The Obligation of Feminism

By Kaylyn Wade

*The following reflects the views and opinions of the writer and not necessarily those of the ExPatt Magazine Board and the Patterson School of Diplomacy.

In case you haven’t heard, Hillary Clinton is running for president. To be the first female president of the United States.

Having a woman be elected president would be a huge milestone for America. Many would say this is a milestone we should have passed long ago. Looking around us, there are a lot of countries that have already passed this particular milestone. For instance, Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, Golda Meir in Israel, Angela Merkel in Germany. Indira Gandhi in India. Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. What was that? Oh yes, you read right, Pakistan. These are only a few of the countries around the world that have already elected a female leader.

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This painting of Hillary Clinton was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the U.S. Department of State’s Flickr photostream: face.

So, looking around the world, looking at Hillary Clinton, and looking at this election in the United States, it’s no wonder that all kind of arguments have been stirred up about feminism – about the sisterhood. Do I have to vote for Hillary to keep my feminist card? Can the United States hold its place as a leader of women’s rights around the world if we continue to deny that a woman can hold our leading office? If I don’t vote for Hillary, am I betraying the sisterhood?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the sisterhood. That being said, the sisterhood doesn’t get to dictate how I vote.

A lot of my skills and parts of my personality don’t exactly scream “Feminist!” I cook well and I bake well. I love to feed people. If the weather and whatever I need to do on a given day will allow it, I will choose to wear a dress or a skirt. I sew. I recently learned how to knit. By nature, I’m a caretaker. Instead, of screaming “Feminist!” these seem to say (in dulcet, welcoming tones) “Hi, honey how was work today? Can I get you a drink?”

At the same time, I love nothing more than to talk about the evolving role of Iran on the international stage. Or about the troubles surrounding local police forces in Afghanistan. Or about how the legacy of apartheid in South Africa is still affecting domestic and regional politics throughout southern Africa. I own an anvil and a dead-blow hammer that I use on a fairly regular basis. I parallel park my own car.

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Film still from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Warner Bros. From left to right: Ginny, Molly, Harry, Hedwig, and Ron.

My friends here at the Patterson School reconcile these sides of my personality by giving me the nickname ‘Molly Weasley’. All of you reading this may not be familiar with her. Essentially, she is from a fictional world in which magic exists, she has a husband and seven children for whom she knits incredibly ugly sweaters, and when her daughter is threatened by a deranged, evil witch, Molly fights her to death and wins. She is the ultimate mother and fighter, rolled into one amazing package.  I embrace this nickname. I love that the people around me think that I live up to this image. I love that seemingly opposing parts of me are what make me the woman I am. But, even more than that, I love that every woman I know is made up of opposing facets, and none of those facets stop any of these women from being feminists. There is no one or three or fifteen sides to a woman’s personality that makes her a feminist or not. Instead, it is the way she lives her own life with all her opposing facets that makes her a feminist.

I have friends, friends whom I like, some of whom I even admire, who are “loud” feminists. For some of them, there is nothing they like better than diving into an argument about how the patriarchy is still holding women down. For others, they make it their life’s goal to educate people younger than us about the fight for women’s rights that is still ongoing. I don’t consider myself a “loud” feminist. Sure, whenever I hear a young woman say that she doesn’t think a woman would make as good a president as a man would, I get up in arms, and I do it loudly. Sure, whenever there is a man who thinks he is the smartest person in the room and then thinks that gives him permission to condescend to me, it puts me in a mind to fight. Other than that, though, I tend to keep my mouth shut and I honestly don’t know whether I think that is a good thing or not. Introspection to the side, I do like to think that I live my feminism. I live my feminism by being confident in myself, by being informed, by being a caretaker, and more than anything else by knowing and following my own mind.

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Defining American feminism in 1912. Feminist Suffrage Parade in New York City, 6 May 1912. Public Domain from the Library of Congress.

Now, we come back around to the election. Whenever I cast my vote, I want to cast it in a way that honors all the women who came before me and who fought tooth and nail to make sure that I am able to cast that ballot. What is the best way to do that? Is it to vote for a woman, to finally put a woman behind that desk? Or is it to make sure that I watch and listen and gain all the knowledge I can to make an informed, responsible decision before I cast that ballot? My answers may be different from your answers, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is casting a ballot without even asking the questions.

Would I like to see a woman elected to be president? Yes.

Do I think it has to be right now? In all honesty, no.

As a voter, I hold my own piece of responsibility for the future of this country. Because of that, it is my duty to weigh all the options before me, even if that means I have to put aside my personal desire to put a woman in the Oval Office. I want a president who does not answer a question about troop presence in Afghanistan by talking about fighting ISIS in Iraq. I want a president who does not feed into anti-Muslim rhetoric, giving radical groups easy opportunity to point at America and say, “Look how our enemies talk about us!” I want a president who realizes that negotiation is not weaker than sending in tanks or fighter jets.

Can I vote for Hillary Clinton? Definitely.

Can I vote for Bernie Sanders? Of course.

Can I look over at John Kasich and say “Now, there is a smart man who deserves my vote,” even though he’s one of those dreaded Republicans? Yes. I can.

Why is it that I can do any of those things? Because I am a feminist. And being a feminist means that I can think for myself. I can make my own decisions. And I can know that whatever those decisions are, they are my own, and that is the most important thing.


 

Kaylyn

Kaylyn Wade is a master’s candidate at the Patterson School, concentrating mainly in Diplomacy and Intelligence.  She grew up in northwest Georgia and earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in history and political science.  She began concentrating on the Middle East and Africa during her undergraduate studies, and is still primarily interested in politics and security in those areas.  Her goal is to establish a career in which she combines historical understanding with quality intelligence analysis to contribute meaningfully to US foreign policy and diplomatic practice.

 

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