“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke . . . She will need her sisterhood.” -Gloria Steinem
This probably had to be the most difficult blog post to begin… merely because it is so dear to my heart. The advancement and support of my fellow women and girls of all ages, is a cause which I have been devoted to for what seems like my entire life since the first point of consciousness. How could I not be? Granted, I live in a world where my female contemporaries of the Millennial Generation have at best struggled to understand the word “feminist” and at worst refuse to acknowledge the importance of the women’s movement, dismissing it as something they cannot relate to. On the contrary, as an educated young woman who is never done learning and advancing, that attitude is one which seeps of privilege. I understand fully that feminism is the reason why I am sitting here writing this blog as a young Muslim woman of middle-eastern descent. In fact upon examining recent events in the world and in popular culture, the issue of feminism is now as important of a discussion as ever.
The question on everyone’s minds these days in regards to feminism, is in fact the actual definition. When asked if she were a feminist, I actually felt an endearment towards fellow model Kendall Jenner, as she was honest enough to admit she didn’t want to comment because she was “not educated enough on the subject.” To be understanding of her situation, Kendall was still a teen at the time of her comments, so this can also be attributed to inexperience… yet it is the reason why this discussion still needs to exist. Lana Del Rey had a more downplaying stance as she dismissed the idea for being “not an interesting concept.” I myself am a fan of Lana and I support her right to choose her own opinion on feminism, be it exciting or unexciting. However, her response did make me wonder what would pique her interest if for example, she were told that she could not sing about certain topics by the owner of her record label because they were “unladylike,” or if she were given a less lucrative contract than a male counterpart for the same level of sales and performance (or even a higher level) merely because she is a woman. There practices did and still do exist in not just the music industry but many others. What happened to empathy? What happened to understanding? What happened to broadening one’s mind and horizons in search of enlightenment? Is it requisite to directly experience something for it to be understood, rationalized, supported or acknowledged? Have we as a society somehow determined that we are all equal now, it’s all okay and there’s no need to look back upon what it took to get us there? That thought is nothing short of scary. On a positive note, talented young songstress Ariana Grande penned a heartfelt essay on her Twitter account, referencing the very Gloria Steinem quote I used above. She wrote a raw and truthful view of her experiences with inequality in the media and in the industry, and I gained new hope for my generation of feminism with her comments. However as far as those in the public eye are concerned, the Arianas of today tend to seem few and far between, lost in a sea of confusion and interpretation.
In truth, feminism is not a bad word. It is synonymous with “choice.” A feminist believes in the freedom of choice regardless of gender or imposed gender rules. If you believe in equal rights for all people, you are a feminist. If you believe that everyone should be paid the same wages for the same work, then you are a feminist. If you believe that all people should have equal freedoms rights and privileges, then you are a feminist. A good synonym for feminist is “equalist” however I find this label to problematic as it minimizes the issues that are specific to women and to the pre-existing imbalance of power which women have felt since the dawn of time. Yet even men can be feminists! I know of many, and new awareness is being brought towards this bridging of the gender gap, such as the “He For She” Campaign spearheaded by actress Emma Watson which advocates an understanding of feminism by prominent male celebrities and figures.
Speaking of bridging the gender gap, we are in fact on the cusp of a brand new facet of feminism. Thanks to the popularity and bravery of such luminaries as Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender community has taken the forefront in the cultural arena. Long ignored and considered taboo in many parts of the world, the transgender movement is having an epic moment in society as their unique struggles and the issues which affect transgender people the most have become a major topic of discussion. Supporting the journey of those in the transgender community and fighting for their equal rights is tantamount to what truly makes the feminist movement, and as a feminist I proudly support not only the transgender community but the LGBT Community at large. However it also means that I support the “Straight Asian Cello Players Of America” and the “Queer Tahitian Bridge Club Of NYC” and the “Robot Society Of Cleveland” because a feminist believes in equality and choice on the most rudimentary, simplistic level. In fact, to me the beauty of feminism is in its utter simplicity, the simplicity of an even playing field and a clean, equal slate.
