I often ask my students to think about the impact that social and political events have had on their individual biography. The context of our lives is shaped by the cultural climate in which we are born and grow; the events of the past shape our life chances and choices of today.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, I can’t help but think about the opportunities and choices I have in front of me and how they can all be traced back to women who through their words, actions and organization sparked the historical and social events that shape my individual biography.
As a project for the Women’s Business Center at Florida Institute of Technology, I have been interviewing women about their thoughts on feminism, the women’s movement and how their lives have been impacted by the women who came before them. Many of the women I talked to were deeply impacted by their mothers. As they got older, they were able to reflect back on their mothers and view their lives through the constraints and limitations they faced as a result of gender. Such obstacles as being unable to get a credit card in their own name or being limited in the occupations they could pursue.
For me, feminism has provided a means of understanding my place in the world. It has allowed me to decide to keep my last name when I got married and to choose whether or not to have children. It has also allowed me to pursue an education of my own choosing.
In short, it has opened every door I’ve walked through and pulled out every chair I have sat in. It has provided me access to realms of the social world once closed off to women. As Lena Dunham put it, feminism “means everything to me because it sort of is everything.”
The future of feminism is to continue to work, organize and speak out wherever women are treated as less than. It is recognizing the commonalities we share and seeing our struggles in that of our neighbors. Feminism is for everyone – as Emma Watson so eloquently stated in a September 2014 address at the United Nations, men also have a vested interest in gender equality.
“Both men and women should feel free to be strong,” said Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. “It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals.”
In the interviews I conducted, I noticed each woman had her own very personal relationship with feminism. For some it is a struggle. They see it as something that sets them apart, when all they want to be is on equal footing. For others, it is the guiding force in their life. As an observer of these stories, I see how these women carry the torch of feminism – through their leadership, through the way they care for their families and themselves, and in how they give back to their communities.
Feminism is all about the ability to make choices: Stay home or go to work; have kids or don’t have kids; wear your hair short or long. These are all choices we can make because of feminism. It is not the path you choose that makes you a feminist. It is recognizing that you have the option to make choices – that the options in and of themselves are a result of feminism.
So as we wrangle with navigating the complexities of life, let’s do so with the reminder that we stand on very tall shoulders. We hold a great responsibility to continue leading the way that has been set for us by women who through their actions large and small laid the foundation for women’s equality that we all benefit from today.
Jarin Eisenberg is Project Manager at the Women’s Business Center at Florida Institute of Technology and previously was coordinator of online degree programs at Florida Tech’s Bisk College of Business. To learn more about Eisenberg, read our interview here.