So, let’s talk about feminism.
Until about four years ago, I was that young woman sitting in the back of my university lecture hall talking to another female friend and stating “I am not a feminist. I don’t hate men”. I scoffed at the ‘Women’s Studies’ department.
I’m not the only woman to have done this. Many of you still believe it to be nonsense.
But how could I say I wasn’t a feminist? I could sit in a class, go to university, even speak in public. Wasn’t that the result of feminism? I was allowed to choose whom I married, or if I wanted to be married. I could have a job. I could drive.
I was completely ignoring everything the women in history fought so hard to do for people as privileged as I. For that, I am ashamed.
After a few years in University, I finally started to catch on. I read a few books and actually talked to people and, hello, my perspective changed. I evolved.
I was like a lot of women still are today, who knew the word ‘feminist’, but had a poor picture of the label. That f-word was extremist, and I didn’t realize it was another word for ‘equality’. Now, I do. And I beg for more people to use it.
Most of us feminists don’t actually hate men. I know, right? I even married one! I, like a surprising amount of women, usually preferred hanging out with the guys. And a lot of the men I know are very open to the conversation of feminism. Some of them truly surprised me, and I realized I held too many stereotypes.
Parts and portions of feminism made sense to me, even when I was a closet feminist. I had my ideals: a woman shouldn’t be called a slut for sleeping around. I didn’t agree with the pay gap, or the fact that at the top of almost every pyramid sat a man surrounded by other men. Not only that, but a white, middle-aged man.
Patriarchy is a product of our culture. It is, at least partially, a product of a biblical era. Patriarchal sentiments have been dragged through the centuries, and are instilled in much of western human consciousness. I believe patriarchy may have begun the moment someone, somewhere, decided God was a He. Probably even before then.
How, also, do we speak to the career woman who has chosen to never have children, who works just as hard at her job, and is stuck two rungs below this male CEO? A general opinion of women is that they are gentler and less outspoken, and that is why they get less promotions than men. They lack confidence. (I don’t personally believe this. Many of the women I know are extremely successful in their personal as well as career life).
But let’s think on that for a minute. Why, theoretically, would women lack confidence? Was the confidence of women lost in some mythical garden in the supposed fall of mankind (now referred to as humankind, courtesy of feminist language). Did our confidence disappear the first time someone called us a stupid bitch? Or maybe it lasted up until the fourth or fifth time we heard ourselves referred to as ‘babe’ as we walked by. Did our confidence die when ad campaigns and television shows told us we were only as good as we looked? Or as good as the man on whose arm we were wrapped?
Does this patriarchal structure of advertising mean we should stop wearing makeup and doing our hair? I sure hope not. I love me a good bottle of mascara and some lipstick, and I really would prefer to keep wearing it. But the structure does demand to be recognized.
Being a feminist doesn’t ask that you completely change yourself. You don’t need to alter how you dress or demand to hang out with new friends. Being a feminist allows you to recognize inequality and find the tools to balance the spectrum. And it’s not only women that need to be feminists. We need you men out there to contribute!
A good example of this is Star Trek (as I said before, I’m a Trekkie). In the Original Series, you get to see Captain Kirk with a blurry faced, beautiful woman (usually unnamed) staring bleary-eyed at him in just about every episode. She’s there to make him look more masculine and attractive, and occasionally take the brunt of his rather aggressive make-out sessions.
There are other female characters in the Enterprise crew, one’s that don’t hook up with Kirk. Uhura, for example, is a semi-main character who is seen on the bridge in almost every episode. She is a career woman who is unmarried and without children. She is a communications officer, and she is also a singer. She is Swahili. She is strong and opinionated. She is a black female character with more than a one-dimensional personality? How can that be?
But wait, there’s more.
Uhura wears the same short, leggy dress uniform that all the women in the show wear. In the Original Series, she is not even given a first name. Sure, she’s a career woman, but only so far as she can show off some skin. I think Roddenberry’s heart was in it, and the show certainly made some statements about race and gender. It was far ahead of its time, even if it did fall a bit short. And regardless of the shortfalls of a television series from the 1960s, I still love to watch it. You see, I can enjoy something while also being aware of the flaws of our society, and recognizing the need for change. My lifestyle remains, for the most part, the same.
We have evolved somewhat in the last fifty odd years, but we still have a long way to go.
It is my opinion that it’s time for all women to stand up, and I don’t mean with violent protestations. Don’t pick a fight for the sake of fighting. Don’t burn bridges or break windows. A person is not taught by the crook and cane. They learn by example, by gentle reminder, and by open and honest discussions. It may be a slower learning curve, but I think people are more willing to listen when they are not made a target. You don’t need a picket sign to make a point.
This being said, I can’t promise every human being is capable of open conversation. Unfortunately that’s a part of life. There will always be close-minded people in the world. The best we can hope for is that, eventually, evolution will kick into high gear and those people will plummet into extinction (uh, not literally. I’m talking about social evolution, not what happened to the t-rex). There will always be arguments, we just need to know how to fight them without actually fighting. In battle, there is a winner and loser, but in a conversation, there are open minded people and opinions backed by knowledge, intellect, and understanding.
Remember that story I told you about in my introduction chapter, about the man who called me ‘pretty girl’ when I was sixteen? I doubt he realized the implications of that small comment. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know what I had experienced in my lifetime, or my history, or what happened when I was a young girl.
He didn’t realize that when I, like many women, walk to my car at night, I hold my keys firmly in my hand as a potential weapon of self defense. I check over my shoulder and I lock my doors immediately. My breath shortens and my heart quickens, and I am nervous.
He didn’t realize that, sometimes, when a person touches a woman’s arm, she pulls away automatically. How could he know why? One in three women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, most often by someone they know.
Women are afraid because society has made them afraid.
Think of the young woman sold into the sex trade before she’s hit puberty. Think of the mother of four who is trapped in an abusive marriage. Think of the twenty-something year old who was violently raped and left for dead on her morning walk to work. These things are real. We’ve seen them happen on the news. We’ve seen them happen to our friends.
Man’s culture has taught him that I, as a woman, am a statue. I am property, and he owns me. Ever since he was born with a penis instead of a vagina he was told to toughen up, to be successful, and to get rich. Oh, and to be straight. The gender binaries we have created are not fair to anyone.
There will be a day when Patriarchy is no more, but that day is far, far from now. America and Canada are the only countries moving backward in the pursuit of women’s equality.
What can we do to change this?