I have always considered myself a feminist, but for a long time I wasn’t really sure how to be a feminist. When I was a kid I knew gender issues existed, but either I was privileged enough to never see them play out in my own life, or else was too oblivious to notice when they did. Obviously I thought that everybody should have the same rights and opportunities, and I knew that things like gender violence were problems, but it seemed like the most I could do was yell at kids in school when they made mildly sexist comments.
After the 2016 presidential campaign started heating up, my perception of what it meant to be a feminist started to change. Feminism meant supporting Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood and being completely outraged by comments Donald Trump made about grabbing people. And of course, it meant being completely outraged when he won the presidency.
When the first Women’s March took place in 2017, I heard about it and thought, “Hey, that’s cool, I should go to that,” and then proceeded to chicken out. Mainly it was because I didn’t want to have to plan how I would get there and because I liked the idea of a march way more than I believed in the principles it represented.
Since coming to the University of Connecticut in the fall of 2017, my perceptions have changed concerning a number of important topics, including feminism. My freshman seminar was about the Equal Rights Amendment, and introduced me to the idea that feminist movements of the past have often excluded women of color. Cultural Center events and Human Rights lectures and an Honors Core Class about Migrant Workers in Connecticut started opening my eyes more and more. Now, when I look back to who I was in high school, arguing that it didn’t matter whether characters from Harry Potter were LGBTQ and that gun control wasn’t very American, it is so clear to me that I was mostly just regurgitating things I had been told, and things that I was comfortable with.
After finally attending the Women’s March in Hartford this past weekend, I can say with certainty that high school me did not know what it meant to be a feminist. I thought feminism was solely about girls being allowed in science classes and white women from the 1920s marching for suffrage. The idea of intersectionality was introduced to me here at UConn and while I like to think that I was already becoming an intersectional feminist, the Hartford Women’s March is what really drove it home for me.
The platform of the march supported proposed policy changes that address ending violence, reproductive rights, racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, immigrant rights, economic justice, civil rights, disability rights and environmental rights. All of these are tied into three policy priorities: Universal health care, adding an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution,and ending war.
At a first glance, some of these things may sound like they have next to nothing to do with feminism, but as the speakers on Saturday were fond of repeating, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” Just as my education at UConn had begun to impress upon me, the speakers expressed how feminism goes beyond what the white woman wants, and should address what minority women need, what disabled women and poor women and native women need.
As I made my poster, and invited my friends, and hyped up going to a Women’s March for the first time, I thought the march was about letting policymakers and other women know where I stood, and letting out my frustration with the current government, and being heard. Really, for me, it was about listening. It was about listening to other women, immigrants and labor rights activists and survivors and leaders, as they explained what it means to be a feminist.
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent/staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.