This is a scholarship essay I wrote in response to the prompt “What does ‘liberty’ mean today?”
LIBERTY: A SEED OF SOVEREIGNTY
Liberty is not synonymous with Freedom, despite their similarities in implications. Freedom is a theoretically measurable power to proclaim and endeavor. It is the state of being free, as opposed to confinement, external control, or interference. Freedom is actually closer in meaning to today’s connotation of privilege: it is something that can be given. This implies that it can also be taken away. Liberty, however, is something inside a person. Like freedom, liberty implies being free from certain kinds of control, but Liberty also means something more. Liberty today is defined as an authority over the self and a personal lack of societal restriction. Liberty is a goal. Movements throughout history have demonstrated that liberty is worth fighting for as a personal journey walked with many people who share ideas. Liberty starts with the self and ends with everyone else around the world.
An individual can have liberty over nearly anything. People have the liberty to buy groceries at the store of their choice, or purchase a home in the state, city, and neighborhood of their preference – given that they possess the monetary resources. Liberty exists within the people simply as the power to make choices, a sovereignty of the self. This is an idea promoted by the third-wave feminist movement. A person’s body belongs only to the self, and what each of us does with – or to – that body it is entirely up to us. Goals of today’s feminism expand beyond the suffragettes’ goals for political equality, and expand into topics including intersectionality, sexual liberation, and economic balance. The brave women who led the first feminist movements allowed the seed of progress to grow within them, and while their branches provided shade for those without the seed, their fruit spread to the minds of many. The shade of progressive branches also provided shelter from the patriarchal sunshine for the women whom had no idea they had been squinting and sweating all their lives. By chain reaction, eventually an army of trees were pollinated even if their roots were embedded in stubborn cement.
The growth of an enlightened seed is displayed eloquently in Kate Chopin’s novella, The Awakening (1899). Considered by many to be the first American feminist novel, The Awakening was extremely controversial for repelling traditional gender and social norms. As the protagonist’s “inward contemplation” grows into a realization of her own oppression, there is a collection of consecutive events in which Edna Pontellier displays her power of choice. The development of society has exceeded that of 1899 when The Awakening was censored for immorality, and the liberty that Edna exercises over going on an outing and painting as an expression of emotion are liberties accessible to most women today. However, today’s women face new challenges that require new fights for personal sovereignty. These challenges include struggling to maintain authority over what we put or keep in our uteruses, or being hypersexualized whether we are wearing a bikini or burka. Once again we find our personal Liberty threatened as our voices are marginalized and even dismissed.
Nevertheless, squashed voices have demanded to be heard before, and they will demand to be heard for as long as it takes for those voices to be triumphant. Liberty will stubbornly thrive due to a persistently steady rise in personal awakenings in young women around the world about their rights over themselves. The solution to these challenges begins the same way so many other solutions to social challenges have begun: with the seed of Liberty. Only by nourishing that seed of personal liberty–by realizing that we have the agency to make our choices in ways that will help ourselves and others–is the first stepping stone to a world-wide garden of insurgent, independent choice and awakened, autonomous thought.