What Feminism Means to Me

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Suzanne Duru, my maternal grandmother, grew up in Paris during the Nazi Occupation. All throughout her childhood she had to endure harsh orders from violent men, who painted the scenery of her childhood. She grew up in a conventional household, cocooned in a bubble of so-cial stratification. My grandmother, however, has a ferocious fire burning inside of her and, when she was 20-years-old, she moved to Algeria. In Algeria she pursued tertiary education and started working towards a degree in pharmacy.

This was in the early 1950s and, while a woman pursuing tertiary education in a male dominated field was not unheard of, it was extremely unconventional. During her time in Algeria she met my grandfather. He saw an independent, fierce, headstrong woman and fell in love with her. Not long after, they both graduated with degrees in pharmacy and moved back to France. There, my grandmother operated her very own pharmacy and loved working very much. Less than 20 years later, my grandmother divorced my grandfather.

My grandmother paved the way for the women in my family—she taught us about liberty, and how the only things that bound us were the laws of nature. She taught me that I could do whatever I wanted. She taught me that the bubble of social stratification that has been imposed on women for centuries was not stronger than me.

Growing up in South Africa, my childhood was wrapped in unconventionality. French, unmarried parents were synonymous with a wolf swimming in the midst of the ocean—unheard of. My father was the one who was financially dependent on my mother. My father was the one who spent his days at home, tending to my sister and I’s needs and doing the housework. Throughout the early years of my childhood, I was completely unaware of the prominent gender inequality that plagued my country. My grandmother had paved a path of gender equality, and I had not anticipated any obstacles.

I distinctly remember the first time I was subjected to the injustice of not having the same liberties as my male peers. I must have been around 12-years-old. It was a sweltering hot day, in the midst of a South African summer. I was going to a friend’s birthday party at a pizzeria, and my parents weren’t going to be there. I had dressed myself, and I had decided to wear a pair of shorts. When I went downstairs, ready for my mother to drive me to the birthday party, she told me I had to change. She said something along the lines of, “It’s too dangerous for you to wear shorts. Men will stare.” What ensued was a tantrum and, eventually, an outfit change.

Today, I understand where my mother was coming from. Throughout my adolescence, I had to take safety precautions wherever I went. I—along with all of my girl friends—was not allowed to take an Uber unless I was accompanied by a male friend. I was not allowed to go jogging around the block. Wearing “provocative” outfits was off the table. It was the norm to send a “got home safe” text message to my friends after hanging out. I could only go out if my parents could track my location on my phone—they weren’t being overprotective, this was the norm in South Africa.

Growing up in this environment shaped my view on the importance of feminism. While pursuing tertiary education was not an obstacle for me like it was for my grandmother, I have a much different battle to fight. I need feminism because, unlike my male counterparts, I live in constant fear. I cannot wear whatever I’d like, and I cannot walk around my block in my hometown. I need feminism, because in South Africa, being born a woman is a curse.

Later, I became aware of the importance of intersectional feminism. I became aware that, while being a woman was dangerous in South Africa, my trans sisters were fighting an even greater battle. Being a transgender woman in South Africa not only means taking twice as many safety precautions, it means fighting for your right to live. I also became aware that, despite the high rates of murder and rape on women, the majority of the ones I read about in my local newspaper were white, upper-class women. I grew increasingly aware of the misrepresentation of female victims in the media. Women of color who were victims of these crimes were hardly ever featured in these articles.

When I was a little girl, I learned about the women who fought for my right to vote, my right to pursue a tertiary education, and fought to burst the bubble of social stratification which plagued their lives, I had never envisioned that I would have to fight for my right to live free of fear. Today, I am a feminist because I am sick of being scared of wearing a pair of shorts in the South African summer. I am a feminist because I want to be able to walk down the street like my male counterparts—without a cloud of fear over my head. I am a feminist because I have grown tired of the death sentence that being born a woman in South Africa is.

By Talulla Torthe


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