How My Immigrant Parents Raised Me To Be a Feminist

As International Women's Day recently took place on March 8th, I want to reflect on how fighting for gender equality plays a central role in my life by discussing how my parents played a part in establishing my relationship with feminism, and how it has continued to develop throughout various stages of my life. 

I am the daughter of two Iranian immigrant parents. My mother left her parents behind in 1987 to pursue a life in Canada that would provide her with more opportunities. My father was drafted to serve in the army in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. Afterwards, he arrived in Canada on his own (just like my mother) and they met in Grade 13 in Toronto. During his first month in Toronto, my dad lived in a homeless shelter. He was unemployed and barely spoke English, which made him incapable of sustaining himself as an immigrant in a foreign country. 

Eventually, both my parents found employment. My mother worked full-time between several jobs at McDonald’s, MasterMind Toys, and the Ontario Science Centre, and my father worked full-time as a taxi driver and a parking lot attendant. 

I want to emphasize that I am the daughter of an immigrant mother. This component of my identity alone is arguably the most critical in how I have been taught to view feminism. Without getting too mushy and sentimental, I want to highlight how my mother has influenced my passion for empowering women. 

My mom is without a doubt the most hardworking person I know. My dad can attest to this and always shares a particular story about how the first time he noticed my mom was because she sat in the front row of every class and excessively raised her hand to ask questions. She has always been curious and motivated. She was the first in her family to attend university, and obtained her Doctoral of Medical Dentistry from Tufts University in Boston, and later returned home to Canada to obtain her Doctoral of Dental Surgery degree at the University of Toronto. 

My mom grew up in a country that oppressed women long before she was born and continues to oppress women now, long after her departure. She travelled across the world to a foreign country with nothing to her name, a lack of knowledge of the native languages, and a strong drive to become a powerful woman. In 2012, my mom founded a dental practice, in which she continues to act as the principal dentist today. I couldn’t be more proud of her, and I certainly don’t tell her enough. 

My mom and dad have devoted their entire lives as parents to provide my brother and I with opportunities that they were not given. They sent me to Havergal College, an all-girls private school, because they saw the value in their children acquiring the best education possible. Allowing me to attend Havergal is something that I will never be able to repay my parents for because it provided me with an environment that celebrated, empowered, and challenged young women. Had I not gone to school there, I strongly believe that my feminist values would not be as developed as they are today. 

My passion for gender equality motivated me to pursue my degree at McGill in Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies (GSFS). In my classes, I learn material that constantly engages me, makes me challenge the heteropatriarchal political systems of our world, and pushes me to be a better feminist everyday. As a disclaimer, I want to point out that by looking through an intersectional lens, I am an incredibly privileged woman, and my life experiences are a reflection of that. The notion of intersectional feminism is becoming popularized, and respectively, I have unlearned many components of my initial feminist beliefs through learning to make my feminism more inclusive. 

It has been mansplained to me by men more times than I can count that “the wage gap is a myth,” or that “men and women are treated equally”, to which I’ve responded with factual counterarguments that discredit their baseless points. I’ve also used it as an opportunity to highlight how statistics that apply to qualitative problems don't resolve gender inequality. What matters just as much, if not more, is the collective attitude and mindset that society has adopted towards women. For example, the notion of being socialized to believe that a man is physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger than a woman might not seem as problematic as the number of acts of violence against women. But this mindset about women has taken form, consciously for some people and subconsciously for others, in ways that have resulted in irreparable damage in terms of how female strength is perceived through sexist and misogynist ideologies. The solution is in future generations. In how we raise boys and girls from this point forward. We must work collectively to reframe and reevaluate how we see gender, and we must teach this to those who will live after us.

I have been jokingly and negatively dubbed as a “Social Justice Warrior”, and have quite literally been threatened for promoting gender equality and social activism – but these instances have only strengthened my devotion in seeking to achieve a more gender-equal world. Everyday, my parents let me know in one way or another that they see my worth and strength, that they support my dreams and goals, and that they are aware of my potential – because being a woman is not a weakness, but is actually my greatest power. I’m not embarrassed to call myself a feminist, but actually, incredibly proud of it. Accordingly, I wish to emphasize Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s and bell hooks’ central themes in their books (which I highly recommend): that we should all be feminists, and that feminism is for everyone.