FEL was founded by Rosanne Schot and Liang de Beer because of a dire need for feminist activity in Leiden. This is something I immediately noticed when I was looking for feminist activities in Leiden: the FEL website was one of the first results I’ve got. I immediately sent an email expressing my interest in the voluntary position. From there, I have ended up chairing this wonderful association!
How did we get here?
After a 2 hour meeting with Rosanne, Liang, and Roosmarijn –and while I was going on a tangent about how much feminism meant to me – they stopped me mid-sentence and asked me whether I would have been interested in the position of Chair of the board of FEL. My immediate response was what it probably is to a lot of women: “Meeee?! Why? How? I don’t have any experience”. I simply had never seen myself represented in a leadership position, so I just assumed I was unqualified. After they told me the reasons, they asked me to think about it over the weekend, and a very interesting recollection suddenly began.
I started to remember how, throughout my academic and professional career, people had told me they thought I had “leadership qualities” – whatever that may mean. I always brushed it off as peoples’ roundabout way of telling me I was what is often referred to in women as “bossy”. I simply never took it too seriously and just did not think it to be an option for me. I also was never socialised or even given the opportunity to develop qualities that are associated with leadership in our current patriarchal society. These qualities being: dominance, control, and aggression.
I also asked the people around me whether they thought I was up for a job like this. The answer was a resounding “if anyone is going to chair a feminist organization, it is going to be you!.”
I was so surprised. I think many women and young girls fall prey to this mindset. It is easy to then brush it off as it being simply something “not for me”, if you have never seen yourself represented in a leadership position. Books such as “My mom the president” are not something my generation grew up with. This type of messaging is something FEL is adamant on fighting.
And while I was frightened out of my mind, I decided to call Liang that Sunday and tell her that, after careful consideration, I had decided to do it. I did warn both her and Rosanne that I wasn’t not a fan of public speaking, but I would be willing to work on it. I also reminded them that I had no idea how to run an organization or to be a spokesperson. I just had my lifelong obsession with anything feminist coming from living in the intersection of (CIS gender) female identifying and being a person of color. They assured me that this lived experience together with my corporate training and Psychology degree in the making, would be more than enough.
And honestly, it has been hard organizing, dealing with bureaucratic issues and mobilizing new people to help the cause, but I will be forever grateful that these ladies saw something in me that I never saw in myself. This is the power of solidarity, of sisterhood, of withholding judgment, and spewing compliments – instead of doing the opposite and being in competition with one another – as we have all been conditioned to do in this late-capitalist and patriarchal society.
Solidarity, compassion, and awareness of the cause constitute the first steps, the core values that we would like to pursue as FEL. The amplification of female* voices and narratives are the focus of the events we have in the making for our term. We know that we are not alone and that we are supported by an intercultural and intersectional community that together with us, strives for equality and the end of oppression.
*Female: Devika uses the term female here, however this does not describe the way we would prefer to speak about gender. FEL is for everyone; people identifying as women as well as people who want nothing to do with the archaic gender binary.