Here’s a little thing about me. I love being a girl. I can get down in the mud with the best of them, but in my daily life, I like things that would be labelled ‘feminine’. I like pink and lace. I like having smooth legs and bouncy curly hair. I love experimenting with make-up and feeling light and girly. But I also believe strongly in equality. Not just for women, for everyone. I thought standing up to fight put me in a category that would ridicule me for my ‘girly-ness’. I was no naive.
Growing up I believed that calling someone a ‘feminist’ was an insult. No joke! As a child I was a tomboy, and for a little stretch I even cut my hair short like a boy and didn’t wear make-up. I dressed in tracksuits every day and spent my time playing soccer and fighting with my mom about ‘looking nice’ for events. If there was ever going to be a cliche feminist in my school, it would have been me. But I hated it! I shrunk back, just wanting to be me. Why do I have to label myself? Why couldn’t I just be a girl that like the dress like a boy? Why did I have to be a ‘feminist’?
Emma Watson said it best in her speech at the UN Conference back in 2014 when they launched the campaign #HeforShe. If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s a must!! She talks about this very cliche. We’re hearing the word ‘feminist’ and putting a very ugly picture on it. I think of a very belligerently obnoxious woman dressed to look like man, ranting about gender equality without ever giving a second to have a serious discussion or hear other opinions. A sermon, pushing her beliefs on the rest of us. Our opinion is wrong if it differs form hers. Sometimes when I think of a ‘feminist’ I hear my friends mom going on and on about the disgusting cruelty of men as she smoked and refused to shower. I see the kids teasing me at school, or the teacher who had armpit hair that they all laughed at.
(Here’s the link: Emma Watson UN Speech. Feminism has become a bad word.)
A few months ago there was a girl in my go-to coffee shop with armpit hair and hairy legs. I couldn’t care less about those choices, but she was being very obvious about holding her arms up and spreading her legs like she was a guy sitting down. Her entire self said ‘look at me, I’m a feminist and I’m going to get in your face’. I wanted to tell her that I agree with a lot of her views, but I don’t respond to her aggression. You attack me, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying, I’m going to be defensive. Of course it’s not all about me, but there are a lot of people who respond the same way I do.
I shy away from people like her not because I don’t believe in the same things they do, but because in my experience they look at me like I’m the problem. Something for them to fight and pressure. They want to tell me I’m wrong just by looking at me. This coffee shop girl didn’t ask me a single questions. She saw my heals and pink hair streak and labelled me. I’d conformed to the way ‘men’ saw me. I was playing by their rules. Her mind was made up about me based on a single look.
What are we really fighting for? What does being a feminist mean?
I believe it means the freedom to be who we want to be with no boundaries. If I want to be a man, I can. If I want to be girly, I can. If I want to switch from one to the other and never decided where to settle, I can! It goes so much farther than jobs, although that is a very strong issue. Equality means that in every situation, no matter how big or small, a person is looked at for their accomplishments and strength. Race or gender simply never once come into the equation.
It’s taken me a while to get to the point where I can say with confidence that I am a feminist. I believe that I should be paid equally to a man based on our individual qualifications. If he’s better qualified, then he can have a higher rate. If I’m more qualified, I will have the higher rater. Simple. Almost mathematical. I believe I should have the same chances and opportunities. And I believe that I have the right to be girly in all the things that I do, because I love it and it’s me.
My business partner at work, who some of your might know I have a like/hate relationship with, doesn’t realize that he’s a sexists. He believes in equality but his actions prove he doesn’t really understand what that means.
When we first started working together, I admitted to him one day that I was having a hard time focusing. I was just a little out of sorts. He asked me, in a friendly way, if I was close to my period. I laughed it off because I knew he was only half serious, but I thought about it later. If I was out of sorts at work, it wasn’t because I’m a woman, it’s because I’m out of sorts! If he was out of sorts at work what would he blame it on?
It was a one off, so I didn’t mention it. He treats me as an equal during our day to day work, so I’ve never really had a problem with any of it; until he said something similar a few months later. I just looked at him evenly, not getting upset, and told him that was the last period joke he was ever allowed to make. He looked confused, but I stayed calm and told him it was simply not appropriate. As of yet, he hasn’t made another comment like that.
