Wearing a long pebble gray dress with a white blazer, I stood in front of the UN flag and proudly represented the woman that I admired ever since I read her books in the local library: Eleanor Roosevelt. A woman of great courage and power, Roosevelt’s influence in the fight for women’s rights profoundly impacted me as I was engrossed by the notion of feminism. Even till this day, her famous quote on how “a woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water” reverberates in me. After representing her in my old school’s convention, I unknowingly seemed to be known as the fan girl of feminism at such a young age of 12.
Yet, I never had a conversation with someone on the topic; feminism always came to me in a form of research, facts, and numbers, never as a social issue. It was something that I knew I was interested in on a surface level, but it never came to me in a form of passion, as a deep-level thought.
As time passed, my interest in women’s rights drifted away from my mind as I came into concern with my introverted personality in an extroverted society. I began to research on what introversion was and what made it such an issue today. Through reading and watching videos, I discovered how I should praise my quiet personality as it yields valuable gifts and talents.
This school year, however, I joined Social Justice League, a club at school that advocates for social justice, in an effort to rekindle my temporary interest in women’s rights and perhaps deepen it. I wanted to take the opportunity to find myself back in the shoes of Roosevelt, explaining to people the great role I took in women’s rights. I hoped to make sense of the topic, to make it more tangible.
During the discussions we had in club regarding various issues on gender inequality such as how religion and cultural norms play in the issue, I was able to dissect feminism into pieces and have a better grasp on the complexities and layers of feminism. While discussing on what 21st century ideas on what feminism is, I encountered a dilemma.
Most students who call themselves ‘feminists’ are loud, confident, and aggressive, leaning towards to the extroverted side of the spectrum. They tend to show their bolder side by voicing their opinions on feminism. Even in social media, people believe that some of the most popular modern feminists are those who publicly assert their stances like Hillary Clinton and Emma Watson. Despite how incredible they are, we sometimes ignore those who express their passion in terms of words such as Warsan Shire, a Somali poet, and activist. I found myself gearing more towards the latter since I am not the most aggressive and expressive person in school. Yet, I always felt that I had to give up either one of my passions—introversion or feminism—as they often seemed to be conflicting in my opinion. So the question came to me: am I truly a feminist?
My answer came to me when I was researching on historical feminists that resonated with me. Ida Tarbell, a female journalist who played a key role in eradicating the Standard Oil Company’s monopoly, was one that I embarked on to research. I discovered how Tarbell seems to be depicted as someone who has no ties with women’s rights. To some extent, it is true- many claim that she was against the women’s suffrage movement during the 1900s and believed that women should be subservient to men. Nevertheless, I found through research that although she never verbally claimed that she was a feminist, her work of revealing the corruptness of the Oil Company was an act of advocating for women, as most journalists during the period never attempted to risk an investigative topic this risky. I also learned that Eleanor Roosevelt, the woman that I so dearly loved, was an introvert herself yet still fought for women’s rights by writing daily on a column in women’s issues such as gender wage gaps and women in war.
Like the two, women don’t always have to possess masculine traits in order to be called feminists. We don’t have to boldly assert our opinions just because that shows our passion for feminism. Instead, we can find our own way of expressing what feminism is.
By researching on Tarbell and Roosevelt and discussing in Social Justice League, I found myself back into the grey dress I wore four years ago, taking my stand and representing Roosevelt. And I asked myself again: Am I a feminist?
Yes. I am a feminist—a quiet yet passionate one.
—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)