I have always been a feminist, as I have always believed in equal rights for all. These beliefs shaped my destiny and my actions. Actions which led me to the steps of the famed United Nations Plaza, on May 21, 2015. Draped in a Ralph Lauren ensemble bearing the colors of the great American flag, I received the Distinguished International Humanitarian Leadership Award from The National Council Of Women Of The United States Of America. The National Council of Women of the United States is a coalition of Organizations and individuals dedicated to the realization of full participation by women in every aspect of society. National Council of Women represents all races, creeds, and traditions. It is the oldest non-sectarian volunteer organization of women in America, celebrating 125 years of service. National Council of Women of the U.S. is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization with the Department of Public Information and consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
I was presented with the award by Her Honor President Of The Women’s Council Mary E. Singletary along with Ambassador Of Zambia To The United Nations Isaiah Zimba Chabala and some outstanding activists Women’s Council Youth Leaders Karen Opong, Ri’aasa Toppin and Dahana Louis. The awards ceremony sponsored by Coca-Cola and other major brands, also included a fundraiser auction and menswear runway show featuring dapper designer Jacques Isaac and painfully handsome male models from New York Model Management, who all donated their beauty and time for a great cause.
Below is a transcript of my acceptance speech, delivered at approximately 8PM EST on May 21, 2015 at United Nations Plaza:
“Ladies, Gentlemen, members of the esteemed Women’s Council. I stand before you tonight, as someone who never imagined I would be here. Recognition was not the road I was searching for, on the path to healing the suffering of others… But the truth is the issues that pertain most to women, are the ones which people historically do not feel comfortable speaking about. As young women we are so often told NO. We are told to stand down, to be soft spoken, courteous and apologetic. We are told to be obedient and complacent. Yet I never felt as though women could be put in a box. I never felt as though we as women could be homogenized and tamed… Nor should we be! Rather, when we allow our intellects, imaginations and spirits run free without the man-made constraints. I wish there were just one woman I could dedicate this to… But there are so many names, so many faces, so many stories that have yet to be told. So I dedicate this award to all the women who felt that they didn’t have a voice in this world… To all the women who were silenced. To the women who were oppressed. To the women who were forced to bear the consequences for the crime of being a woman, set forth upon them by tyranny. Yet I also dedicate this to the trailblazers. The women who had learned the gift that all women possess- that inner voice which allows the woman to endure the pains that only women feel in this lifetime. That inner voice, that inner strength that tells us to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity. That voice that told Joan of Arc to hold steadfast in defense of the city of Paris. That voice thay told Malala Yousafzai to keep going to school, no matter what the Taliban said. That voice that told me that I could be anything I wanted to be despite what anyone categorized me as. It is today that we stand together as a collective voice, in the face of all those who refuse to recognize that we as women are part and parcel of what makes our world turn. We are an indelible mark, a force to be reckoned with, and we are second to none. Thank you all for joining us this evening, to my lovely friends present today whom have supported me in my causes, the wonderful women of the UN Women’s Council for serving women’s rights for over a century, to the honorable President of The Women’s Council the MAGNANIMOUS Mary E. Singletary and Women’s Council Youth Leader Karen Opong for seeing something special in me. To the GENTLEMEN in the crowd I really want to thank you all, particularly the great Isaiah Zimba Chabala, Jacques Isaac and all of the male models.- as anyone who has stood up for women’s issues can attest- getting men to stand up for women’s issues is one of the hardest things we face from an advocacy standpoint. I applaud you all for recognizing that women’s rights issues are human rights issues- and therefore men’s issues as well. It takes a real man to speak up for women and recognize that we are in this crazy thing called life together. LASTLY… thank you to my beautiful Mom for teaching me how to be kind and open my heart to the troubles of others. She has been with me through everything, and I learned the power, love and support of a woman because of you Mama. Thank you all for recognizing my efforts to support women all around the world, and for helping to amplify my own voice towards the issues which affect women the most!”
THANK YOU TO ALL FOR AFFORDING ME THIS GLOBAL PLATFORM FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS! I still can’t believe that my efforts to help women have reached the worldwide attention of a magnanimous institution such as the United Nations and the National Council Of Women Of The U.S.! I felt like giving up so many times but the knowledge that I helped ease even one person’s pain, helps me keep going.
BELOW!!! EXCLUSIVE TWO-PART VIDEO OF A SEGMENT OF MY AWARDS PRESENTATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH AT THE UNITED NATIONS JOINED BY HONORABLE WOMEN’S COUNCIL PRESIDENT MARY E. SINGLETARY, AMBASSADOR OF ZAMBIA TO THE UNITED NATIONS ISAIAH ZIMBA CHABALA AND THE WOMEN’S COUNCIL YOUTH LEADERS! THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR THE CHANCE TO HELP UPLIFT MY FELLOW WOMEN AND GIRLS!