How I Became An Intersectional Feminist

Collage by Judy Goldstein.

I wasn’t always a feminist. Despite having feminist role models in my life and even attending the 2017 Women's March, the decision to start calling myself a feminist was a conscious one.  

My feminist journey began the summer before 8th grade, at sleepaway camp. That summer, A Brief History of Feminism by Antje Schrupp and Patu was passed around my cabin, each of us taking our turn with the book. A dense yet witty graphic novel that spans the wide history of mainstream feminism, A Brief History of Feminism was my favorite read that summer. 

The book helped me feel involved in something bigger than myself. That summer, most of my friends were becoming increasingly interested in social justice, just like me. A Brief History of Feminism acted almost as a shared secret or understanding between us. All of us were realizing together that this was a movement we cared deeply about. By learning about feminist history, I felt part of a much larger community of feminists who came before me. When I returned home and bought myself a copy of the book, I pored over it repeatedly because of the connection it offered me.  

Over the course of the next year, I started to surround myself more and more with all things feminist. I studied reproductive rights and other feminist issues, talked more openly about my experiences and beliefs, and began idolizing various feminist figures (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were my go-to's!). I felt a sense of ownership over the term “feminist,” and my actions were starting to reflect that shift.   

But as I continued to delve deeper into feminism, my love for the movement began to feel clouded. I was realizing that my Jewishness fundamentally shapes the way I experience gender. That isn’t to say that I feel like less of a woman when I’m in secular spaces. Rather, I navigate the world as a Jewish person and as a woman, but I also navigate the world as a Jewish woman. The overlap of these identities creates unique challenges and experiences that are specific to Jewish women. I was experiencing “intersectionality,” and I wasn’t seeing an intersectional lens in much of the feminism I was exposed to at the time. I struggled to unpack the many ways intersectionality appeared in my own life.  

I started seeking out intersectional feminist perspectives to hear the voices that mainstream feminism has historically forgotten. LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and low-income people were all left behind to varying degrees by the feminist movement for most of its history, but that didn’t mean that these groups went without resistance. More recently, I read Koa Beck’s White Feminism, where she writes about the oppression that has often existed within feminist spaces. This book introduced me to feminist movements that have existed outside of mainstream feminism. These movements are designed for women who are not privileged in every other way, and they often receive less media coverage. Still, their successes have empowered people of multiple marginalized identities.  

In White Feminism, I read about the kosher meat boycott of 1902, when Jewish women in New York City protested the increase of meat prices in their communities. Jewish women disrupted services, rioted in the streets, and eventually succeeded in lowering meat prices. These women, mostly made up of immigrant housewives, were not typically included in mainstream feminism at the time, which was largely focused on voting rights. Still, this moment in history feels distinctly feminist to me. 

Reading about the meat riots evoked a deep sense of pride, one that was different from anything I’d felt towards feminism before. I’ve always valued Judaism because it allows me to feel part of a community and history that is much older and more complex than myself - just like feminism does. There is solace to be found in both Jewish and feminist spaces, and I rely on that comfort to navigate the world we live in. I knew that there were Jews who were feminists, but the idea of a Jewish feminism was radical to me.  

Today I would say that  I am an intersectional feminist, and learning about the rich history of Jewish feminism helped me to arrive there. But when thinking back to A Brief History of Feminism, my introduction to the movement, I occasionally feel resentful of the limited picture it painted for me.  

Despite acknowledging the many contributions of queer and Black feminists, A Brief History of Feminism was a relatively unabashed celebration of mainstream feminism. I often feel that my experience with the book holds two conflicting truths. The book was a wonderful entry point for me, containing enough information to make me passionate about the movement, yet it left out enough to keep me curious. The book didn’t portray feminism as a simple or unchanging movement, nor did it delve too deep into the details or lose a common thread. It met me where I was and inspired me to continue my feminist journey.  

Even so, for a book that claims to overview the history of the whole feminist movement, the overwhelming focus on the feminism of wealthy white women is disappointing. A Brief History of Feminism risks perpetuating the narrative that mainstream white feminism has been and is the only acceptable and effective anti-patriarchal movement to exist. This is simply not true, but I wouldn’t have been able to say that in full confidence after reading A Brief History of Feminism for the first time. 

As time has passed, I’ve accepted the fact that I simply needed to learn more to make sense of my imperfect introduction to feminism. Pirkei Avot tells us “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” I cannot blame A Brief History of Feminism for not introducing me to feminist perspectives beyond mainstream feminism. However, it is my responsibility to use my own experiences as impetus to create a more perfect world for other Jewish girls to grow up in.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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Thank you, Lucy, for your rising voice on Feminism. Your leadership invites your peers to think about their influence as women. And your pursuit to learn and experience the landscape of possibilities is essential. As an intersectional feminist, your leadership spreads far and wide. "And let all who labor with the community, labor with them for the sake of Heaven. For then the merit of their ancestors upholds them and their righteousness endures forever. As for you, I deem you worthy of great reward....." Pirket Avot 2:@

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How to cite this page

Targum, Lucy. "How I Became An Intersectional Feminist." 25 October 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 23, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/how-i-became-intersectional-feminist>.