When I was in the twelfth grade of high school, I remember sitting in English Literature and we were discussing feminism – in particular male behaviors and structures that had changed over the years. I put my hand up and said something along the lines of “I would love it if men no longer catcalled from their cars, or made lewd suggestions in the streets when I am walking”. To this my teacher replied “it would be nice, but there is such a thing as a glass ceiling. Men will never change these sorts of behaviors”.
Breaking through this glass ceiling is exactly what being a feminist means to me. I have no interest in elevating one sex to be more dominant than the other; that is the antithesis of feminism. It is about destroying previously held beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes, about living in a world where women and men are free and do not have to live in fear; but most of all it is about equality.
This begins with breaking away from traditional gender roles. These get taught to us as toddlers, and enforced by our peers, teachers and parents. A young girl who would much rather be out riding bikes and playing sports, gets told by a parent that that isn’t “ladylike”. A talent that, if nurtured could have changed the course of a life, gets squashed; a young girl gets taught to diminish parts of her innate abilities in order to fit in. Good girls are seen and not heard; pretty, shy things. A young boy who wants to play with dolls gets ridiculed by his parents and family members. He is taught that men don’t cry, and do not play with dolls. He grows up fighting a part of himself, with nobody to turn to, and learns to keep his emotions deep inside.
Stories such as these are not uncommon, and they are resulting in extreme acts of violence and depression, and in suicide and deep fear in our society. Feminism to me means that girls and boys grow up free from traditional gender roles. Girls learn not to diminish themselves, to speak up and to stand up for what they know is right for them. Boys learn to show emotion, to ask for help, and to respect all beings. I feel this change is happening within my generation. From the wide spread acceptance and (finally) legality of gay marriage, and the blurring of gender lines and constraints, to the #MeToo campaign; with women finally speaking out about sexual abuse and men finally getting the justice they deserve for their actions – change is happening.
I would love to see a world where women don’t get told that to be successful professionally and personally they need to reduce in size; that they need to squash their appetite in order to appear appealing, and to starve their body of what it needs to function. This is yet another form of diminishing women, of distracting us from reaching our full potential. It is something that rings very true in my past, and it frustrates me to think of all the time and energy wasted – time which could have been spent exploring what I really want in life. I am sick of seeing women in the media get asked “how do you handle being a mother and an (insert occupation here)”, or more weight being given to what they’re wearing than to what they’re saying, or any of the inane questions about beauty products, clothing pieces, or “having it all”; all of which their male counterparts don’t get bothered with. I am sick of seeing women being labeled as “sluts” or “skanks” and being judged for how they choose to express their sexuality. When I have done jobs that were considered “sexy” - even though there was no nudity - I had to deal with a huge amount of backlash from people I never would have thought upset by it. I am entirely within my rights to express myself as a woman in whatever way I deem fit. And to tear another woman down because of this is buying into old gender roles, and is entirely born from a place of fear.
Feminism to me is about equality. It is about equal pay, equal expectations and equal opportunity. It is about freedom; freedom from traditional gender roles and expectations, and the freedom to choose however you want to be a woman in this world. It is about embracing woman in all our power and strength, to not diminish us and to allow us to reach our full potential. But it all comes back to equality. Feminism is not about the power and dominance of one sex. It is about both sexes being given equal opportunity to live life to their fullest potentials – after all, we all have mothers, grandmothers, sisters, nieces and cousins. To love and support your family means wanting the best for them.
We should all be feminists.