The Accidental Feminist
By Maghen Quadrini
The word feminist used to leave me feeling uncomfortable. I rolled my eyes at friends who were taking gender studies courses, made fun of t-shirts headlining waves of feminism and ignored the many university campaigns centered on the women’s movement. Feminism to me seemed to be a story told with an angry narrative –creating a classic dichotomy of us vs. them. Not one to be associated with labels, I took the safer, more passive path and also turned a blind eye.
As a young woman studying international relations I should have known better but I always plagued the argument, ‘haven’t we come far enough?’ Not one to settle easily, the gender debate just seemed to be one I wanted to distance myself from. Now when I think about my former attitude, I shift uncomfortably but remain grateful for how my experiences now shape my current perspective and what’s more – I try to understand where that original thought process came from.
I could start where I grew up – in a small town in Southern Ontario. I worked at a radio station during my youth where topics of county councils, municipal elections and business development took most of the airtime. I attended these councils, did the interviews and cut the audio for air but seemed very detached from the issues my community leaders were discussing. I was young without responsibility and was simply doing my job. Yet reflecting back, I realize it wasn’t me who was disconnected from the topics but that the topics were separate from me and my ideas at the time. There was no discussion about the political representation of women in elections or gender inequality in my town. Nothing I had experienced in my life told me I was different from any other women in the world.
When I moved away to University, I was so confused by the dialogue on women’s rights. I remembered learning about it in high school and wasn’t led to believe that there was still an ongoing struggle. Hadn’t we achieved equality within the political, social and economic systems? It wasn’t until my upper years of studying that in my research on topics related to global health, human rights and poverty reduction that gender inequality in Africa and Asia tended to be an overlapping theme. By the end of my degree, my last few papers took a critical lens at the ways gender discrimination hinders development.
However, once I had come to terms with the word feminist, my new struggle was where I fit in its narrative, if anywhere at all. What kind of feminists were there? What kind did I want to be? What would drive my passion for gender equality – and more important how would I do it? I started volunteering for different NGOs and got an incredible opportunity last year to work in India with women who had stories of their potential being limited because of gender. I decided to document a video series on their lives showcasing their experiences as a means for why we are still fighting for equality.
Throughout my time with the project I worked with an incredible team, met interesting travellers along the way, and shared the voices of beautiful, brave women. I found myself searching for people who wanted to talk about gender issues and women’s equality, women’s justice – what that meant to them. Every person had their own story with the ways they identified with feminism and how it had impacted their lives and their choices. People from different cultures and different ways of life were so eager to talk about equality and what topics by extension were associated with that. For me, I decided that equality meant feminism – that feminism meant equal rights. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily about how I fit into the conversation on feminism, but where it fit with me. Feminism was no longer this giant word hovering above me waiting to make a move forward – it was right next to me this whole time waiting until I fell into strides.
Feminism has been transformed into words of ‘femocracy’ and ‘femicide’ which tell stories of women in diverse contexts – different appeal to action. Discovering my inner feminist was completely accidental and yet very straight forward in its significance. We all have stories to tell something to say and how we share them matters – ask questions, be bold, don’t be afraid of the unpopular opinion – have confidence to challenge your ideas. You never know where it might lead you.