At what point in your life did you consider yourself a feminist? Was it an event or a process?
In high school I participated in Government Club and served as the vice president of the group. I remember appearing on Channel 3 public access broadcast by my community’s local cable company, talking about the need to support the enforcement of California Proposition 209. Proposition 209 prohibited state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education and there was - oddly in my mind - a lot of opposition to this very sensible piece legislation.
I remember telling the interviewer that to do away with such an important ballot proposition would hurt a women’s equality movement that had a long way to go still. I’m not sure if I really even understood what I was talking about at the young age of 15 because I hadn’t been restricted from opportunities on the basis of being a girl, but I also hadn’t really yet entered “the system” that would show me how women do face obstacles to personal and professional advancement due to their female gender. But obviously something seemed important to me then and so perhaps, in hindsight, that was the moment I became a feminist with a voice.
Who most influenced your awareness of your feminism?
Not that it was intentional on her part but this person is most definitely my mother. Although born and raised in Southern California, at the age of 19 my mom more or less entered into an arranged marriage. She could have said no, from the objective standpoint, but under the pressure of her family and the expectations of extended family and community she felt she had no choice. Very soon after entering into the marriage she knew it was dangerous, abusive, and unhealthy. She tried to leave several times while pregnant with me and was actually sent back to an unsafe situation by her parents, for fear of dirty laundry being aired. Not until I was born, and some physically abusive behavior on the part of her soon-to-be ex-husband, was my mother able to leave for good. She told her parents that if they didn’t take us in she would go to the local women’s shelter, end of story. That was the moment of her liberation, her path to understanding that a woman could make her own decisions and be responsible for herself and had to be because sometimes the people you think are supposed to look out for you aren’t, don’t, or maybe can’t. My grandparents understood, finally, with a four-month-old infant in their eldest daughter’s arms (age 21) that this was serious.
When I was young, and I mean very young, seven-years-old, I remember my mom starting to tell me, “you don’t need a man...you can make your own decisions in life.” Now, she remarried a wonderful man who is my father in every sense of the word except the biological one. So there was a bit of cognitive dissonance and misunderstanding on my part about where the evil men would come from who would tell me what to do. As I got older it turned into, “you don’t need a boyfriend.” And I always sensed this disapproval from her about my girlfriends who had boyfriends in middle school and high school.
I understand now that she was speaking from her experience of having had her formative years of life and agency stripped from her. Men were supposed to make her decisions, look out for her, rule her, etc. In giving her power over she was left frustrated, limited, angry, humiliated, and hurt so early on in life. And she wanted exactly the opposite for me her daughter, and she made me aware of this in her way.
In what ways has your feminism informed your life choices?
The kind of work that I do, women’s rights advocacy, is very much an outcome of my feminism. My overarching hope for the time I have on this planet is to leave it better than I found it. I truly believe that the improved status of women, women’s equality, and women’s self-awakening on how we limit our full potential - this is how the world can improve drastically.
But on a more personal level - my feminism informed my belief that I could apply, attend, and graduate from university (the first woman in my family to do so); that I could pursue career paths at home or abroad (which have taken me to the Bay Area, Washington D.C., India, and Israel); that I could find a respectful life partner in the man I was so fortunate to marry; and could become a working mother to a beautiful daughter (although I admittedly have yet to find the balance in the work-out of -home/work-at-home dynamic, and maybe never will).
In what ways do you share your feminism with others?
I like to think that the way I live my life is a sharing of my feminism with others. I try to lead by example through the kind of work that I do with Women’s Voices Now and as a 7th grade religious school teacher; and the causal, albeit heated, conversations I have with friends and family about the situation of women in the world. Again, coming from the family that I come from - my daily existence seems to be a challenge to the “feminine norm” that I am supposed to embody.
Describe your vision of a feminist world.
A feminist world is one where we don’t need to talk about feminism. Where men and women are judged based on their merit and capabilities. Where women aren’t pitted against each other in the camps of “Leaning In” or “Staying at Home.” Where we aren’t obsessed with unattainable body images that take up so much of our time and attention from things that really do matter and need addressing. A feminist world would see a serious blow to the worldwide rampant pornography industry, the trafficking of women and children, sex slavery. There would be proportional political representation in government. There would be mass, public clamor for decent paid maternity and paternity leave, more money in education, no arguments over planned parenthood and a woman’s right to abortion. Boys and girls in high school and college campuses would sit down together and understand from each other why there is such an alarming volume of sexual assault on campuses and how to make that something of the past. Basically, in a feminist world all of our social ills would see some serious progress on the path to healing and improvement.
How I Define Feminism:
Feminism is a consciousness that entreats the world to do away with the inferior-superior binary placed upon the identity of male and female, women and men. It inspires humankind to be its best self and to strive for a more equitable, peaceful, kinder, more sensible future. It seeks to do away with senseless hatred, to encourage acts of loving kindness, and to generate empathy between human beings - the only human emotion by which we are going to survive.
Heidi's career as a human rights activist and professional began with her involvement as a volunteer coordinator and project manager for the U.S. office of the Tibetan Nuns Project. In 2003, she served as an intern in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (previously the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus) in Washington D.C., and was then hired as a congressional staff assistant for Rep. Tom Lantos.
In her work with the U.S. Congress (2003-06), Heidi served as a non-immigrant visa specialist in the Lantos District Office (CA-12), as well as assisted with international human rights casework. In 2007 she began working with the Palestine-Israel Journal in East Jerusalem, where she launched the Journal's first online blog. Heidi is the author of numerous print and online articles and op-eds examining the women in the Middle East and North Africa (especially Kurdish women of Turkey and Syria), and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Heidi has served as the executive director of Women’s Voices Now since 2012, in which capacity she created and is co-editor of The WVoice. Heidi is a junior researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. She holds an MA in Middle Eastern and African Studies from Tel Aviv University (2013), an MA in Public Policy from New England College (2007), and a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley (2003), with a double minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, and Religious Studies.