with the strong understanding that, as we make room for equality of the sexes, so we must also make room for the diversity of ideas and beliefs that liberty will surely bring.
We must stay encouraging and tolerant of one another as we process what feminism means to us as individuals. Feminism should always feel like liberation, not indoctrination. If we point fingers and yell, “Not a feminist!” because someone’s decision on how to apply and “live” feminism in their own lives differs from our own, then we are no different from the oppressors from whom we hope to set our collective selves free. Let’s let each other progress and find out what feminism means to us, what it will look like in our lives. Let’s make room in our minds and hearts to accept the varying manifestations of the liberty of feminism in each other’s lives, and— this part is crucial— celebrate that diversity. This is what we have been fighting for! The freedom to be ourselves! Not all feminists will choose to be CEOs and break glass ceilings. Some will happily choose the quietly satisfying life of a stay at home mom. Not all feminists will be liberals; some, like myself, will have conservative views on feminism. Feminism is not a sisterhood we get inducted into; it’s a slow, at times painful, progressive and deeply personal belief, especially so for women.
My message for all feminists is this; let’s let each other be. Let’s let each other breathe without shoving down our own version of feminism down each other’s throat. We are sisters, but we are not clones. Let’s let each other go on our own individual quests for the truth, however long that may take us, being compassionate towards one another as the journey is not always a bed of roses. Let’s let each other work out what feminism will look like in our lives, and be ready to accept and celebrate these personal decisions because of the liberty that is feminism.