The Feminist Life: Malala Won’t Use the F-Word

A new column exploring women’s rights, promoting gender equality, and confronting sexism

On October 9, 2012, I had just returned to my New York City apartment in between classes at Columbia Business School when I saw the headlines: “Taliban Gun Down Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights.” Enraged and hopeless, I felt that the world had imploded and the promise of a better future—of equality between men and women everywhere—was dimmer than ever.

Back then, I had no idea that the then-unidentified girl would survive, let alone become a global crusader fighting for the right for girls everywhere to go to school. For Pete’s sake, a few weeks ago she even won the Nobel Peace Prize. I never could have anticipated I would one day sit 10 feet from that girl—Malala Yousafzai—as she talked to Ronan Farrow at last week’s Forbes Under 30 Summit.

While Yousafzai was candid and at times even wry (My favorite quip: “In Pakistan, I had eight or nine books in my 15 years, and I was thought to be the bookish girl.”), what was more striking was what she didn’t say. “Would you consider yourself a feminist?” Farrow asked. “Well, I fight for women’s rights,” Yousafzai began, “and I believe everyone has equal rights as men have.” She then meandered, reiterated her stance on education for all, and after a minute or two, concluded a rousing speech without answering the question.

Horrified, I realized that Yousafzai, the great emissary who emerged from near-death to fight for the rights of girls around the world, was not going to proclaim herself a feminist. I wondered if her handling of Farrow’s question—so adroitly evaded, so practiced, perhaps even canned—was the work of a PR advisor. Why would she be coached that way?

The more I thought about it, the clearer the answer became: In 2014, “feminist” is such a divisive word that identifying with it would only hinder, not help, Yousafzai’s global campaign. “We won’t force you to use the term,” Farrow relented, turning to the audience. “Does it sound like feminism to you? Show of hands?” The isolated cheers from the 1,000-person audience, positioned in stark contrast to the applause and shouts that punctuated Yousafzai’s answer, said it all: The term “feminism” did not seem especially popular, even among this group of forward-thinkers.

At first, I felt dejected that the girl who bravely spread a message of female empowerment was reluctant to publicly call herself a feminist.

Then I realized, maybe Yousafzai is right. Why polarize an audience if you can instead inspire them to act collectively? It seemed from the response to Farrow’s question that the audience at the Forbes summit was divided on the word as well. Yet Yousafzai was by far the most popular and emotional draw in a lineup that included Lauren Bush Lauren, Afrojack, and a Warby Parker co-founder. I saw in that room of innovators and disrupters, as they clamored to get closer to the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, that it doesn’t matter what you call equality as long as you’re rallying around it.

Yousafzai doesn’t declare herself a feminist, and, judging by the influence she wields and the momentum toward gender equality she inspires, that may be ok. I just want her to keep on fighting. But we still need feminism to remind us that sexism—subtle or overt—has no place in the society we’re building. As for me, nearly twice Yousafzai’s age, I’m still a feminist through and through, and that’s not going to change.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet