At what point in your life did you consider yourself a feminist? Was it an event or a process?
I've always believed in equality of the sexes, but it wasn't until college that I was able to put a label on this belief system. It took me time to see why the feminist label was powerful and important for women and men to espouse. The more I learned about other people's experiences with gender-based discrimination and the more I examined my own life for those damaging double standards, the more I viewed feminism as a mechanism for positive change.
Who most influenced your awareness of your feminism?
My mother and my grandmother unknowingly instilled feminist values deep within me. Though neither would classify herself as a feminist, both lived lives that set strong examples for me of the limitless possibilities for women. My mom always worked outside the home because she was passionate about her work. My grandmother is still a successful business owner. Both women raised families with husbands who were their partners and equals.
In what ways has your feminism informed your life choices?
Feminism has made me a much more aware human being - aware of differences in people's upbringings and walks of life, aware of social biases, aware of the power of language to inspire or to inflict damage. It has helped me be much more intentional with my speech to avoid using words that are loaded with harmful stereotypes, particularly about women. I think it's also made me more respectful. Feminism looks different to everyone, and that's OK as long as equality is still the driving force.
Feminism has made me much more aware of the importance of representation. It's so much harder to aspire to something you haven't seen before. As a society, we have never done a great job of highlighting or placing importance on the narratives of women. A close friend and I decided to start a podcast about influential women throughout history because education is always the first step to empowerment. I want my nieces to know that the world's first computer programmer was a woman. I want them to see how women contributed heavily to curing diseases and leading the charge for civil rights. On She the People, we pick a different woman each week and discuss her life and legacy. It's a small act, but hopefully it will have a ripple effect.
In what ways do you share your feminism with others?
I try to encourage people to see past gender stereotypes and to always be asking "why?" when it comes to what we expect of men and women. I aim to point out damaging or limiting language so that unintentional sexism isn't perpetuated. I also always want to be an uplifting force with the women in my life, supporting them, encouraging them, and reinforcing just how powerful they are.
Describe your vision of a feminist world.
An ideal feminist world means so many things, but the ones most crucial to me involve choice and representation. Woman and men would make choices based on their best interest and the best interest of their communities, rather than on gender expectations (both overt and implied). It would mean a society where we give women control over their bodies, particularly if, when, and how they want to reproduce. In a feminist world, women would have equal representation in positions of power. It would be a given that we pay people based on their qualifications. Our social policies would do more than pay lip service to family values. They would also provide protections for working women who choose to have families, compensation for women who choose to raise children full time, and both for men to take equal, active roles in raising families.
How I Define Feminism:
At its core, feminism is about equality of human beings. It means that humans should have equal political, economic and social rights and opportunities, regardless of gender.
Heather is a writer, Chicagoan and co-host of the feminist podcast She the People. She works in health care while studying public policy and volunteering for local, progressive campaigns. Heather lives for intimate conversations with strangers and believes in always thanking bus drivers.