As a teenager I lived a year in Nairobi, Kenya, sharing a room with another Swedish girl. This girl had fizzy black hair that covered half her face, she sang in a electro-pop-band in Sweden, and she was terribly homesick in the beginning (which equal parts terrified me and just caught me by surprise). She was political and alternative. As for me, I was in love with the novelty and the adventure that is Africa, feeling nothing but relief for being far far away from our motherland.
My roomie was also at times incredibly frustrated with me. Why could I not just say that I was a feminist, when I so clearly had those particular opinions and often argued for the rights of minorities/ underprivileged/ for a better world/ you get it. But I refused.
I was all for equality, naturally, but I didn’t want to join a battle that was fought for and by women. During this time in my life I held in very low regard anything feminine. I had shaved my head, wore only baggy clothes, and I spent most evenings getting high with the boys, listening to hip-hop. I was not in a war against men. I did not want to promote women per se. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a woman.
A few years later I found love in Sweden (this also equal parts terrified me and caught me by surprise). No one has been more crucial for my personal development to identify as a feminist and for being able to continue the discussions of structural injustice that leads to the oppression of certain groups in society and the world.
Maybe he could do this because he too was forced to experience inequality because of appearance, tho not always gender based. Maybe he could do this because he loved me, and slowly but surely I began to love myself. Maybe he could do this because we could for hours at a time discuss everything from nature v/s nurture to class and race, bringing strong arguments to the table from several schools of thoughts.
I had gone from refusing to identify as a feminist to choosing to study anthropology with a focus on gender and sexuality at university. This mean I spent a degree worth of time learning about how gender is created in different cultures, how different people from around the globe view the body and it’s functions, what mysteries and taboo we create around sexuality.
Today, when I meet people that say they don’t want to identify as feminists, I guess I pity them. To understand feminism you are almost required to have some understanding of social science and how power is constructed. You have to be brave enough to say I live in a system that expects different things from me because of what’s in between my legs. I am aware that I have an active role in maintaining and creating my own society, for better or worse.
Feminism is the belief that all genders should have equal rights and opportunities.
Being back in Sweden it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that gender equality has come far here! Of course there is still a long way to go to utopia. But unlike in Singapore (which after all is the place I’ve spent most of my adult years), most people here recognize that our current binary gender-hierarchy is unfair and limiting, for everyone. Here, feminism and other equality battles are normal and often expected rather than questioned.
Coming back to Sweden has been a relief that I did not know I longed for. There is an underlying sense of comradery. It is also crystal clear that structural influences in society are crucial to create permanent and positive change.
I now collect and savor little moments that pile up within me and become strength. Like when the university teacher insist that the woman who in class raised her hand first should speak first and not let the guys next to her talk first even though she was herself inviting him to do so. Or when my friend is out buying a skirt to the father of her son, because the son has been teased at kindergarten for wearing a dress and now daddy decided to always wear skirts at home to neutralize this type of clothes and allow a sense of freedom in dressing up. And when I find in the Instagram account of my most favorite museum, the girls from “Girls like us”; a TV series by the state-owned channels SVT, of 5 women who identify as transgender.
It is good to be back. It is good to see with new eyes. And to be seen in another way.