I wasn’t raised a feminist. To me, that was a dirty word representing radicals who don’t shave their armpits and burn their bras to make a point. I thought feminists hated men because what other reason did they have to be so vocal. I didn’t see the sexism plaguing our world.
I made jokes about women. About how we couldn’t be president because we’re too emotional. Despite being one of the most stereotypical girls of all time, I pretended as if I was different and ‘cooler’ than other members of my gender. I’ve even used the idea of ‘I’m not like other girls’ to somehow flaunt myself. I’ve competed against and looked down on other women because they didn’t fit into the concept of female that I was taught to accept. I’ve accused women of asking for it or being sluts for the way they behave or dress.
The worst part is I didn’t see the error in this way of thinking until recently.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I spent most of my life viewing my fellow ladies as competition and constantly measuring myself against them and plotting how I could be better. I feel shame that I assumed something about a person based on their outfits or how they chose to live their life.
People tend to get upset when celebrities get political, acting as if they have no right to express their opinion. Apparently our use of Facebook to gripe about every injustice, from racism to a driver cutting us off, is completely okay. In my case, an outspoken celebrity is the root of my feminism.
If you know me, you know how much I love Harry Potter. As an insufferable know-it-all, I connected with Hermione Granger on a spiritual level and that love transcended to the actor who portrayed her, Emma Watson. A few years ago, Emma gave a speech at the UN about the importance of gender equality and it kind of blew everyone away.
Except me, at first.
At this point, I didn’t want to see the inequality we still face and was still under the conservative umbrella of my upbringing. My family didn’t see a problem with the treatment of women so neither did I. But Emma’s stance weighed on me and slowly began to open my eyes. Combine this with the incredible group of ladies I had in Pittsburgh, and it’s no wonder I became a feminist.
Suddenly I paid attention. I understood how gross it was to be cat called and for men to tell me to smile. I noticed how I get compliments at work from male coworkers beyond ‘that’s a nice haircut’ to ‘your hair looks really pretty like that.’ How men installing cable won’t talk to me about anything but instead focus on my younger brother because he apparently understands these things. Or that ‘like a girl’ is used to describe someone being weak. And maybe how a crude word for vagina is used to insult but if someone needs to be tough, you tell them to grow a pair or man up.
I have people I love who have been sexually assaulted by guys who don’t even care. People I love and treasure more than life who have been hurt by men who don’t listen the word no. Friends who have negotiated and tried to be paid equally when they’re more or equally qualified and who are continually rejected. I’ve even known people who have been hit on in a job interview and essentially been offered a job for her looks.
Writing these words fill me with rage. It’s hard to believe in 2017 these things still happen. They aren’t far off rumblings that make you wonder why women march against a man who joked about assaulting women. They’re your friends, your sisters, your mothers.
I still know people who think the wage gap can be solved if women would negotiate, which is problematic for a few reasons like a) again it assumes there wouldn’t be a problem if we were as good as men and b) it removes the blame from a society that raises children to become adults who inherently believe there is a difference between the sexes.
We teach our children young by giving cools shirts that call them cute and boy shirts that say future astronaut. We tell them they threw the ball like a girl while encouraging them to grow a pair and face the bully. Don’t get me started on the idea that boys are mean to us because they like us. Tell me that doesn’t affect us into adulthood when we pick people who treat us like garbage. When we’re learning to drive and another driver’s move is either stupid or aggressive depending if they’re a girl or boy.
Admittedly, the world is getting better. Young girls are encouraged to pursue science and clothing reflects that fact that yes, we have brains and aspirations too. Does that mean we can’t want to be a princess and find our prince? Absolutely not. The beauty of living is that we have the power to choose whatever path we want and that decision doesn’t make or break our feminist stance.
I don’t have kids yet, but I’m pretty close with my nieces, and I fight for equality so they don’t grow up assuming marriage is the highest form of being. And that it’s ok to not want children because a mother is also not the highest calling in everyone’s lives. I want them to grow up knowing that as girls, they are so unbelievably strong and equipped to change the world. I want their friendships to be filled with love and acceptance instead of competition and to learn we succeed by lifting others up and not tearing down. I want them to know they are worth as much (and more) than any boy on this earth.
I want a world where there are girls and boys but not rules to keep us safe within gender norms. I want children to grow up knowing they can be who they are and choose what they like without fear because they don’t fit into society’s definition of what a boy should do or a girl should look like that. And it starts with equality.
As it stands, I can walk into a Dick’s and purchase whatever I want, no questions asked. It doesn’t matter if it’s men’s or women’s clothing or equipment. Meanwhile I have guys come into Sephora all the time making sure I know they aren’t buying it for themselves and quickly hiding the evidence because God forbid they’re seen shopping in a girl’s store.
Long story short, sexism is everywhere. Pretending it doesn’t exist because you don’t see it doesn’t make it nonexistent. Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day and work to make a brighter future for everyone, boys and girls alike.