The Philosophy of a Young Feminist
I was thirteen years old sitting outside of Good Life Fitness at a mall near home waiting for my brother to come pick me up, when I first felt myself threatened by the hierarchy. A black pick-up truck with heavy duty construction tools in the back passed by where I was sitting. The window rolled down and young man, who looked about 30 years old at most, poked his head out. The smirk on his face as his cold eyes looked me up and down, it made my heart stop.
“Hey pretty lady, need a lift?” he asked, followed by a wink. I did not say anything. I sat there in silence, shocked. My mom used to tell me stories about her own experiences like these, but I never thought they would happen to me. He laughed as I just stared at him in disgust, then he motored off.
That was the first time I felt helpless, voiceless, and weak as a woman.
American psychologist Tara Brach explains in her podcast, Freedom from Othering: Undoing the Myths that Imprison Us, the levels of the hierarchy. Gender, sex, race, and class are all categories that determine our place in society. She says the U.S. Declaration of Independence “stated that all men are created equal, it wasn’t for women, it was for men. It was about equality for whites, but not for blacks or American Indians — they were considered humans of a lesser type.”
What I have noticed since I was young was that the white male has been considered the higher power within society — they have been considered to be the “stronger ones.” When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, it was one of the happiest moments I remember as a child because I thought, “Hey, maybe this was when the world starts to change for the betterment of society.” Obama was the first black president of the U.S, creating a change in this societal hierarchy that Brach was talking about, which people all around the world found inspiring. The thing about change, though, is that people who are privileged view equality as oppression against themselves; they see equality as a threat to the power their privilege has over others.
When Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S, it was as if society took a step back. Trump has expressed racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks during his campaign and throughout his time in office. Within the past year, his administration has done everything in its power to try to erase Obama’s accomplishments. Trump has acted as a figurehead of the patriarchy and continued to give voice to individuals who express views and opinions of oppression. Two years ago, during Obama’s presidency, I knew there were people who had racist, sexist, hateful beliefs but Trump’s presidency has given these people a way to express themselves at a higher level of power once again.
That day at the mall, I felt my lowest, because that afternoon made me realize that even though I live in suburbia, these issues that I see on the news every day, they can affect me too. But that’s the thing that made me feel the most pain about the entire subject matter of oppression — it was like in order for me to care and acknowledge it, it had to happen to me. As we discussed in my Social Justice class, we’ve been exposed to news broadcasts everyday talking about these horrible events, like the refugee crisis or the Rohingya genocide so much that we’re numb to it. We have the mindset, and I have even heard in the halls at my school, that, “It’s not in Canada, so who cares? It doesn't affect us why should we care?”
Why should we care?
That’s a good question. It all goes back to social responsibility; raising your voice for those who do not have one. Take Colin Kaepernick for example: he knelt during the American anthem not to be disrespectful, but to demonstrate a hurt democracy by the continued racism and oppression we see in the world even today. A peer in my English class last year told me he believed that, “Kaepernick never experienced racism, he makes millions as a football star.” This led to my explanation of social responsibility once again. Kaepernick used his platform, the NFL, to show solidarity against racism and oppression for everyone, not just himself. He raised his voice for those who could not.
The thing about living in suburbia is that, as a generalization, the town I grew up in, Oakville, is a very rich and privileged neighbourhood. What I have noticed over the past three years is that the kids I go to school with are only seeing these world issues from their prospective. The hierarchy that Brach is talking about is something that I, and my peers, have grown up with. What I am seeking to explain to them is that in order to understand the world, you need to see it from everyone’s perspective. How would you feel if you were hated because of the colour of your skin? How you feel if you were told that you belong in a kitchen, not a seat in Congress because of your gender? What if you were told that, “You should go back from where you came from” because of your ethnicity or religion? Painful, isn't it?
As teens, we are told to have fun when were young, but that doesn't mean to be ignorant and dismissive of those less fortunate or discriminated against on a daily basis. We need to realize we are the next generation and we cannot keep quiet anymore. We need to eliminate this hierarchy, and make sure everyone has equal opportunities, despite our differences.
What I hope people realize is the world is a scary place. Staying in our safe bubble of privilege will not do us any good in our lives, and we cannot continue to keep our voices down when we see something going wrong.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."