Image by Lia Cohen
Francesca Parreñas is a fourth-year UCLA student studying geography. She is a resolute feminist and outspoken activist, and believes that “Feminism is about accepting and acknowledging difference in people not in an attempt for equality but for equity. Equality looks different to different people, and I think instead of trying to be equal, we can actually recognize, talk through, and embrace our differences. People have differences in race, gender, class, sexuality and so on, so it will never be an even playing field. Thus feminism is about ensuring people are treated with equity.”
Parreñas became interested in feminism through her own lived experience and her exposure to feminism from a young age. She was born into a family of strong women, surrounded by six sisters, her mother and her extended family. She remembers her sisters, who were ethnic studies majors at UC Berkeley, coming home and throwing around ideas they had learned in school, like intersectionality (a term coined in 1989, the year of her birth). Eventually, Parreñas herself absorbed what was going on in the activist space. Growing up in this way, Parreñas recalls identifying as a feminist from very early on. As she grew older, however, Parreñas realized that despite her feminist ideologies, she felt a lot of shame around being a woman.
“When I was younger I wanted to hang out more with men, I only listened to male musicians, and wanted to be seen as strong. As I got older I realized that as much as I thought I was a feminist, I didn’t realize how much shame I had in femininity and how much I associated femininity with weakness. Just as feminism has gone through ebbs and flows, my own feminism has changed. I have realized there is no one definition of what it means to be a woman,” says Parreñas.
For Parreñas, sex-positivity really helped her understand her own identity and feminist ideals. Sex positivity is a movement that emphasizes safe sex and the importance of consent, and encourages safe sexual activity and experimentation instead of shaming. She has also learned to balance her more masculine and feminine sides.
“The most important thing for me,” says Parreñas, “is sex positivity. Being sex positive allows me to embrace other people. As long as there is informed consent and a safe space, sex-positivity allows you to acknowledge differences.”
Parreñas does her best to incorporate her feminist practice in all parts of her life. As a woman working in the male-dominated and often conservative field of contracting, she has found herself relying on the skills she learned from her upbringing and in her adult life to take space, know her worth, and speak up for herself. Her job is to estimate how much money contracting projects will cost and to make sure that contractors stay in line with her budgets – tasks which she has found to be both challenging and empowering.
When she is not working or studying, a large majority of the work Parreñas does is directly related to her feminist practice. Most notably, Parreñas volunteers on the planning board of an organization called Women Fuck Shit Up, which puts on a music and art festival every year that celebrates all people who identify as women. The festival is organized by women of color and/or queer women, who work together to foster an environment that amplifies marginalized voices. Even though music isn’t her career, Parreñas finds that this work really strengthens her. It is inspiring for her to organize with other women and to be able to provide a platform for so many incredible artists.
“I think it’s important to get people excited about feminism, not demonize the movement,” says Parreñas. “Embracing womanhood is so awesome. It makes me so excited to get women to be proud of being women, through my volunteering and in my personal life, and it’s especially important to remember to not tear down other women in the process.”
Parreñas hopes that moving forward, feminism will continue to grow with the times and embrace change. Since feminism began, she notes, a lot of new ideas have constantly challenged the often exclusive space of feminism. She finds it very important to acknowledge these changes, like accepting trans women and recognizing intersectionality.
On the future of feminism, Parreñas adds, “There are so many facets of feminism, it’s hard to pin down where it will end up. I just hope it becomes a space that is very inclusive, celebrates difference, and embraces change. I hope people can find common ground and that the bar will continue to be raised.”
In her work and her personal life, Francesca Parreñas is an advocate for equity and a proven leader. She believes women should explore and use whatever empowers them, and envisions a world where people can be themselves. As a scholar and a trailblazer, Parreñas is stepping into her own power and challenging the status quo of what it means to be a strong woman.