Enlightenment within the Buddhist philosophy is defined as “attainment of spiritual knowledge or insight which frees a person from the cycle of rebirth.” Isn’t that just beautiful? Looking at enlightenment from this perspective truly makes me believe that, through sociological mindfulness and feminist thought, there is a possibility of dismantling all the forms of social inequality within our culture such as patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, etc.
My first year here at JMU I had never had a moment in my life that I would consider enlightening, nothing majorly mind altering had ever happened to me. Before sociology, I wasn’t passionate about anything, I didn’t have an aspect of my education that made me want to get out of bed and I wasn’t excited to go to class. I randomly decided that sociology would be a useful major in the general scheme of getting a job out of college…but it turned out that I was completely unaware of the fires sociology could and would spark in my life.
My first exposure to sociology that spring semester of my sophomore year was life changing. I began to see the social world in a whole new light; I began to understand how every institution, ideology and set of cultural values were socially constructed. This concept of social construction made so much sense, yet had never occurred to me as a reason why we act and think the way we do. My professor placed a major emphasis on the social construction of gender and how masculinity and femininity dictate our social interactions and expectations. He was a very passionate feminist which, at the time, was a foreign concept to me. I thought feminists were man-hating lesbians that burned their bras and never wore make-up…which I soon learned was exactly what I had been socialized to think: enlightenment. I honestly think I’ve always had my feminist opinions and tendencies but to label them as feminist was the biggest struggle because society uses the term in a negative manner to suppress female empowerment.
I think Marilyn Frye’s birdcage metaphor was an eye-opening moment for me because I had never imagined the extent to which I was affected by the systematic networks of oppression. I honestly can’t understand how a woman wouldn’t claim to be a feminist when you define the concept at the fundamental level as a goal of attaining economic, political and social equality. Through my sociology and women’s studies courses I began to learn the statistics and the facts…they’re facts for a reason. Was it a coincidence that in almost all of these scenarios of gendered violence in our society, men were the perpetrators and women were the victims? Not in a patriarchal society, which is why the basic concept behind radical feminism is so appealing because it proposes that you can’t just be equal, there will always be the patriarchal foundation which dictates how we view men and women within our culture.
Embracing feminism and accepting a feminist perspective of the world through a sociological lens has been the ultimate enlightenment. It’s a breath of fresh air to feel so liberated and empowered and shameless. I am proud to be a woman, no one can deny me that right and I will fight for it. I am not ashamed of my body, my height, my sexuality or my sex drive, as a matter of fact. I know that within our culture there is language that reinforces violence and sexism. I am not afraid to say no. I know that I have the right to give my consent. I know that if I wear a short skirt and heels that I am not ‘asking’ to get raped. I know that no matter the circumstances the victim is never to blame. I know that I live in a rape culture in which I have been socialized to understand that I am susceptible to the possibility of sexual assault and to fear it at all times. I know that as a white, heterosexual, middle-class person I am privileged but I also know that as a woman I am oppressed. I am enlightened and I am a feminist.