I am from a classically southern small town in the River Valley of Arkansas. There are probably less than 800 people here; the school district is the next town over, and you have to drive an hour away if you want to do anything fun. It is definitely an 'everyone knows everyone' kind of place. There are some things we don’t really talk about in small towns like this, like feminism or women’s empowerment. I, on the other hand, am a loud and proud feminist, but I haven’t always been like that.
I definitely had to learn a few things on my way to becoming a feminist. It’s not just supporting other women, and it’s definitely not thinking that women are in some way superior to men. I had to learn that it was about being proud of who I am but also being willing to grow and constantly educate myself. Many people don’t realize that men can be feminists as well. I feel that it is important for men to use the voice they have to stand against injustices with women. Not only do feminists support women, they support minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and so many more. The goal for a feminist is to spread love and fight for those who have been treated unjustly. It is to stand up for what is right and work to fix the wrong.
At times, I question my feminism when I find myself judging others. It's easy to look at another person and make assumptions about them based on hair color or how they choose to dress. I cringe at these thoughts, but working to better yourself and change your way of thinking isn’t easy. When I catch myself thinking about what I don’t like about someone else’s outfit, for example, I stop myself and reevaluate. They may be confident and happy or self conscious, but regardless, I have no place to do anything other than support and encourage them. I want people to see me as more than the clothes I wear or how I look. In a world where we are told to follow so many societal standards, we should not make more for ourselves or others.
I am a feminist because I believe in supporting those like my mother who showed me what it was to be a strong determined woman. She played the role of both parents as a single parent and for a period of time, she worked four jobs to allow me to continue to do the things I love. She worked to ensure that my brothers and I could do anything we wanted. She is an example of the kind of woman I constantly work to be.
Gabriella Stokes has been a close friend of mine since preschool, and she was the first person to show me what it was to be an activist and truly support others. She is passionate about the things she believes and won’t back down for what she feels is right. She is my go to for any rant about unreasonable double standards and has helped me learn so much. Gabbie started my passion for politics and feminism.
It took me a while to figure out my beliefs and be confident with who I am, but I am glad I took the time to educate myself beyond the views of my small town. As I look through social media and see other feminists, I am proud to say I belong to this community of people who stand up for what is right and encourage others to do the same.
HarLeigh Smith is from the small town of Altus, Arkansas. She moved from Ozark High School to the Arkansas School for the Maths, Sciences, and Arts where she lives throughout the school year as a writing student. Her writing inspiration comes from her mom, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.