Then he started dating this girl. She’s not the type of girl I could be best friends with, but she’s friendly enough. I met her on and off a few times because I spend more time with him that she does, and I knew she was a little scattered. It was obvious wasn’t on the same page with him about their relationship. Every day I heard him talk about her and it was clear to me that she thought they were committed and exclusive and he didn’t. He wasn’t cheating, it was just the mentality. One day she was wonderful, giving him all the sex he could ask for. The next she was ’emotional’ and that was frustrating for him, although he ‘understood’ that it comes with the territory. What territory? I asked him to clarify, thinking it was something about her upbringing or job. ‘Females’, he said without thinking about it.
I sat and looked at him for a moment before pointing out that seemed awfully general. His response to me after that was something about hormones, and I just stared at him for a long moment before getting up and leaving. We didn’t really talk about it again. He believes that you have to put up with a girls hormones to get… I can only assume sex.
I am a feminist. I do my job every day successfully without being burdened with my apparently wild untameable hormones. I have my period most months without going into fits of rage. My bodily functions do not in any way hinder my ability to do my job. And yet here it is, the excuse for everything I do. If I’m angry, I must be hormonal. If I’m upset, it’s because as a woman I’m more sensitive. According to him it’s just a matter of chemistry. If a man gets angry, what does he blame it on? What in his body is making him erratically emotional on a random day. It happens, I’ve seen it!
He has never once said anything cruel to me, but I realized after that how he acts when I’m emotional in any way. He treats me like a woman on her period, in the cliche way you see in movies. He believes that I can’t help it, it’s part of my gender. He’s even sensitive to it, as if he needs to make allowances for me and be gentle to me if I’m going through it, because it’s not my fault.
I have a friend, a male friend, who I’ve known for years. He and I have had several conversations about the women in his life. He admitted to me that in the work force he doesn’t even think about it. Man, woman, it doesn’t matter. For him, it’s simply true. In the workplace, he’s the least sexist guy I’ve ever met. But he admitted to me that he might have a different way of thinking when it comes to his personal life. He thinks of the girl he might settle down with eventually being a house-wife, taking care of him and their kids. It’s the family dynamic he had growing up, and it just seems right to him.
So I asked him what he would say if his wife told him she was going to work. Maybe after a few years at home raising the kids, she decides that she wants her own career.
‘I would support her’, he answered immediately. And I know that he would. There is nothing wrong with wanting a certain family dynamic as long as it doesn’t come with the thought ‘women are meant to run the home’. If you find a partner and put expectations on them because of their gender, that’s sexism. If you marry a girl and she wants nothing more than to stay at home and raise her family, then all the power too her! But it doesn’t just go one direction. If the man wants to stay home and raise the family, then for goodness sakes, do it!
The stigma is not just about what men put on women, but what men put on men, what women back on men and what women put on women! Part of the problem with gender equality is that we’re only going in one direction; fixing the role of women. What we need to do is fix both roles. It’s one thing to bring women up to a mans ‘standard’, but how about we bring men up to a woman’s ‘standard’. Go both directions and find equality everywhere. There is still pressure put on men to be the ‘breadwinner’. He has to take care of his family, no matter what. Be the ‘man of the house’. Even if his wife (or partner of any kind) goes back to work, he still has to take care of things. It’s hard to feel any sympathy there because of the very current history of women’s rights, but the inequality is still there.
My mom told me about a conversation she had with my aunt a short while ago. My sister is in her 30’s and is having a hard time finding work and making a life for herself. My aunt made the excuse that only fifty years ago, a woman would not have been expected to leave home without being married. She would not have had this pressure on her to be out and successful so quickly. My mother initially agreed with her, until she talked to me. My reaction was that if my sister were a man, there would be even more pressure on her to go out and succeed. The fact that she’s feeling this pressure at all means that in some respects we have managed to find equality. We share their stress and anxiety about being successful. Despite how much I wish she didn’t feel that pressure, it’s a win in the fight for equality. But it also shows the other side of the problem.
I think modern day feminism is taking strides to include men in the conversation, which is a massive step in the right direction. That’s the fight I believe in. All people together fighting for the same thing. Men and women fighting for equality on both sides, so that roles become blended and the lines turn grey. We need to sort out roles on both sides in order to be truly equal. Of course, I won’t argue that women have, and are still, being unfairly mistreated. Women are being judged for their sex in a massive way. I think there’s an anger because of these issues that some people can’t ignore. And that anger has been rightly deserved. We’re angry at men for stifling us. But it isn’t a fight between men and women. It’s a fight for all people all of colour, sexual orientation and gender to be treated fairly. To win this fight, we’re going to have to do it all together. It’s the right to be us, no matter what we decide to be.