Hello, my name is Andrea Cool and I am a feminist.
While this may seem completely obvious considering where you’re reading this, for me it’s something that took me a while to actually say – an identity I had to learn to recognize. That isn’t to say that I ever disagreed with the values of feminism. On the contrary, to me they seemed like no brainers. Of course I believed in gender equality. Of course I could do anything that my older brother was able to do. Of course I could be successful.
Initially, the problem was that I was sheltered. Don’t get me wrong; my family faced its fair share of obstacles as I was growing up, ones that even today I’m still learning to understand. But, sexism, the patriarchy, gender violence – those didn’t exist for me as a kid. I didn’t understand the extent to which many women and girls were oppressed. This is a way that I am privileged. I am lucky.
I attribute this to my mother. I grew up in a house where my mom called the shots. If she wanted to do something, nothing would stop her from getting it done. To the childhood me, my mother was my role model; she was invincible. She made me feel invincible too.
Eventually though, this invincibility started to wear off. I couldn’t be sheltered from the realities of the world forever. The unrealistic expectations set for women. The objectification of women in the media. The fact that just walking down the street can be a dangerous thing for women. But even though I was starting to see these injustices – and wanted to change them – I didn’t immediately consider myself a feminist. A feminist was what you called the radical women who burned their bras and hated all men (or at least that’s what I thought). I wasn’t ready to be labeled with the “F-word”.
It wasn’t really until I got to college that I started to actually understand the meaning of the word feminism and realized that, oh wait, I guess I do identify with this movement because I do in fact believe that women deserve the same rights as men.
The word “feminist” has gotten such a bad rep in the past that it’s scaring people off from what really matters: gender equality. It’s a word we need to start embracing to get rid of this stupid extremist stereotype.
So today I am a feminist. I am also a cat lover, a runner, a terrible cook, and a Broadway enthusiast. I am a student at Duke University, studying Biology and Global Health. In the fall I will be going into my senior year when I will start looking into universities to continue my studies in public health focusing on women’s health rights. I realize how extremely lucky I am to be where I’m at today. That isn’t to say I haven’t worked my ass off to get here – because trust me I have – but if I hadn’t grown up in an atmosphere that told me I could be whatever I wanted to be and that gave me the tools to do just that, so many things could’ve held me back.
This summer I will be working with Girls for Gender Equity, helping to improve their after-school program geared toward girls of color living in underserved communities, where it’s easy for young girls to fall through the cracks in the system. I’m so excited to work for this organization because I want to help other young women to feel the support and have the opportunities that I did to make it through school and have the chance to achieve their dreams. As the inspirational Malala Yousafzai said, “We cannot all succeed if half of us are held back”.
So I am ready for this summer in New York. I am ready to embrace my identity as a feminist and hopefully see that identity grow and develop as I step out of my comfort zone. I realize that I won’t be changing the world in just 2 short months, but if the work I do can help GGE make a difference in even just one girl’s life, that sounds like a success to me.