This Is What A Feminist Looks Like: Sarah

Name: Sarah
Age: 25
Occupation: Law Student
Location: Brooklyn, New York


How do you define feminism?
My initial reaction is to say that feminism can’t be defined, as it means so many different things to different people. On further reflection, however, I think at its core feminism is about breaking down gender norms, and challenging normative thinking. In some ways, my feminism is very heavily second wave – it’s about challenging the idea that women are best suited to marrying and having children, and that women are inherently less capable than men. However, for me this also means moving away from gender as a binary, and broadening our view of how gender can be expressed.

When did you first identify as a feminist?
I think I’ve always identified as a feminist, I just didn’t know it. I have vague memories of being in elementary school and self-righteously insisting on using “men and women” instead of just “men” to refer to a large group of people. (Thankfully, my analysis has deepened a bit since then, but it was a good start.) I think I seriously started thinking about the word “feminist” and using it as part of my identity in college, when I started reading gender theory and learning about how much gender norms are written into our everyday lives.

Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
My feminism has definitely gotten more radical over time, as well as much more visible. After I graduated from college, I stopped shaving my legs and underarms, much to the chagrin of my entire family. To me, it became the ultimate symbol of challenging accepted gender norms, although I’m actually not sure anyone reads it that way. I think this has also made me feel like I can be more vocal about my feminism – more willing to call people out, and less willing to tolerate problematic norms. I have also become much more aware of how levels of oppression overlap, and how the intersection of identities is integral to thinking about feminism.

Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
I think that I’ve most often experienced resistance in identifying as a feminist around issues of marriage and children. Whether or not this is actually what happens, I often perceive that people get very defensive around their choice to get married, change their name, and have children. It’s challenging to think that people get defensive around me because of my politics – it’s often difficult to think that your politics, something that is such an inherent part of you, makes people react in a negative way.

What do you see as the future of feminism?
I think the future of feminism is focused on breaking down the barriers of identity, and looking at each individual as a whole person, with many intersecting identities. I hope that we move away from fights about keeping your last name when you get married and towards a fight to end lack of access to opportunity and other structural issues the help perpetuate the injustice that led to the feminist movement in the first place.

Sarah is a second year student at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, where she is a Public Service Scholar. She is a  graduate of Oberlin College and an alumna of AVODAH, the Jewish Service Corps, where she worked at Selfhelp Community Services, a nonprofit senior services organization.  Sarah has worked with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice as an organizer on the Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers Campaign, as well as in reproductive justice. She likes contra dancing, Shakespeare, and was once in the circus. 

If you would like to participate in this series, please contact me for more details!


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