Feminism is not a dirty word, but learning what it means is key

Juliette Bretan 25 October 2017

I was first introduced to feminism at the age of 11 when, in the first week of my status as a naïve Year 7 navigating the complexities of secondary school education for the first time, my form tutor announced proudly to the class that she was a feminist and that we, too, should consider the concept in all of our future endeavours.

We looked at each other, baffled. Feminist? What’s that? I think the majority of us had never heard the term before – and those who had been introduced in previous years knew it carried vociferous baggage. We did not want to be activists yet, we thought; we were the young, new members of a vast school, and we couldn’t possibly allow ourselves to be involved in politics before we had even been set our first piece of homework. Our tutor went on to explain the implications of the term; the reasons behind it; the history – but we remained stumped in ignorance. Later that day, when I went home full of the events of the school hours, I refrained from telling my parents about what she had said; I was terrified of being pulled out of the school I had only just become a part of through anxieties over the propagandic influences education could teach.

Feminism, to me, is a symbol of that naïvety. It is only now that, looking back, I realise how important it was to take part in that upward learning curve, to gain a full comprehension of what the movement actually stands for. Over the years, that same teacher taught us so, so much about what feminism can do for the world: the equality it can bring to women and men alike; the empowerment it promises; the individuals it has helped. Now, I am a proud member of an all-women’s college; I write for feminist magazines; I stand up for everyone, no matter who they might be, because I know it matters. I’m still learning approaches even today, too – moral education is a lifelong journey.

Ignorance, however large or small, is something that can hold you back: as it turns out, that teacher was right about everything she told us, despite my misconceptions at the start. Feminism has enabled me to carve my own identity – and you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be teaching any of the children ever in my care exactly the same.