Growing up in Nashville as a skinny Iranian American girl, I really cared about three things. First, sports. Running, gymnastics, and basketball. Second, math. I loved doing math problems. Third, playing with my cousins who were around my age, most of whom were boys. One day, as I was playing basketball outside with them, they all took off their shirts because it was hot. I wanted to do so as well. So, I did. Apparently, I had missed the memo that maybe I shouldn’t because I was a girl.

LeilaI did this a lot growing up, missing out on the societal signals telling me I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing, because girls don’t do that. It didn’t really register when fifth graders laughed at me for rushing to my desk to work on my math problems. It didn’t really register that maybe I shouldn’t be proud of my gymnastics-induced six-pack of muscles because it wasn’t very feminine.  And it didn’t really register that while I was so interested in school, sports, and friends, everyone else was trying to attract boys.

Turns out, my ignorance of societal pressure really meant bliss for me. I worked hard, I played hard, and never struggled with major doubts of whether I was good enough just because I was a girl.

Lucky for me, I went to school at a time when it was normal for girls to play sports and to be educated in subjects beyond homemaking. And I was lucky that women had fought before me to enter law school and to become working mother professionals.

I was lucky that feminism had been a thing long before I was born, because it allowed me to become someone I wanted to be and not someone I had to be just because I was a “girl”.

And, the truth is, I can’t fathom a life where it isn’t accepted that girls can play sports and do math. Even though I know it exists in many corners of our world.

But while feminism has been so important in my life, its gains have not been uniform for all. Working in the reproductive health community, I am very aware of this truth. I have heard from partners and colleagues that the mainstream feminist focus on the constitutional right to reproductive health care, for example, has meant less focus on other barriers some women face when deciding if and when to have a family. Therefore, while my work on protecting the constitutional right to reproductive health care is a necessary condition for protecting women’s health care, it is not a sufficient condition for many.

For some women, the question is not just whether she has the constitutional right to determine if and when she wants to have a child, but also whether she is able to raise a child without institutional violence, racism, and economic insecurity. These are the necessary intersectional issues feminism (and really all social justice movements) must work harder to recognize and to include in efforts to create a better world.

So while we continue to work to make sure women are seen, recognized, treated, and regarded as equal to men (we have so much farther to go on this point — Hollywood is just an easy example), we work to make sure that this is the case for all who face systemic oppression.

Because feminism is more than just me. And that’s the way it should be.

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