All of the incredible things that happened to me after I became part of a feminist community

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September 17th is National Women’s Friendship Day. Here, a contributor discusses what she has learned from her feminist friends in a (semi-secret) women’s group. 

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first heard the word feminism, but I became interested in it at a very young age. I remember asking my dad if it was better to be feminist or feminine, and his answer is something I still hold on to: “Why can’t you be both?” That conversation was the first time someone challenged my preconceived (and erroneous) notions of what it means to be a feminist — for so long, I thought there was just one type of feminism and one type of feminist woman.

As I got older, I started questioning everything. When I watched movies, I analyzed their representations of gender. Sadly, I started to see people differently after realizing we didn’t agree on the definition of equality. My conversations took a shift as I started reading books about feminism. I paid more attention to how I spoke to my nieces, feeling more conscious of the message I wanted to convey to them.

Then, recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a local feminist fanzine here in Panama, La Ex Señorita. I participated in a few talks, engaged with dialogue about feminism, and networked with other progressive women.

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It was at one of these events when my friend invited me to a feminist gathering — a (semi-secret) society in which women gathered to discuss feminist issues and topics. I would get to know more about feminism and learn how to practice the complex philosophy in my daily life.

Being part of this group, this society, this community of empowered women, has taught me so much.

I’ve always tended to gravitate towards a more flexible point of view, if you will. I’d often try to understand both sides of an issue since I’m much more of a mediator — confrontation makes me anxious. However, being in this judgment-free space full of women made me confront my fears of being outspoken. I learned to defend my points of view and my beliefs — whether they are professional, religious, or personal. That space has taught me how to speak my mind — one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve received since joining the group.

In this day and age — when social media gives us the freedom to share every thought, and everyone is an “expert” in everything – it’s very rare to find people who are willing to listen and respect different mindsets. Opening yourself up to different conversations and perspectives is magical. For me, that meant learning to check my privilege. I’ve always been proud of my ability to be self-aware, a skill I owe to my career as a psychologist. Participating in this group has helped me to increase my self-awareness when I speak and when I discuss certain issues, specifically by recognizing how my education, upbringing, and social class hinder my ability to really put myself in other people’s shoes.

Personal growth follows the practice of intersectional feminism.

Acknowledging my privilege has taught me to express gratitude, to investigate, to reflect, to shut up and listen — all practices that will make the world a better place to live in.

Participating in a group devoted to women’s empowerment also does wonders for our networking opportunities. Our group has lawyers, writers, doctors, poets, graphic designers, journalists, photographers, artists, psychologists, activists…I could continue. I am surrounded by a community of educated women who are capable of answering my questions about any of these fields — it’s incredible.

The benefits of connecting and meeting with other women are invaluable.

And, thankfully, it’s something relatively easy to achieve. While writing this piece, I reached out to our group’s fearless leader, asking for some practical tips for those interested in starting their own feminist society. First, she says, connect the different women in your life who share the same goals as you do. Not only are they now able to make connections with each other, but it personalizes the fight. And it’s okay to start small – even if that means it’s just you and two more people. Slowly, the word will spread among everyone’s different networks and the group will get bigger, more diverse.

Next — and this is key — you must establish clear rules of respectfulness. At the beginning of every meeting, it’s crucial to outline the importance of respecting your members. Make a no tolerance clause: no violence, no rudeness, no girl-on-girl crimes. Then, establish how frequently you meet. Whether it’s bimonthly, once a month, or every two months – the consistency of the meetings will make your group more dedicated and reliable.

Connecting with other feminist women has been rewarding in so many ways.

I’m particularly grateful to have a space to share my frustrations, dreams, anxieties, and goals in this endless fight for gender equality. More importantly, I’m grateful to surround myself with people who challenge me and teach me.

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