Issraa Faiz '19
Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
"I just didn't think it was possible to be a Muslim Feminist, especially because, you know, you're an Arab. Isn't that, like, an oxymoron?" my friend asked, expressing a popular opinion amongst my peers. I had just referred to myself as a feminist, and her response was exactly what I had been expecting. I am a first-generation citizen. My parents are from Morocco and raised me with a love for my culture and origin. Nonetheless, growing up in the West proved to be challenging socially due to my numerous encounters with microaggressions and ignorant comments about my heritage.
I have spent the majority of my life trying to defy the stereotypes imposed upon me. My experience has been a bumpy ride of self-doubt mixed with a more powerful determination to persevere. I was not going to let anyone's opinions stop me from developing my identity. As a result, I was able to grow into a stronger, prouder and more passionate person. I am not afraid to push limits and make a statement. My outfits are bright and colorful, purposely intended to make me stand out. I walk with humble self-assurance, confident of the person I am. Most importantly, I am loud and assertive when expressing my beliefs.
I discovered my passion for social justice at a young age, but to most people, the scarf on my head automatically eliminates the possibility of me being a human rights activist. Introducing myself as a feminist has always surprised people, however, up until that day, I had never understood why. I realize now that the first aspect people notice about me is my scarf, which our society has deemed as a symbol of oppression. People often feel uncomfortable when they hear me advocate for the rights of women, because in their minds I am supposed to be oppressed. Therefore, every time I say I am a feminist, I am grouped in a separate category known as "Muslim Feminism" — which most people view as contradictory. Nevertheless, I never let this stop me from pursuing my passions.
I have considered myself to be a Muslim and a feminist for a long time, but the concept of being classified as a Muslim Feminist was new to me. I had never considered the two to be related. My religion was something that I was born into whereas feminism was something that I found on my own. Ever since I could speak, my parents worked hard to instill in me a quiet confidence. Growing up in a family mostly populated by males, I used this confidence to get the things I wanted despite being the only girl.
To this day I believe that the more definite a label is, the less meaning it holds. Terms like "Muslim Feminist" simply create boundaries that force people to feel as though they have to act a certain way because of their beliefs. Although it is human nature to conform, our minds and thoughts are constantly evolving and I do not think it is fair to limit ourselves to the permanence of our labels. By linking the word "feminist" with "Muslim," one is deducting from the significance of what it means to be a feminist, as if a "Muslim Feminist" is different from a "conventional" feminist. Both terms constitute large parts of my individuality, but combining the two would take away a certain complexity within my identity. I am Muslim and I am a feminist, but I am not a Muslim Feminist. I pride myself in having multiple layers to who I am and believe that my identity will never be as simple as black and white.
Justin Winokur '18
Stowe High School, Stowe, Vermont
Food for Thought
The memory of my first McDonald’s hamburger is still fresh in my mind. I can easily recall the way that the acidic pickles overpowered my senses, how their pungent fragrance wafted through my car and invaded my clothes. I can feel the soggy buns disintegrating atop my tongue, so unlike any other bread I have ever had, and the meager patty crumbling between my teeth. These flavors and textures are memorable because they were novel, because I was not raised on such hamburgers but tried one for the first time during a recent family car ride home from Canada. My parents were puzzled by my desire to consume a food that they had always regarded as taboo. My rationale was this: I do not eat the hamburger because it might be delicious or good for me. I eat it to learn about the world.
I was an intensely curious child. My parents did their best to fuel the flames of my natural desire to learn because, as a homeschooler, I did not have the strict schedule and resources of my public-school-going peers. In order for homeschooling to work I had to be self-motivated. My school days became about the things I wanted to learn, about the books I wanted to read and the pictures I wanted to draw. With no television, I was forced to use my imagination for entertainment. I wrote stories, visited science museums, had pretend sword fights in the woods with my friends, and learned how to play the cello. My Dad taught me to make music with a guitar and a piano, my mom taught me how to use pencils to turn three dimensions into two, I taught myself how to see meaning in poems and literature, and I learned my math facts by playing games with my family. I joined an alternative education community to study Japanese and writing. At times I took trips to art classes and yoga studios, or went to my Dad’s office and browsed law books while simultaneously growing tomatoes on his windowsills. Not once did I have to sacrifice my natural curiosity to finish my homework or stay up late to write an essay. I had freedom to educate myself and explore my mind.
My time was spent with other homeschoolers and their parents, a band of intellectuals, artists, business people, and activists. Together we took classes and talked politics, organized talent shows and had tremendous potlucks. Our dinners were not host to greasy fast food hamburgers and sugary sodas, but “weird hippy food”: salads from our backyards, vegetarian lasagna, poultry and beef raised by our neighbors, homemade this-and-that, organic everything. It was a delicious, comforting, tremendous part of my life that taught me how to value the Earth and the products of its soil. I was connected to my meals and aware of their journey to my table. To me, that was the way food should be. Yet the curiosity that I had freely nurtured screamed within me, “what else is there?” What, if this is the way food should be, could draw so many people to food so different?
I consumed the hamburger because that question consumed me. My curiosity to understand the other side of the argument and to see life from a different perspective overpowered my boundaries, for some things cannot be judged without first being experienced. The world is a massive place full of diversity and variety, and I did not want to limit myself by knowing just a part of it. I wanted to try that unfamiliar hamburger to perceive the world from a new angle, just as I wanted to attend public school and discover what was beyond my small, earthy, homeschooling community. I was taught to be curious, and that curiosity would not – will not – allow me to see life through a single lens.