Labels and Feminism
I don't like labels, I never have and I never will. Afterall I'm not a jar, and if I was I'd probably be very hard to open but see-through and filled with Jalapenos or salsa. Now that I think about it I'd probably be both, Jalapeno salsa. I'd also be filled with different abnormalities that most people won't understand. The lid won't be on right, and there will most definitely be a crack on the side threatening to break the entire thing, but somehow the messed up lid and the crack work together just perfectly to hold everything together in place.
Okay enough about me being a jar, let's get back to labels. I don't like them. We use them way too often and if we were jars we'd literally have labels on labels on labels to the point that we no longer know what's inside the jar.
Last month I went to an event that featured three Muslim Women that spoke about their experiences with womanhood, feminism, and their careers and lifestyles.
That day I had a question, something not very organic to me in front of that many people, and I asked a question about Male feminists. As I introduced myself and asked the question I said: I AM A FEMINIST.
I didn't think it was a big deal. I knew it was a big deal for me to identify as such because I'm not a fan of labels and there's so much stigma around feminism, but I did it anyways because despite what anyone else says I agree with feminism and I am a feminist. Label me what you want, but I believe in human rights and equality, and feminism is a part of that.
I am a Muslim. I am a male. And I am a feminist.
Afterwards as I waited to speak with the speakers, because they were amazing and I wanted to thank them for answering my question, 5 different women came up and thanked me. They thanked me for standing up there and identifying as a Muslim Feminist. At first I thought they were just being nice, It wasn't until the third or fourth time it happened that I realized just how big of a deal this is. Then it hit me, even in 2016, it's so hard for men to say outloud that I am a Feminist, even if we're supporting equal rights.
This is a big deal.
So now, wherever I am, I will proudly identify as a Muslim Male feminist (God the labels).
As we near the end of Women's History month I'm reflecting on the path we need to continue on to one day live in a world where being a Muslim and Male Feminist is not all that shocking. From Suffragette, to the battle for equal pay and most recently women's rights to their own bodies, it's important to understand the history behind women's right. For me, it's also a great time to reflect on my own journey from being an entirely passive bystander to not only identifying as a Feminist, but also transitioning towards being a pro-social bystander.
I was fortunate enough to be raised by one of the strongest women I know. A woman that has gone through wars, had multiple careers, carried communities on her shoulders, and had the time to be there for 8 children. I was also fortunate enough to not only have 7 siblings, but 7 sisters. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house that was nearly always filled with women.
As I grew older, the only role models I had that I actually knew were all women.
But despite all that I grew up in a world with strict social norms. Where being a 'man' was amplified and consisted of anything my sisters did not want to do, which included but was not limited to: killing bugs, taking out the trash, grocery shopping, dealing with FBI agents as needed, and anything else that a 'boy' should and has to do.
We grew up in a world where women were placed in a box, labeled and ready for shipping to conform to society's views, and even as a child I was aware of the box right next to theirs that told me I can not be the bride while playing wedding but my sisters could be the groom if they wanted to. I couldn't cry. I couldn't be afraid of bugs, or heights, or the dark. Regardless, I did all those things and my fears were never limited to those three. I rebelled against the box and I thought I won.
Until one day, at the age of ten we had people over and a cricket stumbled into the house. I wanted to run, for there was a monster from my nightmares right beside me, and there was no one there but me. I wanted to call my older sister, who'd carry shoe on top of shoe as armor and kill bugs like a pro, while I cowered in fear from them.
But we had people over.
What would they think? What would they say?
At that point my sisters had said everything possible to emasculate me and I had become comfortable in never being able to belong with them. But this was different, there were others there. And I wasn't ready to not fit in with everyone else. So I grabbed a shoe, and with a loud bang I extinguished its life.
It felt good, not like my innocence had died with another life. It felt liberating, and for the first time I felt courageous.
The world taught me that courage is to kill bugs, to fight back and slam your fists into things. And for the first time, at ten years old I slowly sat down inside the box, closed the top and felt the stamp being placed on the outside, and I was ready to be sent into the world.
I arrived into the world that night. I killed bugs and didn't run away anymore. I wrestled the other kids and if anyone bothered my sisters I bothered them. I stopped fighting with my sisters. Tears were of the past, and feelings other than anger no longer existed in this vessel.
It wasn't until years later, when the box was falling apart from mildew and I was drowning inside that I finally stood up, slowly escaping the box that protected me from the harsh world outside. But the mildew had seeped into my skin and even though I was aware of a sexist world, I was unaware of my own biases, and so for even more years I stood on the sidelines, holding myself to a standard that I thought was enough, while the rest of the world acted in the most sexist and unequal of ways.
I believed sexism was a female problem, and who was I to get involved. It wasn't until last year, when a friend was starting a HeForShe chapter at WPI that I finally stepped up. I had come to the conclusion right before that I can no longer stand on the sidelines, because even though I have no right to tell anyone how to live their lives there are plenty of guys that are feeding into this sexist system and making things more difficult for everyone.
I learned about systematic oppression, held events to protest the gender pay gap, I had debates and discussions with individuals that mean well but are still frozen in their boxes. And today, I can proudly say that I am a Feminist. I am a Muslim. I am a Man. I am a Feminist. And I understand the intersectionality between different social problems.
So when I raise awareness about Mental Health, disabilities, race, Islamophobia, or any of the other social problems I need to bring feminism to the table. Because unless we fight for equality, regardless of sex, race, gender, orientation, religion, social standing and every other reason we're oppressed, we will continue to grapple for more privilege and the world will not change. Oppression does not end until ALL these things end. One of these days though, we're going to wake up to a world without boxes, and with equal privilege, because unfortunately that's what it's come down to, privilege!
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the co-founder and Director of Mental Health for MCL, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness wherever he is through his writing, workshops and speaker events.