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Being a Feminist in a Pro-Trump Community

By Melissa Lipari

As I sit at my tiny desk in my parents’ home, the home that I grew up in, I look out of the window to see Trump/Pence 2020 signs on my neighbor’s lawns. Growing up in the rural town of North Hanover, New Jersey - a small township in New Jersey’s greater Burlington County area - I have always been exposed to far-right beliefs and practices. My elementary school was filled with PTA stay-at-home mothers, because men were always the breadwinners in this community. My middle school banned female students from wearing yoga pants and leggings because it was too “distracting” and gave male students “the wrong idea”. My high school never believed in the importance of proper sexual education, we were taught that sex was for “adults” and that abortion is not a reproductive right for a woman’s body. 

It is still hard to believe that practices like these were not only recommended, but enforced in our school systems and our everyday way of life. It became increasingly apparent that being a feminist, in a community that has always silenced women’s beliefs and rights, was not going to be an easy fete. In order to understand and hone my own version of feminism, I had to leave the Pro-Trump community that I was raised in and open my wings to the new age.

I left my hometown and moved to New York City in 2017 - living with relatives as I began my educational career at LIM College. Living in New York City was not a total culture shock, though it might seem to be at first glance - from my seemingly sheltered upbringing. It was rather the medicine I needed, in order to cure myself from being surrounded by staunch conservatism, to embrace the true meaning of radicalism. Radicalism has always been portrayed as a “dirty word” but having progressive parents made me realize that this is untrue.

 I was born in Brooklyn. It was the place that my parents either immigrated to or were raised in. Living across the bridge in the “forgotten borough” of Staten Island, felt like the best of both worlds. I always felt that being from New York had given me a more progressive outlook on life, which once again, I had my parents to thank for. We learned to be open-minded from our own inward desires, but also from our surroundings. I was now living in a community that was still a bit more conservative than its neighboring boroughs, but was rich in culture and diversity. Staten Island also happens to be a short ferry ride to downtown Manhattan - which became the island that fortified my feminism, radicalism, and progressivism.

As my college career developed, I started taking courses such as Women’s Studies and Critical Thinking, that tested my prior knowledge and birthed me into the budding feminist that I am today. I began to deviate from the path that I was exposed to for about 15 years of my life and I leaned into my gender in one of the most terrifying times to do so. Feminist writer, Sarah Ahmed, has a fantastic book entitled “Living a Feminist Life”- which if you take one thing from this article - I hope you purchase this book, borrow it from a friend, or read it online. 

In “Living a Feminist Life”, Sarah Ahmed dedicates an entire chapter in her book, towards the term “direction” and how it shapes the world we live in. In the teachings of Ahmed, she describes how directionality is the deviation from the norm and the selection of one’s true path. To quote a passage from her chapter on directionality, Ahmed writes, “Norms become striking: holdable as palpable things. Once we are stricken, there is still much work left to do. The hardest work can be recognizing how one’s own life is shaped by norms in ways that we did not realize, in ways that cannot simply be transcended” (Ahmed, 2017, p. 43). I felt that it was my duty as a woman, to put in the work towards being the feminist that my community hid me from, in one of the most pivotal times in history for women’s rights.

I made the decision to move back home for financial reasons in late 2019. I decided that it was smarter to live in New Jersey and commute twice a week, than to live in the city and rack up debt that I was quickly putting myself into. As I came back to my conservative hometown, I felt a bit claustrophobic at first. I felt that New York City gave me the breath to speak my own opinions, I didn’t have to pretend during a dinner at a friend’s house that I agreed with all of the policies that were demoralizing towards my gender. Though the transition was tough, I never lost my core feminism. I would look at a MAGA hat before and cringe in fear and disdain, now I look at them and thank myself, for pursuing a political lifestyle that deviates from the local norm.

Though I can no longer attend rallies or marches, there are small steps that I can take to still feel like my voice is heard, even though I live a bit far from most major cities. Whenever I have the chance to, I sign petitions towards my local legislature. I educate myself, through reading feminist texts, which keeps my beliefs intact. I no longer cower in fear when I have to talk about political topics, I stand up for myself and my beliefs. I am not a perfect feminist, I mean, are any of us perfect feminists? However, I have learned in the age of Trump, how to be a feminist that puts in the work to create a space for myself in this world - even though the space for women seems very small. Regardless of who is in the White House, we have to keep our minds sharp and our voices heard. I plan to always have my voice heard, whether I am in rural New Jersey or in bustling New York City - from the reign of Trump and beyond.

Below, I have included a list of things that everyone can participate in to exercise their feminism, even if you don’t live in a major city.

  1. Volunteer at a Local Sexual Assault or Crisis Center, Women’s Shelter, etc.
  2. Join Local Feminist Facebook Groups
  3. Start your own Feminist Group (either online or in person)!
  4. Support Local Women-Owned Businesses
  5. Sign Local or Global Petitions Towards Women-Based Issues

References

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Living_a_Feminist_Life/yfCzDQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcover

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