Name: Heather Wingert
Occupation: Psychotherapist & Assistant Director of a non-profit
Location: Asheville, NC
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: Soapmaking enthusiast, aspiring writer, and wanderlust at the moment. . .
How do you define feminism?
I believe feminism is a cultural movement about shifting consciousness away from gender inequality and moving towards a more expansive view of humanity that discourages any form of oppression on the human condition.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
I grew up encouraged by my mother that the sky is the limit and you can be whatever you want to be. In grade school, I always looked forward to accompanying her during “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” and seeing her level the playing field with her male colleagues. It never occurred to me that my rights and privileges were limited as a female. In fact, the women I knew were powerful, vocal, and sophisticated.
It wasn’t until I was older and living on my own that the term feminism became meaningful to me. I was 19 and had reached a turning point in my spirituality. After reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, it was as if someone had taken the blind folds off my eyes. I had a lot of curiosity and energy around discovering the many parallels between patriarchy and Christianity. I started to ask myself, “How could God be male, in fact, how could God be a gender? Why is it women give birth, but yet Christianity was telling me I came from the rib of man? How come Eve was the first to sin, and in fact her sin involved food? Why did Mary need to be a virgin impregnated by God? I was rather perplexed by this notion of faith and the patriarchal storytelling that permeated biblical text. I wondered why females were so keen on being obedient to religious views that down played their significance? Growing up in the South, there was a strong undercurrent of familial and societal pressures surrounding the need to be compliant to religious beliefs. I knew for myself, this need for compliance, aka “good girl”, was a result of being socialized female in a patriarchal culture, and I personally needed something more inspiring.
Has your definition of feminism changed over time? How?
I don’t think my definition has changed, but my experience of the definition of feminism has evolved over the years. Looking back, I spent a lot of time in my twenties better understanding the social construction of gender and how it influences the way we think, dream, behave, and respond or not respond to our bodies, ambitions, relationships, sexuality, and personal power. I loved reading contributions from Gloria Steinem, Carol Gilligan, bell hooks, Susie Orbach, Ani DiFranco, and Kim Chernin. Knowing now, what I didn’t know then, I think I was setting the stage for becoming clear on how I wanted to create and color this one life. Today, feminism is not just an ideology I’m wrapping my mind around, but it’s a way of life that fully engages my mind and heart.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Fortunately, I have not experienced resistance. In many ways, I intentionally gravitated towards people and places that shared and supported my values and beliefs. It’s comforting and brings community. I will say that since living in Asheville for the past five years, I have felt more comfortable than I ever have as a woman. There is an eclectic assortment of humanity residing in these mountains. It’s a very tolerant, progressive city where women are well on their way to being represented equally in politics, higher education, businesses and sustainability efforts. It’s an inspiring place to be as a woman!
What do you see as the future of feminism?
I think the F-word continues to bring up strong opinions intergenerationally. In fact, the term has a lot of history with a lot of layers of interpretation depending on what decade you were born in. I’ve now heard ‘humanist’ and ‘womanist’ as possible options for rebranding the term. Regardless, behind the label is an unequivocal determinism to inspire people to think critically about culture and humanity. I cannot think of a more compassionate and accepting understanding than what underlies feminism, and perhaps all the ‘isms.’
The future of feminism starts in the home and with our families. How are we promoting gender equality in the home? What stereotypes of gender are we encouraging, and perhaps need to reconsider? Are we investing in our girls and boys the same? How much media is informing our youth’s sense of self? Are our children being bullied, terrorized or discriminated for being gay, fat, or poor? Do our communities, schools, religions, or politics encourage this discrimination? Are we willing to go to bat for these issues, whether in our very home or in our community? These answers begin the dialogue of feminism.
My hope is that as we move forward we can all go within ourselves and ask, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” There’s enough ‘out there’ telling us how or who to be as women and men. We cannot be afraid to stand up and stand out for whatever it is that brings meaning, purpose, and connection to our lives. I hope we look back one of these days on the legalization of same-sex marriage with the same feelings we have now looking back on desegregation of public bathrooms; a necessary and vital paradigm shift to creating equal opportunity. I hope women and men are given equal pay, I hope paternity leave is honored in professions, and I hope for the day when girls and women stop hating their bodies. I am hopeful women will begin to utilize social media in new, creative ways to represent their unique and strong voice, rather than media’s values of beauty, youth, and sexuality. I hope that the young women today seek out the mentors of the generation before them. And I mostly hope that we begin to lean on each other more because in connection there’s everything and in separation there’s nothing.
For more information about Heather, please check out her website.
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