Over five hundred men and women from colleges around the country assembled into the Hilton Crystal City’s overflowing ballroom for the eighth annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference last weekend.
I was one of these feminists.
This conference was organized and funded by Students Taking Action for Gender Equality and the Women’s Center. Sitting in the front row on the first day of the conference with six other feminists from MCLA by my side and a room full of women’s rights activists is a remarkable experience. Having strong women like Sandra Fluke, Eleanor Smeal, and Shelby Knox almost in arms reach was inspiring in itself.
“Show me what a feminist looks like,” chanted the Feminist Majority campus organizers.
“This is what a feminist looks like!” The entire room echoed.
After years of fighting for gender equality and listening to politicians, celebrities, and even fellow students bash feminism, I was ready to do something. As was everyone else.
All I could focus on was the fact that all of the women and men in the room understood where I was coming from instantly. They shared similar stories to mine. They believe in feminism, in equality, in the power of women. They were fired up.
I spent two days listening to feminist speakers from women’s issues organizations and female politicians across the globe who have fought the war against women for years. I joined workshops that tackled domestic and global issues, from birth control access to women’s representation in congress and the media.
Women make up 51 percent of the United States population, but only 17 percent of congress. For every dollar spent on birth control, over four dollars is saved. One in four women will be sexually assaulted, abused, or raped during her lifetime and one in six men will experience the same.
These disturbing statistics were printed on buttons, mentioned by panelists, and resonated by students.
These are real issues. Women’s basic rights to have a voice, to make our own choices, and to be respected and safe in our society are threatened even today.
The message of the conference was clear: the youth voice matters, especially in the upcoming election. In order to make a difference and to represent our voice, we must educate ourselves about these issues and make an informed vote!
“Everyone in this room, right here, knows what is at stake during the upcoming election,” activist Shelby Know stated. “The battleground is our bodies. We are the leaders of the fight against us. We are going to run the feminist revolution. We are not the future, we are the now.”
On the last day of the conference, MCLA students bound together with other feminists from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and Boston natives to lobby congress.
Our target: Senator Scott Brown.
But, he was on vacation, so we settled for the next best thing: his women’s issues staffer.
We demanded our right to marry whoever we choose, no matter the gender. We spoke for reproductive justice and to end violence against women. We stressed the importance of the youth vote and having our voice represented during the upcoming elections.
After our allotted 30 minutes, we walked out of the office with our heads held high, our feminist buttons proudly pinned onto our business attire, and a strong sense of empowerment.
Inspired, but tired, we set out for our return home.
This, right here, me. This is what a feminist looks like.