A Feminist Future?

Lillie is a rising Senior and she is interning at Third Wave Foundation. Third Wave is a feminist foundation that provides funds for grassroots organizations with a focus on women’s and transgender issues.

I can’t think of one time when I decided to be a feminist. I almost saw it as a “given,” where even if I wasn’t totally sure about its definition, I knew I probably was one. I think part of the reason why feminism felt natural to me is because I grew up in a family that is relatively liberal, and my paternal grandmother was even an activist in the second wave feminist movement. In college, I’ve made amazing friends who have introduced me to the Duke Women’s Center and broadened my understanding of forms of inequality like racism, homophobia, and sexism, so I’ve never felt seriously uncomfortable with calling myself a feminist.

Even as I publicly identify as a feminist, I’m still trying to figure out what it actually means to be a one (hopefully that doesn’t break any rules…). I can definitely tell I’m not completely clear on my own definition because everytime I hear a definition that I like from someone else, I think to myself “Yea! That sounds so right!” but then I’m unable to put their words into my own. I hope this summer, in conjunction with our Moxie Project classes about women’s history, feminism, and activism, helps me find my own definition—even though I’m sure it will change as I grow.

As a soon-to-be senior, I am entering a time in my life when considering careers and starting job searches is about to get real. One specific aspect of my definition of feminism keeps coming up as I think about my future—how do I want to live out my feminism? To me, acting on one’s feminism when sexism arises in everyday life and publicly identifying as a feminist are integral to “living out” one’s feminist beliefs. But lately I’ve been wondering if being a feminist requires one to go further than that. Does identifying as a feminist necessitate being active in the women’s movement? What does it even mean to be an activist in the women’s movement? And how should all of these questions influence my ever-approaching job search?

As my family and friends know, my ideas about future careers encompass a huge range of fields and my preferences change from week to week. My hope for this summer is to not only do my best to support Third Wave Foundation, but also to gain some direction—or at least some understanding—of what I want my future to look like and how (or if?) my feminist ideals can be integrated into my career path.

5 thoughts on “A Feminist Future?

  1. I enjoyed reading your post. It is clear, thoughtful and revealing. I was particularly engaged by your reflection on the elusiveness of the meaning of the term feminism for you. The process of transition from viewing feminism as part of a broader set of familial identities to one that demands personal commitments and choices can be daunting, but also very exciting. You will find your relationship to the term, the identity and the movement will change with you as you face new stages and challenges in life; the defining and redefining is a never ending process.

    I look forward to hearing about how this summer’s internship experience supports you in the journey of understanding how feminism can inform your own sense of self, and in understanding your responsibility and connectedness to others.

  2. I think it is wonderfully open-minded and, well, feminist of you to keep yourself open to a variety of definitions of feminism and feminists. Some of my best role models were women and men who never clearly identified themselves with any particular ideology, but supported me in my education, career, volunteer pursuits and athletic endeavors – never giving the slightest indication that I should limit myself because I am female. To the extent that you support other women you meet – wherever you happen to be, whatever you happen to be doing – I believe you are doing the grassroots work that is the bedrock of the feminist movement.

    Keep up the good work and the keen questioning!

    Best wishes,
    Beth Davis

  3. Lillie,
    I appreciate the you are questioning feminism for yourself. I look forward to hearing more about what you discover during your summer. There is a lot to think about. While feminist activists/evangelicals are important, for many, the small decisions we make/actions in our day-to-day lives can speak volumes in telling the world that we are feminists. Our behaviour/choices in meetings at work, our choices as managers in our companies, the expectations we place on others, how we live in our own homes and relationshipsp can be powerful signals to others about our beliefs.

  4. Along with the previous commenters, I think you’re asking good questions, to which there are no fixed or ready answers. At this point you can’t know how the job search or personal relationships will evolve, but you can be guided by basic principles of fairness, equality, and honesty with yourself and others. Having worked for many years in public service and private practice, I can assure you there will be opportunities for activism and personal leadership whereever you find yourself. Best wishes.

  5. Lillie, I like how you are framing your thoughts about feminism and feminists and agree with the other commenters. I especially like the questions you pose about what it means to be a feminist in regard to how this identity affects how involved/active you are in promoting equality and fairness for you personally and for the feminist movement more generally. One idea to consider, which was taught to me over 20 years ago, is that when one is feminist the personal is political. While it may be trite, I think it still holds that women’s personal choices affect public opinion, which in turn, affect policy and politics more generally. As an example of a controversial topics: if women work, who is responsible for child care during work hours? Are these solely personal choices of the parents? How do child care arrangements get negotiated between parents? Who assumes resposibility for managing child care? What is the role, if any, of government and employers to accommodate working parents?

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