I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a feminist. Even before I knew the word, I could feel myself striving with every inch of my being to be considered equal to the boys in my class; to live my life joyfully without fear of being treated as lesser. I credit this desire to my parents and, in particular, my mother.
When I was growing up, my mum always prioritised learning. By learning I don’t mean that she stood over me while I did my homework (although she somehow conned my sister and I into thinking verbal reasoning books were fun), but rather she wanted us to be active citizens in the world and to fully engage with it. She was instrumental in showing me that there are many different perspectives and experiences to be had and that people will tell you their stories if you will just listen.
As an adult, our interests did not always intersect, but she was willing to listen to me explain why I liked a certain band, film or piece of art, even if it wasn’t to her taste. This openness to new ideas and different perspectives is something that I strive to emulate as I navigate my way through life, particularly when trying to be a better intersectional feminist.
In an age where women are taught that the only way to succeed is to become ‘one of the boys’ and join in with the banter, we often forget that it is kindness and compassion that are the most important skills to learn. One way of teaching and increasing empathy is an exposure to literary fiction. Exposing someone to a wide range of different views and life experiences can help them to broaden their perspective on particular issues and become more tolerant and accepting of others.
We can also turn to positive role models in fiction to teach us how to be more open. These stories can help us form ideas of and understand how we want to live our lives, especially when we are younger. Seeing courageous and complex characters who treat each other with compassion sets a strong example for how we can form meaningful human relationships.
In some cases, these characters can also show us that we are not unusual or alone, which is particularly important for young women who are trying to figure out who they are against a slew of patriarchal expectations. Not everyone has a positive feminist role model in their family but that does not mean that these role models are impossible to find. In addition to literary characters, our inspirational teachers, colleagues at work and friends can all act as examples of how we can live our lives with more compassion and curiosity.
It has only been in the past few years that I fully began to appreciate everything that my mum did for my sister and I. She opened our eyes to all the beauty that the world has to offer and taught us the importance of being kind. It is a trait that can be easily forgotten.
My mother Catherine taught me to never feel limited because of my gender and that I should not have to alter my personality to feel accepted by a group of people. I learned that I should interrogate my preconceived ideas and prejudices. She believed that growing and changing was a fundamental part of life. Ultimately, the road to true equality is still one that is longer than it should be, but one way of moving it forward is to live a life that inspires someone else.
Image is of a young girl, perhaps three years old, reaching out to play with some bubbles that appear to her right. She is looking to the right with her right arm outstretched, as if trying to catch them. She wears a bright red, short-sleeve shirt.