Student view:

Claire Jordan: I Thought I Was a Feminist

Sept. 2, 2014

Claire Jordan, a College of Agriculture and Natural Resources senior, is majoring in environmental studies and sustainability, and minoring in women and gender studies with a specialization in international agriculture.

This summer – between my junior year of college and my senior semester – I carried out a research project in Malawi with Robert Richardson as part of an Undergraduate Research Scholarship I received. This project was unique in that it combined three areas of focus that exist within my curriculum: my degree in environmental studies and sustainability, my minor in women and gender studies, and my specialization in international agriculture.

I had spent many months leading up to this summer cultivating this project so it was no surprise that by the time July rolled around for data collection, I was practically running onto the plane. While there are many things to touch on from my experience in Malawi, one of the biggest takeaways from this trip is my changed perspective on feminism.

Prior to my experience in Malawi, I considered myself to be a pretty “good” feminist. I felt pretty well versed in feminist topics and theories, and I also identified as an active member of the feminist movement. What I wasn’t doing, however, was acting as a global feminist, the true way to be a feminist.

Claire Jordan with Malawi womenThe women farmers of Malawi taught me how to do just that. I learned from these women how the current, primarily white Western-dominated, feminist movement doesn’t necessarily include everyone. They taught me that while woman everywhere are simultaneously oppressed, each woman faces different types of oppression and has her own narrative. I understood better how my actions as a white, Western, liberal feminist impacts the lives of these women farmers and affects their efforts in the feminist movement.

I began to see the nexus between my actions as an environmentalist and my actions as a feminist. In the same way that I strive to be a mindful consumer and live in a way that causes the least harm on the environment for myself and for every other inhabitant of the earth, I started to understand how that principle applies to my actions and experiences as a feminist.

How I live my life as a white, western, American impacts the climate and the environment of Malawi as well as how I perform my gender and engage as a white, western, American feminist impacts the livelihoods and opportunities of Malawian women. I learned that while I continue to fight for equality for all, that “all” includes the women of Malawi and all other women in the world. Fighting for the rights of American women must be combined with the rights of women everywhere.

The Malawian women taught me what it takes to be a more inclusive feminist and that is a lesson for which I am grateful. My experience in Malawi not only strengthened my passion for both movements, it made be a better participant and ally to people all over the world.

While I thought I was a feminist, and I thought I had a good grasp on what it entails to be an active member in the movement, I quickly learned I was only half a feminist. I hope to be able to move forward and utilize this new found knowledge to not only be a more comprehensive feminist, but to be a more mindful person. Bringing together both the feminist and environmental movement, I plan to spread what I learned to create better well-rounded movements.