Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part guest series by Holly Kearl, a feminist activist, blogger and author. Below is a little intro to Holly and her work. Got a great idea for a guest series? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My older sister was born with severe disabilities and because of her, my parents raised me to be sensitive to the needs of those who are discriminated against and treated unfairly and to not be afraid to stand up for human rights.
It took me a while to realize that I was part of a group that faces discrimination, too: sex discrimination.
I was raised in a Mormon household. When I was growing up, a high-ranking church leader declared feminists to be one of the three biggest threats to the church (and to families). While my parents were in many ways open-minded for Mormons, the anti-feminist beliefs of our religion were still part of the context for my upbringing. For example, I was not given a middle name because I was supposed to marry, take my husband’s last name, and turn my birth last name into a middle one. I was expected to have children, probably not work outside the home unless circumstances required it, and obey my husband.
Fortunately, I was raised in various states outside the Mormon stronghold of Utah, so I saw other ways to live. By my early teenage years, I was questioning the gender roles and restrictions I was increasingly being forced into. I did not delve into feminism, however, until I chose to leave the religion at age 17.
For me, feminism has come to mean that women can and should have the same opportunities to live and thrive that men have (though of course both women and men can face other forms of oppression that prevent this). Feminism means people should not have their life stifled or dictated by their gender or sex. Women and men are equally intelligent, capable, and worthy of respect and so the laws, societal attitudes and customs, and division of labor should reflect this.
For several years I thought my life’s mission would focus on helping persons with disabilities, but my older sister’s death has left me emotionally incapable of this; I miss her too much. In high school I thought I would become an architect and in college, an historian. But then during college, volunteer work with domestic violence centers, summer internships with women’s nonprofits, and women’s studies classes led me to another path.
Today I work as a program manager for AAUW, one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the country. I volunteer with RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. And I spend a lot of my free time addressing women’s unequal access to public spaces through my website and blog Stop Street Harassment (you can share your story for inclusion on the blog). This month my first book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, is available.
I’m 27 and I have most of my career ahead of me. I don’t know if I always will devote my full time to feminist causes. But I do know that feminism helped save my life by opening up the number of paths I could take and ensuring that my sex would not determine my destiny. And for that I am grateful.