Entering Andover as a new Lower, Jaleel Williams ’15 soon joined Women’s Forum (WoFo) and began learning about the different facets of feminism and the various intersections that the movement has with other social issues. Williams, who went on to become the co-president of both WoFo and Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), strove to educate others about the nuances of gender identity and the misconceptions people tend to believe.
Williams highlighted the inclusivity of the feminist movement as its most captivating aspect.
“I’ve always had a very interesting relationship with gender… feminism appealed to me very early on as something that [is] easily associated with anyone,” said Williams.
Williams identifies as transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer.
“Transgender is a word to define anyone whose gender identity doesn’t match the one they were assigned to at birth. I was assigned male at birth (which meant that society determined I was a man, and I’m not one)… Non-binary just goes to say that I don’t fit into the binary system of male versus female; I’m neither male nor female. And then genderqueer, which is probably the most specific, sort of places me somewhere [in the middle] of the spectrum of masculinity and femininity. So, even though I’m neither male nor female, I do align myself somewhere on a spectrum of masculine and feminine,” said Williams.
Picture a triangle. Place femininity at one of its points, masculinity at another, and agender––or lack of a gender––at the third. All people, said Williams, are somewhere on this two-dimensional spectrum, whether their gender identity lands directly at one pole, hedged between two, or even right in the middle of all three.
“We live in a world in which our minds are formed from the moment we’re born around the concept of gender and how that concept impacts the physical and mental and emotional things around us… Because of that, everything has a gender and that gendering of the world around you has a very physical and real impact on your brain and the way you think,” said Williams.
Williams’s first involvement in the feminist movement came in the form of an eighth grade history paper.
“I had written a history paper about the act of footbinding in China, and my argument was that we shouldn’t be vilifying the women in China for foot binding because that cultural practice was remarkably similar to the beauty standards and the acts of [painful beautification] that we force on women in the West, including plastic surgery and other harmful and painful and generally not healthy acts of violence that you have to do to perpetuate these beauty standards,” said Williams.
Outside of Andover, there’s still room for improvement, said Williams. Williams believes that feminism as a movement needs to be more welcoming of the trans* community. Marginalized by their inability to adhere to society’s constructs, trans* people are sometimes seen as the invisible population, excluded from the equality-for-all-genders conversation, William said.
“If you’re thinking about gendered hierarchy, trans people are at the bottom. What’s hard with trans issues a lot of the times is just the fact that people don’t include trans women and trans men,” said Williams.
In particular, Williams hopes that feminism will soon be able to grapple with the idea of sex and gender being different entities. The movement, founded by establishing the core differences between the expectations of men and the expectations of women, falls short in its inclusion of trans* people, simply because of the complication trans* people raise to the binary.
Looking to continue participating in social activism, Williams plans to opt for a more relaxed role within the movement rather than being in charge.
Editors Note: The term trans shares the definition of transgender, but the asterisk serves as an active way to represent individuals who do not identify with the binary whom are not always immediatly thought of as under the ‘transgender’ umbrella”tity spectrum according to Jaleel Williams.*