By Nadia Farjood
I believe in mutability, and as I continue to sculpt myself, I am acutely aware, and proudly so, that one of my defining characteristics is that I, Nadia Farjood, am female.
Upon arriving here at college, I searched anxiously to find my niche. I met twelve other girls in The Women’s Center (which I was disconcerted to find is in a basement, as is The Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department) to become better acquainted with each other, share our stories as feminists, and plan for our upcoming female empowerment conference for high school girls with an emphasis on community activism.
My introductory activity was agonizing. I was instructed to number a paper from one to fifteen with aspects that describe my personality and characteristics (culture, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, projected level of education, etc.). Then, I was asked to eliminate aspects, one by one, until the list of fifteen criteria integral to my identity was whittled down to three. My paper’s peace was short-lived. It metamorphosed from a clean canvas of me into a battleground. I slashed out aspects that I formerly thought evoked my essence, killing elements of my persona with my pen, until I came up with my final three. Being a woman was among them.
I grappled with this newly unveiled realization. I had always identified myself as a strong woman, but seeing the word “female” along with only two other words on the paper struck me. Is being female really one-third of my identity? My mind raced. How could I prioritize ingredients in the recipe of myself? Shouldn’t I focus on the whole instead of the parts? Am I more conscious of my gender than others? Do I view the world through the lens of feminist critical theory? I felt like I was dissecting myself without knowing how to use a scalpel. After all, I am a freshman (or freshwoman?).
A course I am currently enrolled in, Susan Faludi’s “The Mother-Daughter Power Failure: Women, Leadership and the Problem of Political Inheritance,” has helped me lace together some answers about my female identity, provoking me to think about where women are now, and where they have yet to go.
While progressively more and more women are becoming breadwinners and ascending to leadership positions formerly held exclusively by men, in the political sphere and corporate world women have demonstrated a tendency to wade in their own power, damming it from trickling down into the pools of younger women. Conversely, men, through political dynasties and family businesses, have exhibited a seamless transmission of power from king to heir, father to son.
For myself, I made the decision that I wanted to “pass it on” while in high school. I found that the teen years are marked by a pressure to conform to social norms and to project an image of perfection at any cost. Gossip permeates the landscape of teen life; the media perpetuates adolescent angst and the beauty quo, and amidst all the chaos, women struggle to find themselves, oblivious to the presence of a leader’s spirit within them. Through my efforts gathering intimate groups to discuss women’s issues, mentoring younger women, and coordinating charity initiatives, I now define leadership as the ability to tap into the reservoir of human potential, engineering others to emerge as leaders too.
This century needs women to pass on the baton, and women who recognize that they are standing on the shoulders of other women. This century needs women to build bridges across the great schisms that divide the waves of feminism so we can push forth in one powerful wave together. This century needs women to band together to break society’s preconceived notions about what women can and cannot do. This century needs women leaders.
Nadia Fajood, a former Minerva Leader, is a freshman at Harvard College. She is currently involved with the Women’s Initiative in Leadership at the Harvard Institute of Politics, the Athena Conference for high school girls, and the Leaders! Program, where she serves as a weekly mentor for a girl in South Boston. As the recipient of the 2009 Zonta International Award for Young Women in Public Affairs, the 2009 Women’s eNews 21 Leaders of the 21st Century Award, Nadia is active in service and hopes to continue work on behalf of the advancement of women.