After receiving hundreds of nominations for our Feminist You Should Know contest, the Feminist Campus team was able to sift through them, sit down, knock our heads together, and decide on ten finalists! This was no easy task: every single nominee was the most amazing person we’d ever met so far in our lives. No lie. Our awe-inspiring crew come from a diversity of backgrounds, universities, regions, and perspectives in the feminist movement – and it’s just not possible for us to choose a winner alone. And that’s where you come in!
Over the next week, we’ll be posting blog posts written by each of our stellar finalists; on Monday, we’ll launch an online voting form where members of our community – that’s you! – cast a vote for who moved you deeply, inspires you most, or simply has your favorite haircut.
It has taken me my whole life to understand my personal narrative, nurture it, and watch it grow. There have been stories that I have thought were mine, that I was convinced explained my life and my passions. It was only until recently that I understood my feminist narrative derived from the story of a young woman named Homa.
Homa was born in Tehran, Iran to an upper-middle class family. She was sheltered from poverty and suffering, knowing only a loving home with supportive figures. She had hopes, dreams, and ambitions like every young woman around the world raised with the intention of seeing her grow and flourish. She loved a fellow classmate she thought she would marry, she knew how many children she hoped to have, and she understood what career would best suit her skills and interests. Life was good as she was harvesting beautiful memories of sweetness and hope. As her high school graduation was nearing, only one week away, her parents sat her aside and with grave faces told her she was going to marry Hassan, a man she had never met before.
Homa was the youngest daughter and, in their eyes, was not capable of attending college and selecting her husband of choice down the road. Their criteria for selecting Hassan? His aversion to drinking and smoking was pleasing. A week after graduating high school, she married him, unaware of what was in store for her. She was forced to move to a new and unfamiliar country: America. She was denied the opportunity to take English courses, let alone attend college. She was even prohibited from using contraception and her autonomy over her own body was refused. She was instructed to work long hours, completing menial labor while he studied for his degree – even up to the very day she gave birth (all four times). Eventually, she finally mustered up the courage and will to divorce him. Although she has had to live in hardship since, there is no price that can be put on her freedom.
I am proud to call this inspiring and strong woman my mother.
Although Homa’s story is not mine, it is what inspires the work I do and the goals I am trying to achieve. It is the spark that ignites my passion for women’s rights and equality. It is my fuel for ensuring that this movement succeeds. I have been raised by one of the millions that have been scarred by the injustices that derive from gender inequality. I understand what the consequences of being a woman in this world are, and what I might not accomplish because of my gender. It is an unconscious decision, an involuntary act that affects woman as we are placed in this world one step behind men. Did Homa make that choice? Did I make that choice? The answer is simply no.
I am a feminist because I believe that I should have the same rights that my male peers do. I believe that no woman should be restricted from equal access to education or be denied the right to control her own body. I have been empowered to embrace the strength and passion that so many men in my life have criticized. I used to be ashamed of all this energy I had inside that was just waiting for the chance to burst and work for some good. I learned to harness it, and that is what led to my journey in activism: organizing, campaigning, and building awareness through education. It motivated me to get involved with the Women’s and Gender Studies Department on campus and revive it with fresh ideas and a bright, new perspective. I delved into AAUW on a local, state, and national level. I became the youngest member of the New York City Virtual Branch, founded the New York State Student Advisory Council, was appointed the Youth Representative to the United Nations, and was selected as a member of the prestigious National Student Advisory Council. The President of the National Organization for Women New York State Chapter took interest in me and became my mentor. She guided me in my efforts as she saw this light I have blazing within me. Zenaida appointed me Chair of the Young Feminist Task Force, and awarded me with the Rosalba Polanco Leadership Award at the Convention in November. The Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) named me one of their ambassadors, and I had the privilege of serving as the Vice Chair of the College Democrats of America Women’s Caucus last year.
This journey started with Homa and the seed she planted inside me to ensure that I fought against the system of inequality, the institutionalized sexism, and the social norms that caused so many women like her to suffer. People call me crazy sometimes because I dedicate almost all of my time to the feminist cause. I guess you can say I drink that feminist Kool-Aid. What I keep in mind is that I’m relatively lucky. As a woman in the Western world, I have the freedom to dream. I have the freedom to plan my life. I have the freedom to aspire to something greater than myself. This freedom has meaning because my mother is the embodiment of the women who don’t have the privilege of these freedoms. Through my work, I am bringing these issues to light. I am giving a voice to these muted women and light to their shadowed faces. These are the stories that need to be heard. I have given you one, but can you imagine how many others are waiting for their moment?
You may ask why I care with such intensity. I was lucky enough to realize all of these things at a fruitful age, but most do not. Women need to understand the equality they deserve. Let us remember when First Lady Clinton told the world that “Women’s Rights, are Human Rights.” What I can do right now is plant my own seeds in my community and watch it grow across my country – and then the world. It is my destiny to guarantee that there is no Homa that believes she deserves the unfair life she has because of her sex or gender.
We as woman need to be praised for our contributions to society, not punished. We should be proud, and I am claiming our pride as women: for myself, for Homa, and for you.