By JENNIFER MANDELBLATT
I was asked recently, “Why do you identify as a feminist?” And for a few moments, I didn’t have an answer. When I came to Cornell, it was the first time I really started to understand the purpose and value of feminism and then share that purpose and value publicly. However, I never stopped to ask myself, “Why have my beliefs turned into a self-assigned label?” After reflecting on this question I realized that I call myself a feminist because I want others to know that I recognize the persisting inequality. I call myself a feminist to bring awareness to the fact that gender has real impact on available opportunities. I call myself a feminist in the hopes that another feels comfortable doing the same so that together we can engage in a dialogue and action to fight for equality. But I’ve come to see that it’s not enough to give myself this label; I have to push myself to live up to it and make it better.
If I want my label as a feminist to say that I recognize inequality, that means I have an obligation to see inequality beyond that which may impact me. It means that I have to understand the nuances of inequality as it impacts different women of different races, backgrounds and identities differently. It means that I have to understand that all women experience unique challenges and triumphs and while I fight for my voice to be heard, it must not drown out the voices of the women beside me. I do not know enough to speak for other women and I have not experienced enough to speak for other women. And I will never know enough nor ever experience enough to speak for other women. So I will not. I will, however, use my feminist label, my voice and my privilege to create space for other women to be heard and to find allies. This need to create space is not rooted in a savior mentality, but rather a mentality that refuses to ignore my privilege. I will use my voice to call out injustice because fear of saying the wrong thing does not excuse silence.
We are in the midst of a new wave of the feminism and it is riding a similar tide as the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout history, racial equality and gender equality have progressed on similar timelines, but too often women of color were shut out of the feminist movement. Even when they were “welcome,” women of color were forced to choose between their gender and their race because the feminist movement only spoke with one voice. It did not create space for voices to talk about the intersectionality of race and gender. So I recognize that the women who came before me fought for my seat in a college classroom, but I also recognize that there are too many women of color on college campuses who are forced to feel unsafe or unwelcome in the classroom due to threats, intimidation and persistent lack of diversity.
The goal of the feminist movement is to ensure that all genders are politically, economically and socially equal. But this goal is not possible if we allow certain conditions to persist. Equality for some is not equality. Therefore, feminism for some is not feminism. And so I will work to be a better feminist, to live up to the label and to make it better. I understand that while all women are different and have different goals, there is a common thread of sisterhood that binds us. I must do my part to stand in solidarity with my sisters in order to keep that thread sewn.
Jennifer Mandelblatt is a junior in the ILR School. Outside of The Daily Sun, Jen will still be found talking about and advocating for the feminist movement. Remember The Ladies appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. Jen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.