I was seventeen-years-old, the first time someone called me a feminist. The tone of voice and body language hinted towards a negative connotation of the word. One of my relatives asked why I had not had my first boyfriend yet and before I could answer he said “You are a feminist so you hate men”.
I felt my muscles become stiff. I was surprised and ashamed of my relative’s definition. It took me a few minutes to gather myself and provide a proper answer. I began by explaining feminism and hate should not be used in the same sentence. Then, I said feminism was a movement that entailed principles of equal rights for women. However, the movement did not “hate” men.
I explained anyone could be a feminist rather than just a woman because feminism was not gender bias. My relative smirked and decided to remain silent for the rest of the road trip. This became the first of many conversations I had to carry out with several people in my personal and professional life. I remain an adamant supporter of feminism, inclusivity, and equality. In my country, feminism has been demonized, misunderstood, and biasly scrutinized; as a result, many feminists such as myself face prejudice at professional and personal levels.
In many instances, whenever I have used the word “equality” it has triggered displeasure of many. There are undeniable biological differences between men and women. In fact, men and women are not equal nor the same in many regards such as strength, physical appearance, and other aspects. On one hand, I have met women whose strength surpasses that of their male counterparts. On the other hand, I have also met many men who are physically stronger than other women.
Whenever feminists demand equality, they refer to equal rights and opportunities. History shows women have been confined to household chores and intentionally excluded from education and decision-making processes. Why should women continue to be underrepresented in politics in the twenty-first century? Why should women earn less than their male counterparts for doing the same job?
From personal experience, I find that the word, feminism, has been vilified in my homeland, Nicaragua. Part of this is due to the patriarchal structure in many households and in politics. Patriarchy is an issue deeply rooted in history that has remained part of the status quo. I am aware this is a global problem present in even the most developed countries.
People are the result of socialization. Thus, school and family have a great impact on shaping one’s development. I have had to unlearn stereotypes taught in primary school. I remember in 5th grade, my civic’s teacher would lecture the class about the characteristics associated with men and women. My teacher’s analogy was that women were sentimental and skillful at household chores. In contrast, men were natural leaders and emotionally composed. Sexist stereotypes have been constantly present in my everyday life; limiting women’s abilities and thereby reinforcing women’s place as second-level citizens in society. Sexism can be disguised in several ways to the point where it can go unnoticed. For that reason, I find it extremely important to be critical.
In high school, I had not yet referred to myself as a feminist. It was around this time where I developed my leadership skills. Whenever there were group projects, I did not hesitate to put my leadership into practice. My group and I were working on a social topic for the annual School Project Fair. For months, we researched the ramifications of teenage pregnancies on young mothers’ lives. My team was made up mostly of men. In fact, in the group, there was just another female besides myself.
I coordinated several visits to the local clinics to gather enough data and meet with teenage moms to document their experiences. Furthermore, I regularly voiced my opinion on different issues and made decisions just as any member of the team would. For some reason, I was the only member keen about the project. No one else in the team bothered to take initiatives. It was clear, someone needed to take the lead. And I did.
As soon as I started making decisions, the boys in my team began with passive-aggressive behavior to undermine my leadership. They started saying I was “too opinionated” and “bossy”. Later on, they nicknamed me “Mrs. Barbara” after the female character from a well-known soap opera based on a novel. In the soap opera, one of the lead characters, Mrs. Barbara, was a landowner commonly known for her temper and ability to manipulate men for her benefit. The nickname was far off from being a compliment.
I believe this was my peers’ way of expressing their discomfort. Many questions were in my mind such as would my peers have done the same if it was one of them instead of me leading? Why do some men feel uncomfortable when it is women making decisions or being in a leadership position? At the time, I heard what they were calling me and laughed it off. Though, I wish I had confronted them. By not acting, I was accepting and acknowledging their prejudices.
Once I finished high school, I naively thought sexist remarks would stop coming my way. In a sense, my high school graduation represented the beginning of the end. I was walking into the real world filled with misogynism, prejudice, and stereotypes. Throughout my life, I have been subject to many sexist comments at school and at my own house. Comments such as, “You cannot drive well nor park because you are a woman”. I am not the only woman, nor will I be the last at least for a while, to listen to sexist comments.
In university, I met extraordinary people who encouraged me to advocate for inclusion and equality. Among them were professors and acquaintances who with time became great friends and mentors. Nevertheless, I dealt with hatred from some men, women, and even professors who disliked the movement altogether. During my junior year, I was taking an economy class with an outstanding professor who had a long time career as a diplomat.
He was exceptional at everything except for his misogyny remarks during a class. My professor said women had never been denied anything. In addition, he said feminism was just group of fanatical women. If dropping the class would have been an option, I would have done it. Unfortunately, the semester was too far in.
Contrary to my former professor’s belief, feminism is an inclusive cause to uphold human rights for women. I have found allies along the way. Some of them are women, men, and others are part of the LGBTQ community. Together we share the same goal to make this world a fairer place for everyone not just for white communities, the elite, or the rich but all including minorities and vulnerable communities which are often overlooked.
To be a feminist ought to be more than just words. There must be action; otherwise, the disruption of the status-quo will not be possible. I have had to consciously pay attention to the way I speak and do my best to use gender-inclusive words. Furthermore, I have had to unlearn behaviors and watch my comments to make my actions match my beliefs. I have chosen to educate myself by reading and interacting with activists. I believe activism is a powerful tool to bring about change. Social media is a catalyst of change if used appropriately.
My generation is at a greater advantage than others due to technology and inventions that led to the creation of new resources. These innovations allow us to have an impact regardless of borders. This generation is interconnected and far more informed than others. Despite the backlash, I am still unapologetically feminist. I hope one-day people will come to grasp the true meaning of the word and become feminists; because anyone who supports equality can be a feminist.
Guissell is a young lady born and raised in Nicaragua, the heart of Central America. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and is deeply passionate about advocacy, human rights, and climate change. Despite being in lockdown, she has focused on speaking up about vital global issues through social media to trigger change. Lastly, her passions extend to coffee, good literature, and chocolates.